Tomorrow, May 5th, Microsoft will unleash Windows 7 RC to the public. Also being released is a separate download called Windows Virtual PC 7 and Windows XP Mode. This package is designed to make it easier for companies to move to Windows 7 without having the major compatibility issues that plagued Vista.
The idea behind Windows XP Mode is that you have a full copy of Windows XP running in a virtual environment that allows you to publish applications out to the Windows 7 start menu. This means that you can have Windows XP applications running virtualized directly on the Windows 7 desktop. This is very cool stuff. You don’t need a full Virtual PC XP desktop in a small window to use your older applications. They will show up right on your Windows 7 desktop just as if they were running on Windows 7 natively.
Windows XP Mode runs on a new version of Microsoft Virtual PC designed for Windows 7 called Windows Virtual PC. This new virtualization software integrates very tightly with Windows 7 and provides better performance and stability than Virtual PC 2007. Windows Virtual PC does require a computer with hardware assisted virtualization technology. This isn’t a big deal if you have a laptop or desktop built within the past 2 – 3 years. Individuals with older systems may find that they are unable to use Windows XP Mode due to this requirement.
Now for the problems. Windows Virtual PC is really not that exciting of an upgrade. Sure it offers application virtualization and USB support but there isn’t really anything new here that we haven’t already seen in other products or in VMWare. In fact Microsoft made a HUGE mistake in my opinion by still only supporting 32 bit guest operating systems. What is Microsoft thinking? VMWare has had this capability on the desktop for a long time now. Very disappointing indeed.
One other problem I noticed is that if you have been running Virtual PC for a while and you have older VHD files you may have encountered an issue where your VHD files were split into multiple files. When this happens you will see .VHD, .V01, .V02, etc… instead of a single VHD file. These split files will not work with Windows Virtual PC. You need to make sure you use Virtual PC 2007 Virtual Disk Wizard to compact these files back into a single VHD prior to installing Windows Virtual PC. If you do not do this you will end up without access to your important virtual machines.
Overall Windows XP Mode is a good idea and will probably help some businesses move onto the new operating system and away from XP. For developers the release of Windows Virtual PC without 64bit guest support is a big mistake. All future server operating systems and software will only be available in 64bit and I am sure most developers would prefer to not run a full blown server OS full time as their main operating system just so they can work in a 64bit server environment. This mistake by Microsoft will keep pushing more and more people to VMWare.