The main reason that the majority of PC users stuck with Windows XP and delayed migrating to Windows 7 was application compatibility, or lack thereof. While Windows 7 brought a lot of improvements to the user experience, there was naturally a collection of applications that never made it to Windows 7′s compatibility list; particularly where specialized, custom-made programs were involved (as with my own organization). Or, even if you don’t have app-specific needs, it’s still pretty cool to be able to visit the nostalgic old Windows XP once in a while.
Microsoft’s Windows XP Mode on Windows 7 offers a free and fully functional version of Windows XP Professional SP3 running inside Windows 7, and available is only for users of Windows Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise. All it takes is a validated genuine copy of Windows 7, a couple of downloads from the internet and you’re set to go.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on setting up Windows XP mode on Windows 7 for free.
What is Win XP mode?
Before we get to the instructions, please understand that Windows 7′s Win XP Mode runs within a virtual PC (VPC) and hence is NOT a dual-boot setup which will let a user run only one OS at a time. Because of using VPC, Windows XP is emulated within the primary Windows 7 operating system, and hence you get access to both of them simultaneously.
Another thing to remember is that within a virtual PC, the hardware of the primary system is shared with the emulated one, hence performance may differ. If you have Windows 7 running on a fairly powerful machine, that shouldn’t be an issue, but you may want to look into that beforehand just to avoid any inconveniences.
Download XP Mode files from Microsoft
For your first step, visit Microsoft’s Download XP Mode page. You’ll need to select your correct installation of Windows 7 and the language, and the Download XP mode link will appear (the Win XP mode installation file is about 500 MB).
Before you can download anything from this page, you’ll have to go through a system validation check. A utility will be downloaded and installed in your machine that would run the validation check, failing which you cannot proceed. So make sure you attempt this only on a legit copy of Windows 7.
Note: The activation check kept failing as long as I tried in Google Chrome, but worked fine even the first time in IE9. Just a heads-up should you face such an issue.
Windows Virtual PC Download
Following Microsoft’s own step sequence, the third step will require you to download Windows Virtual PC and install it. Windows Virtual PC is a relatively small download of 15.3 MB – and install it on your host machine. Simply download the setup file and run; it will be installed as a Windows update (KB958559).
You will be asked to reboot your system at the end of VPC installation, following which a lot of update-configuration screens will appear. Navigate through all until your PC has restarted afresh.
Note: In case your host machine is running below Windows 7 SP1, you’ll need an additional download – Microsoft’s step 4 – which will patch the necessary files on host OS to running Windows XP mode. Skip this if SP1 is already present.
Setting up to use Windows XP Mode for the first time
Navigate to the end of your start menu to locate the Virtual PC, containing a Win XP Mode entry within. Don’t launch it yet, however.
We need to first run the Win XP Mode installation file that we grabbed in step 1. Simply run the downloaded executable and wait for configuration to finish, accepting all prompts as default.
You’ll see a modified version of XP’s regular installation screens, even the setup prompts like automatic updates and credentials information. Navigate through them all – the process can take up to 10 minutes for the first time.
When setup completes, you’re ready to use Windows XP mode, which is in fact, Windows XP Professional SP3 on your Windows 7 PC.
Although not required, it is highly advisable that you shut everything down at this stage, and reboot your host machine before you begin to use Windows XP mode. Once that’s done, launch Win XP Mode from the Start menu entry and you’re all set to use two operating systems at the same time!