Windows 7 Will Include “XP Mode” For Compatibility

Microsoft is planning to announce a new “XP Mode” feature for Windows 7 with the upcoming release candidate, due May 5. The new XP Mode will allow users to run Windows XP applications under Windows 7, using technology very similar to Virtual PC.

However, unlike Virtual PC itself, which runs as separate desktop in a separate window, XP Mode will let you run your XP apps right along side those that have been updated to work with Windows 7. Under the hood, XP Mode apps will be running through a virtual machine, which means they might be a bit slower, but at least they’ll be available.

The move is similar to what Apple did with “Classic Mode” during the company’s transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X.

XP Mode will go a long way toward eliminating users’ hesitation about upgrading to the new OS. Also, it will side-step any headaches along the lines of what Microsoft experienced when its “Windows Vista compatible” claim failed during the transition from XP to Vista, since the company will be able to claim Windows 7 is compatible with just about every Windows application currently on the market. That’s a huge win for Microsoft, especially with its corporate users, who often have custom applications that would require extensive retooling before the companies can to upgrade to the latest version of Windows.

While XP Mode will no doubt eliminate one of the main reasons to not upgrade your OS — losing access to older applications — it also means that in the future Microsoft won’t need to invest as much time and energy into ensuring that Windows is backwards-compatible. Instead the company can focus on new features and improvements while offering a way to run your older applications.

One thing to keep in mind — the XP Mode features will likely not be a part of the broad Windows 7 release. Instead, XP Mode will be separate download available for free to those who opt for the Windows Professional and Ultimate editions.Of course it remains to be seen how well XP Mode integrates with Windows 7 and how much of a performance hit the virtualization makes. Still, Apple’s Classic Mode wasn’t the speediest of apps, but it did go a long way to smoothing the OS transition. If Microsoft can pull off the same with XP Mode, it should help convince reluctant users to go ahead and make the leap to Windows 7.

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