Windows 7 and Virtual XP mode – What and Who is it for?

The new Virtual XP Mode in Windows 7 requires a CPU supporting virtualization and a supporting BIOS. The vast majority of XP users do not have a computer with a CPU or BIOS that would support this option. With this in mind, this is not a feature that is going to be used by the masses in 2010.

You are probably asking yourself; “So who and what is this feature for?”

I’m fairly excited about the following uses:

  • Enterprises with Legacy Applications
  • A vision of the future of Windows upgrades

Enterprises with Legacy Applications
In most Enterprises, there are some major applications like: ERP, CRM and HR that are only upgraded every 4 or 5 years. This is due, in part, to considerable costs with migration, training, hardware upgrades and testing.

The suppliers of these applications developed their currently deployed mainstream versions when the desktop OS release in use was Windows XP and Windows 2000. Based upon the suppliers product life-cycle, they often are just releasing their first version of product with Vista support. Many are just certifying support for IE 7 or Firefox 3. Oh, and by the way, the install programs of many of these products refuse to install on a version of an Operating System they do not expressly support.

For these companies and applications, Windows 7 and the Virtual XP mode allows the company to make new hardware purchases that are Virtual XP Mode capable. They can take advantage of the many improvements in Windows 7. At the same time, they can then install and run their existing legacy applications in the Virtual XP machine.

A vision of future Windows upgrades
Within a generation, or two, of PC computer upgrades the mainstream of PC hardware in use will have a CPU and BIOS that is virtualization capable. This means that it will be possible to keep existing applications when you upgrade your Computer and Operating System. After all, why should we have to buy new versions of every application that we own when we upgrade our Computer?

This means that my wife’s, Virtual Assistant, business will be able to continue to use QuickBooks Pro 2006 Professional Services Edition until she is prepared to spend the $$ to buy an updated version. There are many other applications that she has purchased and they work just fine. So I ask again; “Why should she have to buy new copies just because she had to buy a new computer“? Afterall, when I buy a new Home-theater system, I can use my existing speakers. Perhaps a better analogy is “I don’t have to buy a new car when I buy new tires.. An operating System is a lot like tires.

I call this a “Tool Chain”, where upgrading a key component requires the acquisition and installation of new components for all of your applications. This makes the expense and time investment much greater than changing a single part. Imagine if every time you changed the fuel filter in your car that you had to also replace the spark plugs, carburetor, fuel pump and the other components of the fuel delivery system in your car. That would be a lot of time and $$$, wouldn’t it?

Several years ago, I participated in a planning session with HP for my company’s software code generation products to target their new “Merced” chip. This later became Itanium. When it dawned on me that no existing software would run on this chip, we were done. At least, for the time being. I explained to the HP architects that we could not even start until there was a released or beta Operating System, C compilers and Relational Databases for their new chip.

If AMD had not introduced the 64-bit extensions,x86_64, to the x86 chip, then mainstream 64-bit computing would be years away. These extensions allow existing 32-bit code to run concurrently with new 64-bit code. The Virtual XP Mode in Windows 7 will provide a similar ability.

I’m recommending to anyone that is buying a new PC computer that when it’s possible they should ensure the CPU and BIOS are Virtual XP mode capable.

My final analysis is; “What Microsoft is doing, will overtime, make virtualization an assumed capability on a Windows system. This may turn out to be a game changer.”

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