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Virtual machines allow you to run multiple operating systems on one computer. There are several software packages that will help you get started.

Can I run Windows XP on my new computer with Windows 7?

In this excerpt from Answercast #48, I look at virtual machines as a way to run XP inside of another operating system.

XP on a Windows 7 machine?

The short answer is yes.

There are actually a couple of different ways to do that. The technology that I recommend is what's called a "virtual machine."

Virtual machines

What a virtual machine allows you to do is:

  • Run (in a window) a simulation of a separate computer.

So, you have this other program:

  • That sets up a simulation of a standalone PC...

  • Then, on that simulated PC, you can install whatever operating system you like.

Run another machine in a window

So, for example, on my Mac, I run a software called Parallels. Parallels allows me to install Windows (in this case, Windows 7) on my Mac in addition to (or underneath, if you will,) the Mac operating system.

That means that I can open up a Window on my Mac and sure enough:

  • In that window is a copy of Windows 7 and all of the applications and so forth that I might choose to run.

The same thing can happen on a PC. I do it heavily. I have a Windows 7 machine and I have several virtual machines set up on that computer that allow me to, when I want to:

  • Run Windows XP;

  • Run Windows Vista;

  • Run a different version of Windows 7.

  • I can even run Ubuntu Linux;

  • Or anything else that would install and run on a normal PC.

So, virtual machine is the technology.

Virtual machine software

If you want a general-purpose solution, I personally recommend Parallels. But I know that there are other solutions out there. At least one of which is free, and I think it's called Virtual Box from Oracle.

The other solution is:

  • If you are running Windows 7 Pro version or better (this is not available for the Home or other editions like that. It's on Pro or Ultimate or whatever's better than Pro);

  • You have the option of downloading from Microsoft, something called XP mode.

Now all that XP mode is, is exactly what I just described:

  • It's a virtual machine.

  • In this case, it's a virtual machine that comes pre-configured to run Windows XP.

So what you'll do is you'll download it, you'll install it, and when you run it, up will come a copy of Windows XP that you can then configure to your heart's content.

A computer within a computer

  • It's a virtual machine;

  • It runs in a window;

  • It's separate from your Windows 7.

  • You can share files between the two.

They have a copy/paste enabled between the two; but it really is like having a completely separate machine that happens to be running Windows XP.

More information:

I have a couple articles I want to point you at.

That discusses the whole concept I just mentioned about virtual machines in general.

This is an article I wrote not long after Windows 7 came out when people were concerned about losing Outlook Express.

  • "XP mode" is a way to get Windows XP on your machine at the same time as Windows 7 is running.

  • And yes! It's Windows XP. It actually comes with Outlook Express.

I don't recommend Outlook Express for other reasons, so I don't want to make that a red herring here, but the fact is Windows XP is available to the users of Windows 7 Pro or better as a free download.

Article C5753 - August 30, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Ken B
August 30, 2012 4:50 PM

Note, too, that even if you have Win7 Pro, you may not be able to run "XP mode". Your computer needs to include hardware virtualization support:

You are correct about the name "VirtualBox" from Oracle. (Well, except that there's no space.)

I can happily run XP (as well as numerous other O/Ses) in a VM on my Win7 Home Premium (not supported by "XP Mode") on a CPU without hardware-assisted virtualization, using VirtualBox. (And the price is right, too... Free.)

BTW, I like how Google's search for "XP mode" will give, as the first link, a broken link on Microsoft's page. Microsoft's error handler then offers suggestions, the second of which is the same broken link.

August 31, 2012 11:40 AM

A free alternative to Parallels is VMWare Player. Works very well.

September 4, 2012 9:38 AM

I'm using Oracle Virtual Box to run Red Hat Linux on my Windows 7 machine and it works quite well. The drawback is that although my machine is an 8 cre machine, Virtual Box can only use one of these cores for the virtual machine. What I'm doing with Linus is very processor intensive. Does anyone know if other virtualization software can give better performance.

While not free I use Parallels and it allows you to choose the number of processors to be used by the VM.
September 5, 2012 12:46 PM

I'd love to try Ubuntu/Linux, but their interface is so foreign to me. I've considered installing as a second O/S, but wonder if using VM will allow a more familiar interface [XP, Vista]? I've yet to see, or here, of this. Perhaps there's a reason. To be honest...I haven't searched this for over 6 months.

I'm currently running Vista Home Premium, 64 bit dual core, 4GB RAM. Perhaps this the reason? Perhaps I'm asking too much.

September 11, 2012 10:53 AM

First, you can download a Ubuntu bootable image and just run it from the disc. Just pop the disc in, reboot the computer, choose to boot from your optical media. When Ubuntu starts, tell it you want to run only (NOT install). You can then work in Ubuntu and when you want to go back to Windows, just shut down Ubuntu and reboot the computer.

You can also run Ubuntu in a virtual machine. I tried it with VirtualBox (free/open source) a while ago.

You first download/install VirtualBox on the computer. Then download the Ubuntu ISO (no need to burn a disc). Launch VirtualBox and create a new session. Tell it to load Ubuntu from the ISO. At this point you can choose to either just run Ubuntu (and will have to do this each time) or tell it to install Ubuntu in the virtual machine.

Once Ubuntu is installed in the VM, all you have to do to "play" in Ubuntu is launch VirtualBox and then launch Ubuntu.

One of the neat things about doing this in VirtualBox is that you could create virtual machines for multiple version of Ubuntu, or multiple distros of Linux (Ubuntu, Puppy, DSLinux).

Do a Google search for VirtualBox and Ubuntu, there will probably be some step-by-step guides out there.

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