Microsoft Windows XP Mode RC Is Now Available

Microsoft issues the Windows XP Mode Release Candidate, designed to allow older applications not compatible with the upcoming Windows 7 operating system to run on a Windows 7 machine. Microsoft no doubt hopes Windows XP Mode will head off the complaints about XP compatibility that plagued Windows Vista, driving both small and large businesses to hold off on upgrading their systems in favor of keeping their old XP-equipped machines.

Microsoft on Aug. 4 issued the Windows XP Mode Release Candidate, an updated version of the software that will allow older applications to run using the Windows XP operating system on a Windows 7 machine. Designed for "last mile" compatibility, Windows XP Mode exploits advances in virtualization to achieve that dual state.

The free application can be downloaded here.

Microsoft could very well be hoping that Windows XP Mode will help Windows 7 avoid the backward-compatibility complaints lodged against Windows Vista by many users, who found that their XP applications were unable to run on Vista's then-new architecture. This lack of compatibility was cited by many businesses as a reason for keeping their IT infrastructure based on XP, even if that meant holding off for years on a tech refresh. When Windows 7 launches on Oct. 22, Microsoft is no doubt hoping that the operating system will be adopted rapidly both by consumers and the enterprise, boosting its revenue during the recession.

Windows XP Mode creates a virtualized environment running Windows XP Service Pack 3; older applications can then run within that environment, although Microsoft recommends that users install anti-malware and anti-virus software in Windows XP Mode to close any potential loopholes.

"Windows XP Mode is specially designed for small and medium-sized businesses to help ease the migration process to Windows 7 by providing additional compatibility for their older productivity applications," Brandon LeBlanc, a Windows communications manager at Microsoft, wrote in an Aug. 4 posting on the Windows Blog. "The newly updated Windows XP Mode now works with the RC and RTM versions of the Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise SKUs."

This new version of Windows XP Mode offers a handful of improvements over the beta version. For example, applications running in Windows XP Mode will be able to access USB devices without needing to go into full-screen mode, and user can access Windows XP Mode applications from the Windows 7 task bar by right-clicking. Users can also choose where they store Windows XP Mode differencing disk files, and disable drive sharing between Windows XP Mode and Windows 7.

"The increasing prevalence worldwide of PCs based on Intel Core 2 processors with Intel Virtualization Technology is enabling a variety of new applications that provide business opportunities for greater manageability, security and cost reduction," Tom Quillin, director of Intel vPro Ecosystem Development, said in a statement. "Used with Windows XP Mode, Intel Virtualization Technology helps small- and medium-sized businesses migrate more efficiently from Windows XP to Windows 7."

Microsoft announced that Windows 7 would include an XP Mode in April, combining desktop and presentation virtualization technologies in order to run otherwise-incompatible applications. Given that Windows XP Mode is still fundamentally XP, certain security advances such as ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) and Internet Explorer Protected Mode are nonfunctional, and there is a potential for crossover attacks under certain circumstances.