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Windows 7 XP Mode (RC)

I originally had a bit of trouble with the betas of XP Mode but the Release Candidate is polished smooth and fully functional. XP Mode is comprised of two applications: Virtual PC and XP mode. Virtual PC can still be used to run a multitude of custom VMs but consumers will get XP Mode for free. This includes a fully licensed XP Pro VM and some very cool application virtualization features as well. Virtual PC, most notably, now supports USB drives and smart cards. Tighter host integration is achieved by more integration features and host hardware device access. An important distinction of this version from its predecessors is that CPU hardware virtualization is required. Your CPU must be capable of running the AMD-V or Intel-VT instruction set to use the software.

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Having a fully licensed XP Pro VM at your disposal has a lot of obvious benefits. Any legacy application incompatibilities can be remedied by installing in the XP environment. The concept of virtual machines may prove troublesome to some end users in the enterprise so as part of XP Mode, full published application virtualization is available as well. Any application installed in the XP Mode VM is, by default, automatically published to the XP Mode Applications folder in the start menu.  image image

You can easily publish any application you want by creating a shortcut in the “all users” folder on the XP VM. When XP Mode applications are launched the VM cannot be running. If you attempt to launch a virtualized application while the VM is running, you will be informed that the VM must first be closed. The default action is hibernation.

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Now for the magic. Using XP Mode Applications you can run two versions of the same program. conflict free, including IE! Have a web app that will only work on IE 6? No problem. Need to run Office 2007 and Office 2003? No problem. The best part is that the virtualized app is seamlessly integrated into the workflow area with no obvious indication it’s virtualized at all. If you’ve used ThinApp or the like this experience is very similar, except provided near natively.

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Even from a process standpoint it simply appears that two instances of IE are running. Combined with the Virtual PC instance this solution has a relatively small footprint. YMMV, of course.

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I will be deploying Windows 7 in my enterprise soon, which combined with XP Mode will provide a very solid solution. Application virtualization was previously a potentially expensive investment depending on technology and implementation. Free is certainly hard to beat, and the complexity of this solution couldn’t be any less.

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