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Compatibility with security: How to run Windows XP in a virtual machine

Alex Castle | April 9, 2014
If the imminent end-of-support deadline for Windows XP has finally spurred you to make the update to Windows 8, you might be concerned about whether you'll still be able to run your old programs. And while most Windows XP software works just fine in Windows 8, some applications do indeed have compatibility issues. Fortunately, there's a way you can run any Windows XP software at all, using virtualization.

If the imminent end-of-support deadline for Windows XP has finally spurred you to make the update to Windows 8, you might be concerned about whether you'll still be able to run your old programs. And while most Windows XP software works just fine in Windows 8, some applications do indeed have compatibility issues. Fortunately, there's a way you can run any Windows XP software at all, using virtualization.

With virtualization, you can run a whole Windows XP desktop inside a window on your Windows 7, 8 or Vista PC. Any Windows XP software you have should run in the virtual machine, and because the virtual computer can't make changes to your real computer's hard drive, you won't have to worry about end-of-support security issues.

If you have legacy software you need to run, or just want to run a virtual Windows XP PC, read on — we'll show you how you can get a virtual machine set up in under 15 minutes.

What about XP mode?

"XP mode" was a feature included in Windows 7 which allowed you to run Windows XP programs natively in a virtual environment, or to run some XP software directly in Windows 7. However, there are a few limitations with Windows XP mode. First, it only works in Windows 7 — if you're still using Windows Vista or have updated to Windows 8, then Windows XP mode won't work on your system. Further, it's only available on the Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate editions of Windows 7, rather than the more common consumer versions.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Microsoft will be ending support for XP Mode on April 8th, the same day they end support for XP itself. It's not entirely clear what the security ramifications of running XP Mode after support is cut off are, or if Microsoft will continue to host the free download that allows you to use XP mode.

In light of all this, we recommend that you skip XP Mode in favor of a more flexible solution for accessing Windows XP — running the operating system in a virtual machine.

Install Windows XP in a virtual machine

If you're unfamiliar with the concept, a virtual machine is pretty much what it sounds like: a simulated computer that runs within your main operating system. It borrows some of your host computers resources, like hard disk space and RAM and uses those to run the virtual computer. With a virtual machine, you can have a full-fledged Windows XP computer running in a window on your desktop, or even one running Linux or Windows 95.

Setting up a virtual machine isn't very complicated, but it does involve a number of steps. Don't worry — we'll walk you through them, one at a time.

 

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