'XP Mode' On Windows 7 To Require Additional Software

Apr 28, 2009 (12:04 PM EDT)

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Windows 7 screen shot.
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Want Windows XP to run on Windows 7? You'll have to install extra software.

Microsoft's forthcoming Windows XP Mode for Windows 7 won't have any of the management features large organizations need, but Microsoft recently began using virtualization to increase backward compatibility for enterprises using Windows Vista, and will do so with Windows 7 as well.

Earlier this month, Microsoft release Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization 1.0 (MED-V), which allows organizations using Windows Vista to run older Windows applications that are incompatible with Vista. Within 90 days of the general availability of Windows 7, Microsoft will release a beta version of MED-V 2.0, which will be able to work with Windows 7, the company said Tuesday. Both are aimed to help push companies along that have been resistant to the idea of upgrading to the latest version of Windows.

MED-V 1.0, an evolution of technology Microsoft acquired with its purchase of Kidaro last year, runs Windows XP or Windows 2000 alongside Windows Vista on the same machine. Instead of applications having to be loaded from within the instance of the old version of Windows, they appear right on the Windows Vista desktop and load as if they were running on Vista on a per-application basis.

MED-V also adds significant management functionality that won't be available with Windows XP Mode, which was announced last week. With MED-V, system administrators install an agent on each user PC to control which applications they can use with the technology and policy settings like the amount of time they'll have access to the virtual machine or whether they can cut and paste between the VM and Windows Vista. MED-V also allows for centralized deployment, remote installation, and patch management.

Windows 7 screen shot.
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Windows XP Mode acts the same way as MED-V, but it doesn't have any of the associated management functionality. That means end users can install anything they want on that virtual machine and can turn on or off security policies at will, and for those reasons Microsoft says XP Mode is only aimed at small businesses with small or nonexistent IT departments, not larger companies.

MED-V 2.0 will add support for Windows 7, but it will also build on a forthcoming version of Microsoft Virtual PC (as will Windows XP Mode). The current version of MED-V doesn't support smart cards and USB keys, limiting its functionality, but the next version of Virtual PC will add that support.

There are a number of limitations to MED-V and XP Mode. Since MED-V and Windows XP Mode run a virtual instance of an older operating system right alongside the new version of Windows on the same hardware, they both require much better hardware than Vista or Windows 7 themselves.

The required hardware is 2 GB of RAM, at least 15 GB of free disk space, and a CPU that supports hardware virtualization. That means MED-V and XP Mode can't be used on many older PCs. Microsoft even advises customers that the best experience will be on a new PC, Scott Woodgate, Microsoft's director of desktop virtualization and the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), said in an interview.

Many companies also won't want to support two versions of Windows running on every employee's PC, as it could be a pricey proposition to double the amount of desktop management work administrators have to do.

While Windows XP Mode will be available as a standalone plug-in, MED-V is only available as part of MDOP, a set of tools that also includes Microsoft Application Virtualization, asset inventory, a diagnostics and recovery tool, desktop error monitoring, and advanced group policy management.

MDOP is only available for enterprises enrolled in the Software Assurance maintenance program. MDOP requires companies to pay an additional fee of about $10 per user per year on top of their Windows licenses, but that will include licenses to virtual copies of Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Windows Vista. Software Assurance is a much bigger investment, costing 29% of the licensing fee of desktop software each year, but companies also get free upgrades during the three-year term of Software Assurance and a number of other perks.

Neither MED-V nor Windows XP Mode extend the support life cycle for Windows XP. Microsoft no longer offers free support of Windows XP, as the operating system went into Extended Support Mode on April 14. That means that only customers of Microsoft's Premier customers support program will be able to get non-security patches for Windows XP, and only for a fee.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on Windows 7. Download the report here (registration required).