Microsoft has been whispering about some secret feature within Windows 7, and now that secret has been revealed. Evidently, Microsoft is going to release an add-on to Windows 7 that is designed to allow users to run Windows XP applications in a virtual environment to maintain some form of backward compatibility. The new feature is being called "Windows XP Mode."
So what is it and how does it work? According to Microsoft's director of Windows enterprise and virtualization, Scott Woodgate, XP Mode is a virtual Windows XP environment running under Windows Virtual PC, Microsoft's hosted desktop virtualization platform.
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Woodgate posted on his company blog that Windows XP Mode is designed to help small businesses migrate to Windows 7. "Windows XP Mode provides you with the flexibility to run many older productivity applications on a Windows 7 based PC," wrote Woodgate.
Woodgate added that all you need to do is install suitable applications directly in Windows XP Mode, and the applications would then be published to the Windows 7 desktop where you could run them directly from Windows 7. It sounds similar to the Parallels Coherence and VMware Unity technologies made famous on each of those companies' respective Mac virtualization products.
What's cool about that is you don't have to open up your Windows XP virtual machine in order to run your XP applications. Instead, when you install applications inside the XP virtual environment, they are also published out as short cuts to your Windows 7 desktop. That way, you can just simply run these applications on your desktop along side your Windows 7 applications. And hopefully, little to no fuss will be involved.
Is it all goodness? While XP Mode does come with a fully licensed copy of Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 3, I don't know if it is offered free with every version or not. And it doesn't come in the box (so to speak). Instead it will be offered as a download from Microsoft's Web site.
And although Windows 7 has been proven to operate on older desktop equipment during the Beta period, you will unfortunately need processor-based virtualization support from either Intel or AMD in order to use Mode XP -- remember, it's built on top of the next generation Microsoft Virtual PC 7 product line, and these added virtualization instruction sets are required to operate.