In the wake of making Windows 7 official with the release to manufacturing (RTM) version last week, Microsoft announced the RC (release candidate) version of Windows XP Mode for Windows 7. The virtualized edition of Windows XP SP3 removes a major hurdle facing enterprises that rely on legacy applications built to run on Windows XP.
It is no secret that Windows Vista was not as widely adopted as Microsoft would have liked. Many enterprises chose to ride their existing investment in Windows XP rather than investing in an upgrade to Windows Vista with all of its perceived issues and negative publicity. For some enterprises the fact that business critical applications designed for Windows XP might not run in Windows Vista was also a major consideration making the business case for upgrading that much harder to sell.
Windows 7 is not Windows Vista though. Windows 7 has received kudos and acclaim since early Beta and the official release of the operating system is anxiously anticipated. That doesn’t change the issue around custom or proprietary Windows XP applications though.
Upgrading an enterprise environment to a new operating system is a mammoth undertaking and admins do not look forward to also trying to update or upgrade individual applications, or worse, replacing business critical applications in order to find something that works with the new operating system. Microsoft understands that issue and developed the Windows XP Mode virtualization to ease that pain and offer customers a way to upgrade to the latest flagship operating system while retaining backward compatibility with tried and true Windows XP applications.
To be clear though, Microsoft does not intend for enterprises to simply plug everything into virtualized Windows XP. Ideally, enterprise customers will make use of other tools from Microsoft such as Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.5 to identify applications with compatibility issues and upgrade or address as many of those issues as possible prior to upgrading the desktop infrastructure to Windows 7.
For enterprises that do use Windows XP Mode for running legacy Windows XP applications in Windows 7 Microsoft offers a warning as well. The virtualized Windows XP environment will not be protected by the same security controls and protections available in Windows 7. The virtualized environment is a computer unto itself and Windows XP lacks features such as ASLR and Internet Explorer Protected Mode that make Windows 7 more secure. It is important to realize that the virtualized Windows XP system needs to be secured independent of the Windows 7 system.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.