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An XP program may be run in a virtual machine on a Windows 7 computer, if it is set up correctly.

Hi, Leo. Old machine, XP is dying. Bought a new Windows machine, Windows Home Premium, (I'm gonna assume 7) and have Macrium Free on both machines - thanks for the tip. Wife can't do without some programs on XP. Can I load an XP image backup to the new Win 7 machine using a virtual hard drive? Hopefully, I won't have to go to a dual boot system. Thanks for all your help.

In this excerpt from Answercast #7, I explore the difficulties involved in running XP programs in a virtual machine environment and offer an option to make it run smoothly.

Virtual drive or virtual machine?

So, I'm going to assume by "virtual hard drive" what you really mean is a virtual machine. A virtual hard drive simply mounts and makes it look like the backup image is another drive on your system. It's a great way to copy off specific files.

The programs that are on there probably won't run because they're not on the drive they are expected to be; they are not on a C drive. They'll be on some other drive letter and, of course, the Windows registry won't have been updated to include all of their information because you have not run their setup program on this new machine.

But the drive would certainly be mountable as a "virtual hard drive" and in fact, I believe Macrium Reflect already provides that capability. You just tell it to "mount it" and you can assign a drive letter and then you can start using Windows Explorer (or whatever) to copy files from that backup image.

Run XP programs on Windows 7

I think what you're really looking for is a way to run your old Windows XP system in a virtual machine. And the answer is mixed. It is possible to create a virtual machine from a physical machine. Parallels is a manufacturer of virtual machine software and they have a utility called Transporter (I believe it is). What that does is take a Windows XP machine (the hard disk image), create a virtual machine from it, and update the drivers.

That's the problem that causes this to be difficult to solve. It's not as simple as just copying that information to another hard drive (or virtual hard drive or whatever) and being able to run Windows XP.

The problem is that particular version of XP has drivers for your old machine; it has settings for your old machine. Your old machine doesn't exist in this new environment, so all of that information is wrong and Windows will get very, very confused.

Solving the driver problem

Parallels Transporter tries to solve the majority of those issues when it creates the virtual machine. It knows where to look and what to tweak and it's already replacing some device drivers to make virtual machines work. They got their fingers in there anyway, so they can do that.

I've done this exactly once.

I had an XP machine that I wanted to turn into a virtual machine for various reasons. I tried restoring a backup image of that machine into an empty virtual machine and just booting from it to see what would work; nothing worked. As I said, all of the drivers were wrong; the thing wouldn't even boot. It didn't even get close.

Later, I did try Parallels Transporter on it and it was able to create a working virtual machine from the Windows XP machine. So, that is one solution that I'm aware of; but it does take an extra step. It takes special software to make that translation.

That might work for you. I can't say for sure because, of course once again, these things always depend on a lot of specifics in the situation, but that's the direction I would point you in.

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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.

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4 Comments
Scott C
April 10, 2012 1:31 PM

Another option (one that I am using) is to upgrade to Win7 Pro. Keys can be purchased from Microsoft, and other vendors (google for best pricing). With Win7 Pro, you can download an XP virtual machine. It cost me $79 bucks to do this, but was less expensive than buying an updated version of Quickbooks. My version of QB would not run at all on Win7. I guess you would need to look at your RAM to be sure you have enough to run it. This was not an issue, as I have 8GB.
Good luck.

Raphael Eban
April 10, 2012 2:32 PM

I am using Oracle Virtual Box [VMbox] on my Windows 7 home premium. This [VMbox] is free!! I have loaded Windows XP into this and then loaded 32 bit programs into the XP that will not run on the Windows 64 bit o.s.
No problem. Just a bit of hassle setting it up.

Eric Brightwell
April 13, 2012 9:36 AM

One issue which has not been mentioned is the licence for the XP operating system. If you convert an exisiting XP PC into a virtual machine and it only had an OEM licence then you may be breaching the terms.

Scott C
April 14, 2012 10:12 AM

Good point Eric. This is why I went the upgrade route to Win 7 Pro. At $79, it was cheaper than buying a complete XP disc, as well as the Quickbooks issue I mentioned. It works flawlessly. All of my XP discs are OEM.

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