Windows 7: Run Windows Old and New

The virtual Windows XP Mode is just one way you can get the most out of Windows 7, and use it to streamline your infrastructure.

Jorge Orchilles

Adapted from “Microsoft Windows 7 Administrator’s Reference” (Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier)

Windows Virtual PC is an optional component of the Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions. Windows Virtual PC lets you use Windows 7 to run other OSes as virtual machines (VMs).

This means your Windows 7 system will be the host where Windows Virtual PC is installed. Then you can install any guest OS. This feature lets you install and run legacy applications that might not be compatible with Windows 7. You can run Windows XP apps, for example, and have them appear to be running seamlessly with Windows 7.

Windows XP Mode

Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate support Windows XP Mode. Windows XP Mode is a virtualization technology that lets you use the new features of Windows 7, while continuing to use critical and essential applications that might not function correctly on Windows Vista or Windows 7.

Window XP Mode functions with Windows Virtual PC, which is available for Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. Windows Virtual PC is an evolution of Virtual PC 2007, a stand-alone product for previous versions of Windows. Windows XP Mode is a separate free download from Microsoft; Windows Virtual PC is also required and is a free download as well.

Windows XP Mode is a full version of Windows XP SP3, with certain limitations. For example, it doesn’t support 3D graphics or applications that require specialized hardware such as TV tuners or similar devices.

Installing a program in Windows XP Mode will make it available in both Windows XP Mode and Windows 7. This technology lets your user community run legacy applications during a transition to Windows 7.

Here are some of the specific requirements your systems will have to meet to run Windows XP Mode:

  • Windows OS, such as Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise or Ultimate editions.
  • A computer capable of hardware virtualization—this means a central processing unit (CPU) with either Intel-VT or AMD-V virtualization features. If it’s a fairly new computer, it’s probably sufficient.
  • Virtualization features turned on in your computer’s BIOS. These aren’t always turned on by default, so you might need to enter setup mode to enable these features.

Verify Windows 7

The first part of loading Windows XP Mode is to ensure you’re running a version of Windows 7 that will support doing so. You need to be running the Professional, Enterprise or Ultimate version of Windows 7. To verify that you’re indeed running an appropriate version of Windows 7, click Start | Control Panel | System and Security | System.

If you need to upgrade your version of Windows 7, you can click the Get more features with a new edition of Windows 7 hyperlink. This will open a window to ask what you want to do next. You’ll have to pay for the upgrade if you wish to continue with Windows XP Mode.

You’ll receive a license key when the transaction is complete. Once your new upgrade key is received, you can enter your upgrade key in the dialog box. Click Next to activate the Windows 7 upgrade. Click Finish when you’ve finished the activation.

Confirm Hardware Virtualization

As I’ve already noted, you’ll need a computer with a CPU that has hardware virtualization capabilities to use Windows XP Mode. This shouldn’t be difficult. Most modern processors have this feature. If you’re running an Intel processor, you’ll need the Intel-VT feature. AMD processors must have the AMD-V hardware features. Microsoft has created a Hardware-Assisted Virtualization Detection Tool for your convenience.

After you use this tool, it will tell you if your computer meets the virtualization requirements. You’ll receive one of three possible messages:

  • “This computer is configured with hardware-assisted virtualization.” This is the message you’re looking for. It tells you you’re ready to go.
  • “Hardware-assisted virtualization is not enabled on this computer.” This means your computer is capable of virtualization, but you’ll need to enable the hardware virtual assistance in the system BIOS.
  • “This computer does not have hardware-assisted virtualization.” This means you can’t run Windows XP Mode or Virtual PC on your current computer. You can share this information with Microsoft or not. Select your choice and click OK.

Load Windows XP Mode

After you’ve confirmed you have a supported version of Windows 7 and your computer is capable of supporting virtualization, you’re ready to download Windows XP Mode. Windows XP Mode is a complete virtual hard Disk with Windows XP SP3 loaded. This download can take a few minutes to several hours depending on your Internet connection, so plan accordingly.

Once you have Windows XP Mode installed, you’ll still need to set it up. This is a separate implementation of a full OS. You’ll have to go through the first time use setup of Windows XP, just as if it were installed on a stand-alone computer. The big difference is that this time it will be available to both Windows XP and Windows 7.

Jorge Orchilles

Jorge Orchilles* began his networking career as a network administrator for the small private school he attended. He’s currently a security operating center analyst, and recently completed his Master of Science degree in management information systems at Florida International University.*

©2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Printed with permission from Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier. Copyright 2011. “Microsoft Windows 7 Administrator’s Reference” by Jorge Orchilles. For more information on this title and other similar books, please visit