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New Windows XP Mode eliminates compatibility issues in Windows 7

Time to ditch the old OS and hardware. Windows XP Mode is a new feature that virtually -- and seamlessly -- emulates Windows XP and its associated hardware on a Windows 7 PC.

Many IT managers are burdened with supporting old desktop operating systems and the hardware associated with them. While budgetary constraints sometimes prohibit the deployment of new , more often than not, older operating systems are kept in place because line-of-business applications function only on older OSes and hardware.

A new feature in Windows 7 -- Windows XP Mode -- eliminates this problem by virtually emulating the older operating system.

A history of compatibility problems
Compatibility issues have plagued Microsoft's Windows operating systems for some time, making upgrades difficult. Many applications designed for Windows XP are not compatible with that OS's replacement, Windows Vista, and there are still compatibility problems with the latest OS, Windows 7.

There are few options for those who want to migrate from Windows XP to Windows Vista and its hardware, including the following:

  1. Re-engineering legacy applications to run on Vista

  2. Deploying a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to offer sessions that emulate a XP PC on the replacement PCs

Both solutions are expensive and, therefore, hard to justify.

But not upgrading creates a series of problems. By not moving to newer systems, IT departments do not have access to the latest advanced features, such as energy-saving capabilities, remote management, 64-bit capabilities, enhanced security, increased performance and enhanced reliability. Furthermore, older desktop hardware has a higher failure rate than newer hardware. All of this combined makes it expensive to support legacy OSes.

However, with Windows 7, IT managers may no longer have to settle for expensive compromises and limited options. Windows XP Mode (XPM) enables Window 7 to emulate Windows XP and run applications compatible only with that older OS. This allows IT managers to eliminate an almost decade-older OS and similar aged hardware.

What is Windows XP Mode?
XPM works with Windows Virtual PC, an application that creates a virtual PC on a physical Windows 7 PC.

XPM is a complete virtual machine package that includes a pre-installed licensed copy of Windows XP SP3 as its guest OS. In a Windows 7 environment, applications that need to run on Windows XP are installed into an XPM virtual session. When those applications are executed from the PC's start menu, XPM automatically launches and uses pre-installed components to make those applications appear as if they are running on Windows 7. But the application is actually running under Windows XP. This solves the software-compatibility issue for older applications that require Windows XP. With XPM, IT managers can install a new Windows 7 PC and still offer access to line-of-business applications that work only with Windows XP, while providing support for newer apps that require the capabilities offered by Windows 7.

Furthermore, XPM not only imitates a Windows XP software environment; it also copies common hardware used by Windows XP. XPM creates a virtual PC that fully emulates a PC configured with an Intel Pentium II (32-bit) processor using an Intel 440BX chip set, with a standard SVGA VESA graphics card (S3 Trio 32 PCI with 4 MB video RAM), AMI System BIOS, Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 ISA PnP and a DEC 21041 Ethernet network card.

By combining virtualized hardware with a virtualized version of Windows XP, XPM can offer the highest level of compatibility for Windows XP business applications. XPM will offer full application compatibility, supports all original software features and allows the apps to be as stable as they were on a PC running Windows XP natively.

When deployed properly, XPM is completely hidden -- the end user is none the wiser to its existence. All the Windows 7 user knows is that line-of-business applications are readily available, as they always were under Windows XP.

Frank Ohlhorst
Frank Ohlhorst is an IT journalist who has also served as a network administrator and applications programmer before forming his own computer consulting firm.

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Can XPM still be downloaded to work with Windows 7 professional?