If you have one of these versions of Windows 7 installed, then you can download two new free features called Windows Virtual Pc, and Virtual XP Mode:
- Windows 7 Professional
- Windows 7 Enterprise
- Windows 7 Ultimate.
Windows Virtual Pc is an updated version of a previous free Microsoft product called Virtual Pc 2007. Virtual XP Mode is a free download of a Windows XP Professional virtual machine, updated to Service Pack 3. The combination of the two products allows small or medium-sized business customers to run those XP programs that have not been made available in a Windows 7 compatible version by using a virtual machine which is a fully licensed XP Pro installation. Microsoft is adding this feature to the above Windows 7 versions as "a new optional component for the Windows 7 operating system that you can use to evaluate and migrate to Windows 7 while maintaining compatibility with applications that run on older versions of Windows."
A bonus of using both programs in your Windows 7 machine is that any programs you install in the virtual machine are automatically added to the Windows 7 Start Menu, so accessing these non-Windows-7-compatible programs in Windows 7 couldn't be easier...
The XP virtual machine that you download from Microsoft has Internet Explorer 6 built in, so if you found you had to keep using IE6 for certain purposes and turning down the Windows Update prompts for installing IE7 (or IE8), you no longer have to worry about that either. IE6 will not automatically be added to the Windows 7 Start Menu, but you can get it to do so if you copy a shortcut for it to the All Users Start Menu in the XP virtual machine.
The Windows Virtual Pc and Virtual Windows XP programs can be downloaded from Microsoft either in a 32-bit version or a 64-bit version, depending upon what your pc requires. You first install the Virtual Pc program and then install the virtual XP machine. The latter will be configured with a user name of "User", and during the setup you provide the password you want to assign the user. You will also be asked during the XP setup process to configure Automatic Updates.
The new Windows Virtual Pc, like the previous Virtual Pc 2007, allows integration between your host Windows 7 operating system and the virtual XP OS (what is called the "guest OS"), in that you can freely use your mouse to drag and drop files between the host and guest systems. And you can access a combined Windows clipboard of the host OS and the guest OS by copying and pasting between them. Unlike Virtual Pc 2007, you now get support for some USB devices like printers, external drives, flash cards and smart card readers. A new USB menu in the Windows Virtual Pc allows you redirect other USB peripherals to the virtual machine.
To get to the XP virtual machine, you can click on the new item in the Windows 7 Start Menu called Virtual Machines (under the folder All Programs -> Windows Virtual PC), which will then show you a folder with that name. Double clicking on the XP virtual machine starts it, after displaying a small window with messages about the progress: initializing virtual machine, and enabling integration features, for example. The latter process is what, among other things, allows you to move your mouse between the host machine and the guest machine for dragging and dropping of files.
The menu bar of Windows Virtual PC has five items on it:
- Action menu, allowing you to View Full Screen, Sleep, Restart, or Close
- USB menu, showing you recognized USB devices
- Tools menu, allowing you to Disable Integration Features or access/modify Settings of the virtual machine
- Ctrl-Alt-Del, which is what you use to do a Ctrl-Alt-Del within the virtual machine rather than the host OS
- a little question mark icon at the end provides a Help menu.
When you click on the Close box (X) at the top right of the Windows Virtual Pc window, the default action will be to hibernate the virtual machine, but in the Settings dialog box you can change it to Shut Down or Turn Off, or to Prompt for action.
Here is a screen shot of the Windows Virtual PC Settings dialog box.