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Windows 7 security primer, part two

Roger A. Grimes | Jan. 20, 2010
XP Mode and seeing to application compatibility when migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Installing WVPC creates a shortcut named Windows Virtual PC on the Windows 7 Start menu. Clicking on the shortcut opens the Virtual Machines folder, with a command bar that has an option to create a new VM. You can create a new VM using a guest OS image, such as ISO image or a VHD containing the OS image.

You must uninstall older versions of Microsoft desktop virtualisation products before installing WWPC. After installing it, you can install the XP Mode VHD (in the form of a pre-packaged installer file). During the installation, you'll be prompted for a logon name and password, which you'll use for the true Administrator account. You'll be logged into this account automatically when XP Mode or an XP Mode-virtualised application is started. You'll also be asked to confirm the automatic downloading and installation of patches via Windows Update. Additionally, you can password-protect the XP Mode session, although I usually disable that feature. A user should already be preventing unauthorised access to his or her machine.

When XP Mode starts for the first time, the virtualised sessions can easily take a minute or two to come up. Subsequent launches take less time (several seconds on most hardware), although the first start after a reboot always takes a little while. Also, be prepared for XP Mode to download and install XP patches, sometimes unexpectedly. Determining what is being patched, Windows 7 or a virtualised copy of XP, can be confusing.

I love the superintegrated features of XP Mode, but I hope Microsoft makes the patching distinction a little clearer in future versions (if possible). While not perfect, XP Mode is an excellent way to make sure old, incompatible applications can get up and running inside Windows 7.

XP Mode has its downsides. For one, all changes to the default XP Mode image are saved as per-user diff files. This means, for example, that on a multi-user computer, each user running XP Mode will have to patch his or her copy; one user's version will not know that another user has already patched it. The same goes for any configuration change or installation within the virtualised session. This wastes time and space. If this particular problem is unworkable for you, Microsoft suggests using one of its more flexible virtualisation technologies.

Additionally, bear in mind that any virtualised session means more IT support. If you run Windows 7 and Windows XP, you'll be required to support both as if each user is running two different computers, including patching, anti-malware, security configuration changes, and so on. Many organisations may not think to factor the additional costs and resources into their Windows 7 migration plans.


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