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Windows 7 XPM improves application compatibility for your customers

With Windows 7 XP Mode (XPM), you can help customers overcome the application compatibility problems that typically occur during operating system upgrades.

Windows 7 XP Mode (XPM) is basically an operating system (OS) within an OS. But why would one operating system become part of another? Why has Microsoft added an older OS version into its newest flagship OS? And what benefits can this new feature bring to a solutions provider?

More Windows 7 XP Mode resources:
FAQ: Upgrading to the Windows 7 operating system

Adding and removing Windows 7 hardware

Windows 7 XP Mode eliminates application compatibility issues

How to deploy XP Mode in Windows 7

This tip explains why nesting virtual OSes within physical instances is a smart move for Microsoft -- particularly when it comes to the issue of application compatibility -- and how it can be an asset to solutions providers. Deploying XPM to desktops and laptops in your customers' organizations can be a relatively easy task. But before taking on any projects, take a step back and think about why your customers should care about XPM and the role you can play in the deployment process.

Eliminate application compatibility issues

These days, it's easy to install and maintain OSes. Microsoft and other third parties have developed numerous automated ways to get OSes installed onto desktop hardware. In fact, these processes have become so easy that most organizations can successfully do the work themselves.

Solutions providers aren't totally out of luck. There's danger in upgrading without a plan in place. The real challenge often occurs after customers deploy the OS and applications need to be installed.

One primary reason that application installation is so challenging is because not every application works well on every OS. Here are a few of today's most common sources of application compatibility problems:

  • 16-bit applications don't work on 64-bit OSes.
  • Older applications can't store user information in new user profiles.
  • Poorly coded applications require direct kernel access that is no longer available in today's more secure Windows OSes.
  • In some situations, applications might work without problems, but their poorly designed installation processes mean they can't be installed onto newer OSes.

The result in each of these scenarios is that some of your customers' critical business applications simply won't work atop today's newest OSes, including Windows 7. No matter how secure and manageable Windows 7 might be, if it doesn't work with your customers' applications, they won't be upgrading any time soon.

Herein lies the primary reason for Windows 7 XPM's existence: It eliminates application compatibility problems as a reason for not upgrading.

Application compatibility problems are more widespread than solutions providers might believe. Ancient applications from out-of-business software vendors can't be upgraded. Homegrown applications require massive investments to make them compatible with Windows 7. Software vendors drag their feet on updating application support.

All of these problems create a library of applications that make it hard to stay up to date with the latest technologies. This problem is exacerbated further in organizations where legacy applications are deeply entrenched.

How Windows 7 XP Mode works

Windows XP is one of Microsoft's most compatible OSes. With its long life, widespread adoption and position in the IT historical timeline, Windows XP can get most applications today to run flawlessly. This reality means that keeping Windows XP is a necessity if your customers are to maintain access to legacy applications and still be able to move forward with OS upgrades.

To solve the application compatibility problem, Microsoft designed Windows 7 XP Mode as a preconfigured and pre-activated virtual machine (VM). This VM, along with the Virtual PC software that drives it, installs atop an instance of Windows 7. The XPM 500 MB download creates what is effectively a second full OS instance that can run concurrently with Windows 7.

Functionally similar to a Windows Virtual PC VM, a Windows 7 XPM instance is different in that a user can run applications seamlessly within their "primary" Windows 7 OS. Using XP Mode in Windows 7, users needn't log in to a separate VM OS with a different start menu and desktop. To launch an application that runs within Windows 7 XPM, the user just clicks on the application's link within Windows 7. XPM then launches the VM, starts the application in the background and presents the application's window to the user.

Using the released version of XPM, users can cut and paste between XP and Windows 7 applications, redirect printers from the XPM VM to the host machine, access Windows 7 Known Folders within the XPM VM and even use Universal Serial Bus devices plugged into the host.

Using XP Mode in Windows 7 as a last resort

Windows 7 XPM allows an IT organization to upgrade its desktops while still maintaining compatibility for older and otherwise incompatible applications. But Microsoft suggests that XPM should be a "solution of last resort." Even if it takes some work, installing an application directly to Windows 7 is the best option before using XPM.

Solutions providers should remember that while XPM doesn't necessarily add more licensing, it does increase the number of machines that they have to manage. These machines still require anti-malware software, as well as regular OS and application updates.

Installing and working with applications requires a software management infrastructure or, at the very least, an added level of manual updates. Therefore, XPM shouldn't necessarily be a default installation to every computer. The addition of XP Mode in Windows 7 should be focused on only those computers that have a specific issue with application compatibility. Focusing on these computers will help control the VM sprawl that can and will result.

Increase business opportunities with Windows 7 XP Mode

The complexity of Windows 7 XPM means that solutions providers are presented with several business opportunities. XPM specifically targets small and medium-sized businesses that may not have the intrinsic experience necessary to manage virtualization technologies.

XPM's management utilities are notably sparse, and there are few tools available for updating the built-in XPM VM. Solutions providers can provide significant value for clients that need extra support. Most importantly, organizations with complex needs will look at the more powerful Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) product for policy-based management and greater control. MED-V is a core component of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, which presents opportunities for a Software-plus-Services deal between you and your customers.

Windows 7 XPM is a smart move for Microsoft and a great value-added services engagement for upgrades. Its software components arrive with no added cost, which is great for the customer, but it also has some administrative complexity. Your services can provide the expertise that customers are looking for when struggling with application compatibility problems and Windows 7 XP Mode implementation.

About the expert:
Greg Shields is an independent author, instructor, Microsoft MVP and IT consultant based in Denver. He is a co-founder of Concentrated Technology LLC and has nearly 15 years of experience in IT architecture and enterprise administration. Shields specializes in Microsoft administration, systems management and monitoring, and virtualization. He is the author of several books, including Windows Server 2008: What's New/What's Changed, available from Sapien Press.

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