Microsoft Windows 7 users get ready for XP Mode

New Microsoft OS lets you run Windows XP applications that aren't natively compatible with Windows 7 in a Virtual PC environment

With Apple getting some good pickup lately around its Snow Leopard OS release, Microsoft wants to remind PC faithful users that Windows 7 is right around the corner. Oct. 22 is only two weeks away, and along with the release of Windows 7, Microsoft will make available the free XP Mode at the same time.

Microsoft said it has finalized the code for XP mode, and it plans on releasing it as a free download from the Microsoft Download Center when Windows 7 launches. In addition, OEMs will offer Windows XP Mode with their systems based on their manufacturing schedules.

[ Learn how to prepare for and install Windows 7 the right way in InfoWorld's Windows 7 Boot Camp online class | Download our editors' 21 page PDF guide to Windows 7. ]

Although the Windows 7 team announced that it has been working hard toward making all Windows XP applications compatible with Windows 7, there could be any number of applications that don't play well with the newer operating system -- and that's where XP Mode comes into play. XP Mode will allow users to run older applications that aren't natively compatible with Windows 7.

Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc explains, "XP Mode is meant to serve as an added safety net so small and mid-sized businesses can migrate and run Windows 7 without any road blocks."

XP Mode will work with the RC and RTM (release to manufacturing) versions of Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions.

In August, LeBlanc wrote on the Windows Team Blog that Microsoft made several improvements to the usability of Windows XP Mode for small and medium-sized business users by adding the following features based on feedback provided in beta:

  • You can attach USB devices to Windows XP Mode applications directly from the Windows 7 taskbar. This means USB devices, such as printers and flash drives, are available to applications running in Windows XP Mode, without going into full-screen mode.
  • You can access Windows XP Mode applications with a "jump list." Right-click on the Windows XP Mode applications from the Windows 7 taskbar to select and open most recently used files.
  • You have the flexibility of customizing where Windows XP Mode differencing disk files are stored.
  • You can disable drive sharing between Windows XP Mode and Windows 7.
  • The initial setup includes a tutorial on using Windows XP Mode.

There is a catch, however, that may put many users in a difficult situation. In addition to having the right version of Windows 7, the right hardware is required to run XP Mode -- specifically, the right processor. You see, XP Mode uses the latest virtualization technology from Microsoft Virtual PC and combines it with a Microsoft XP Service Pack 3 virtual appliance. For it to work, users will need a computer with CPU virtualization technology support, and the processor feature must be turned on and activated. If you meet these criteria, XP Mode may be just what the doctor ordered.