Windows 7 To Include Bridge To XP Applications

In Windows 7, Microsoft will give customers the ability to run older applications from within a virtual Windows XP environment running under Windows Virtual PC, a move that solution providers are calling the final nail in the eight-year-old XP's coffin.

In a Friday blog post, Scott Woodgate, a director of product management for Windows enterprise and virtualization strategy at Microsoft, said the idea behind the so-called 'Windows XP Mode' is to let small businesses upgrade to Windows 7 without breaking compatibility with their older productivity applications.

Microsoft will soon release the beta of Windows XP Mode and Windows Virtual PC for Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate, according to Woodgate, who offered little in the way of additional information.

Microsoft bloggers Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott did a deeper drill-down on Windows XP Mode and reported that Microsoft will offer Windows XP Mode as a free download to customers that buy Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions. By including this feature, Microsoft is giving Windows 7 near-100 percent compatibility with all Windows applications, they said.

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Many industry watchers believe Microsoft's fundamental mistake was letting XP become too ingrained in its customers' infrastructures. Resistance to Windows Vista among small businesses has been particularly strong, and recent reports have suggested companies may also delay Windows 7 upgrades, in part due to the staggering economy and the lack of perceived value in the forthcoming release.

Microsoft doesn't plan to offer a direct XP-to-Windows 7 upgrade path, and for the past year has been urging XP customers to upgrade to Vista before Windows 7 to minimize compatibility issues. But adding the XP Mode option in Windows 7 will go a long way toward spurring customers to finally start upgrading from XP, according to solution providers.

Ken Wallewein, a partner with K&M Systems Integration, a Calgary, Alberta-based Microsoft partner, has been using virtualized XP in Windows Vista and says it's indispensible for certain types of tasks. "There simply are some things, like VPNs, that XP does better than Vista," he said.

"Windows XP Mode is precisely the sort of solution that customers require to maintain backward-compatibility, while also embracing and realizing the benefits of Windows 7, and it should also help remove concerns that some folks have about upgrading," said Daniel Duffy, CEO of Valley Network Solutions, a Microsoft Gold partner in Fresno, Calif.

NEXT: How Will SMBs Benefit?

SMB customers have been ready, willing and able to move away from XP for some time, but didn't feel confident about their upgrade options, said Michael Cocanower, president of Phoenix-based solution provider ITSynergy. "The bottom line is most SMBs simply weren't comfortable making the switch to Vista, but now there's no reason for them to stay on XP," Cocanower said.

The addition of XP Mode gives Windows 7 a sufficient degree of simplicity to compel more businesses to upgrade their desktop infrastructures, according to Neil Pearlstein, president of PC Professional, an Oakland, Calif.-based Microsoft Gold Partner. "You can only put off purchasing new PCs for so long," he said.

But Pearlstein still doesn't see a compelling reason for larger companies running XP on new desktops and laptops to move quickly to upgrade to Windows 7, which means Microsoft's goal of compelling them to consider desktop upgrades without new PC purchases could prove elusive.

Microsoft could also run into support issues stemming from the fact that Windows XP Mode won't be baked into Windows 7 when it ships and will only be available as an out-of-band update, Valley Network Solutions' Duffy said. "If Microsoft tells customers they can't assist them since it's not part of the core product, that could have an adverse affect on upgrade rates," he said.

Andy Kretzer, director of sales and marketing at Bold Data Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based system builder, likes the idea behind Windows XP Mode but says its true impact will hinge on overall system resource requirements, complexity of configuration and how it will affect performance.

"If it's too complicated, then it may get glossed over -- after all, IT departments can already do much of this with Virtual PC," he said.

Still, Kretzer sees XP Mode as a promising development because of its potential to create plenty of opportunities for Microsoft solution providers. "This could enable partners to bring into play their value-add services for upgrades, and for system builders to push full-featured, turnkey, replacement systems for corporations that have been holding up their hardware refreshes because of application-migration issues," he said.