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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.

You'll now be asked to pick the size of the drive. 10GB is enough to install the operating system with room to spare, but you should increase it a bit if you plan to install anything more than basic software. Remember that you won't be immediately forfeiting all this space on your main drive — it'll only be claimed if you actually use it for something in your virtual Windows XP PC. Click Create.

Setting up Windows XP in a virtual machine

Now, your virtual machine is ready to go. But just as if you'd built a brand new physical PC, you have to install an operating system on it. If you attempt to run the PC by double clicking on its tile on the left part of the screen, VirtualBox will automatically start the new machine wizard, and it will ask you to select a startup disc. You can click the little file icon next to the file field to browse your system for the Windows install data. If you have a physical disc, put it in your CD or DVD drive and select that drive. If you have an ISO, simply select that file.

Your virtual machine will start up, and you will see the familiar Windows installation process. Even if you've never installed Windows XP before, the installation process is very straightforward — just click through each screen, filling in any of the basic info it asks you for. It will restart at one point in the process, and then after several minutes of installing you'll find yourself looking at a small version of the Windows XP desktop, in a window.

Before you can start using your virtual Windows XP machine, there's one more step to complete. VirtualBox includes a set of software utilities to install on the virtual PC, which make it a lot easier to work with and control the virtual PC. To install these, click on the VirtualBox menu bar item labelled Devices, then select Insert Guest Additions CD Image.

A new wizard will pop up, this time inside the Windows XP virtual machine. There aren't any complicated decisions to make here, just click next a couple times, and allow the computer to restart when it asks.

With Guest Additions installed you will have a number of new options available to you in the "Devices" menu of VirtualBox. Most useful is the option to add a shared folder, which will allow you to easily transfer files from your host computer to your virtual computer. To do this, click Devices, then Shared Folders Settings, which will open the virtual machine settings.

On the right side of the window there's a small icon of a folder with a green plus. Click this, then select a file location to use as a folder. Make sure to click the boxes marked "Auto-mount" and "Make Permanent." If you only plan to transfer files to the virtual machine and not from it, click "Read-only" as well. VirtualBox can be a little finicky with what it accepts as a valid file name here — we found the easiest way to make sure the folder path works is to manually create a folder with no spaces or special characters on the host machine, then copy and paste the address into the folder field.


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