by Shane O'Neill

Is Windows 7’s XP Mode a Quagmire in the Making?

May 08, 20092 mins
Data Center

With Windows XP Mode, Microsoft’s virtualization feature that will allow Windows 7 users to run XP apps in a virtual machine, the software giant has good intentions: to ease the compatibility fears of the XP faithful.

But in its hot pursuit to help XP users upgrade yet still use older apps (and also help its own bottom line by getting more businesses to deploy Windows 7), is Microsoft rushing a technology that has spotty support from chipmakers Intel and AMD?

Imagine buying a fleet of Windows 7 PCs for your business. You still have custom-made applications that only work with Windows XP and you’re relying on Windows XP Mode to run them, only to find out the processors in your spanking new PCs do not support virtualization. That would stink.

Here’s what we know so far: PCs that have CPUs that do not support Intel VT (Intel Virtualization Technology) or AMD-V (AMD Virtualization) will not be able to run Windows XP Mode in Windows 7. Apparently, most AMD chips support AMD-V. But Intel, being the bigger company, has a more complicated system.

Now, exactly how microprocessors enable virtualization is an infinitely complex subject that will not even attempt to clarify here. But the bottom line is that Intel does not include virtualization support in all of its microprocessors. If they did there would be no problem here. The onus will be on IT managers to have the right chip in place if they want to run XP Mode in Windows 7.

ZDNet blogger Ed Bott explains the XP Mode CPU support conundrum further and compiles a list of which Intel processors support virtualization and which do not. Surprisingly, even Intel’s newer and more powerful chips do not support virtualization.

This has the potential to be as big a mess as the “Vista Capable” marketing fiasco that is still playing out in court. But it’s unlikely XP Mode chip problems will reach those heights of messiness, if only because it’s out in the open this early. At least everyone has the time and knowledge to make sure their PCs are ready for XP Mode.

Still, Intel and Microsoft will need to improve their communication skills — with each other and with customers — to make sure that those who need XP Mode will have PCs that can run it.