How to run a virtual instance of Windows XP from within Windows 7

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There are a handful of free machine virtualization programs out there, such as VirtualBox, VMWare, and of course Microsoft’s Virtual PC.

These programs will let you run another instance of an operating system within your current operating system. The only problem is that, unless you’re virtualizing Linux or another free OS, you will need a working license to run a virtual instance of a Windows OS (as well as an installation CD or ISO file of course).

What you may not have known, however, is that if you’re a Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate user (32 or 64 bit), Microsoft actually provides you with a full fledged, fully licensed instance of Windows XP that you can run within your Windows 7 environment, which they refer to as Windows XP mode.

In fact, Windows XP mode will let you run virtualized Windows XP applications straight from your Windows 7 desktop or start menu, via a virtual remote desktop connection, just as if they were installed locally on Windows 7.

XP mode in Windows 7

This tutorial will present, for those editions of Windows 7 that support it, a step by step guide for getting you up and running your virtual Windows XP instance from within Windows 7.

Step 1: Determine if the version of Windows 7 you are running is supported.

To do this, right click “properties” on the “Computer” icon on your desktop or the right hand side of your start menu, then check the “Windows edition” section (see the upper red arrow in the screenshot below). If you do not have the Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate editions then this tutorial will not apply, and in that case you will need to get your hands on a Windows XP CD and a valid serial number.

Also check the “system” section to see whether you’re running a 32 bit or 64 bit version of Windows 7 (the lower red arrow); you will need to know this for the next step.

Screenshot1; checking Win 7 edition


Step 2: visit the XP Mode download page.Once there enter your Windows 7 information and then use the three buttons on the bottom to download the needed files.

Note: before you download, Windows may install a “Windows Genuine Advantage” update to check whether your Windows license is authentic. So bear that in mind.

Follow the instructions, i.e. download and install “Windows XP Mode” first (a 500 meg download; you will have to reboot), then “Windows Virtual PC”, then “Windows XP Mode Update”. Note that once you install XP mode you can delete that 500 meg installation file.

Screenshot2; download files


Step 3: launch Windows Virtual PC “XP Mode”. It may will launch automatically once installed or, if not, go to the start menu and type “XP Mode” in the searchbox then click on the shortcut that appears on top.

Error?: if you get the error in the image below you may need to tweak your BIOS settings to enable hardware assisted virtualization. Restart your PC and get into your BIOS setup (getting there is different for different PC makes; for my Dell I got there by pressing F2 while booting). Find your “virtualization” setting and enable hardware-assisted virtualization; save and exit.

Screenshot3; tweak BIOS settings



Step 4: Setting up Windows XP mode: this is fairly self explanatory, just go through the process.

Hard disk space: approx 2 or more gigs of free space are required to run XP in virtual mode properly. If you don’t have this on your C: drive, or if you simply do not want the large file on your C: partition, make sure to change the location in the setup process when it asks for the installation folder (see screenshot below).

Screenshot4; setup screen2

By default, Windows Virtual PC will set up drive sharing with your main Windows 7 OS, allowing you to access your Windows 7 drives as networked drives from within the virtual Windows XP.

At the end of the process, your virtualized instance of Windows XP will be launched (see screenshot at the top of this post). You can now use your virtual instance of XP normally, installing apps, etc.

Reverting to a fresh instance of Windows XP: if you want to create another instance of Windows XP or revert to a clean instance, simply delete or rename the files in your installation folder and then re-run XP mode. You will be asked if you want to create another instance from scratch.



Step 5: accessing your Windows 7 hard drives from XP: in “my computer”, your Windows 7 partitions, CD drives, and other volumes will appear as networked drives(see screenshot below).

Screenshot5; shared volumes

Note that USB/flash drives can be accessed from the XP instance via the “Action” menu (see screenshot below). Note, however, that Microsoft Virtual PC will invisibly unplug the drive from Windows 7 in order to make it available to the XP instance.

Screenshot6; usbvolumes



Step 6: running “XP mode” applications from within Windows 7. Once you install programs within your virtualized Windows XP, shortcuts for these programs or even any documents inside the XP instance actually appear inside your Windows 7 start menu. You can simply run these from the Windows 7 environment.

These shortcuts will have “XP Mode” appended to them in the Windows 7 start menu. Typing “XP Mode” in the Windows 7 start menu search box will display these (see the screenshots below).

Screenshot7; xp mode appsScreenshot8; xp mode apps

Presumably, this would be needed if your program runs on Windows XP but not on Windows 7, or for the purposes of testing software.