Windows 7 is doing much better out of the gate than Windows Vista did. As good as the OS roll out is going, there are still legacy devices out there that don't have drivers and software updates to work with Windows 7. The vast masses of users who have held on to Windows XP are particularly vulnerable to this issue which is why Microsoft created XP Mode virtualization to ease the pain of transition.
XP Mode is a complete, licensed copy of Windows XP with Service Pack 3 contained in a virtual hard disk (VHD) that runs under Windows Virtual PC. XP-mode enables you to run Windows XP from within Windows 7. You can add USB devices and seamlessly access the drives on the host Windows 7 system. Most importantly, Windows XP-mode lets you use Windows 7, while still providing a platform for you to use legacy hardware that is not compatible with Windows 7.
There is a catch though. Windows XP Mode is only available for the Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions of Windows 7. The millions of consumers who are still using Windows XP and are considering whether or not to switch to Windows 7 Home Premium do not have the benefit of leveraging XP Mode to connect older hardware or incompatible software.
The core components required for Windows XP Mode are built in to the operating system, but you have to download Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode separately. Even though Windows Home Premium users can not use Windows XP Mode, you can still use Windows Virtual PC to create your own virtual computer environments.
There is another catch as well. The computer hardware that you install Windows 7 and Windows XP Mode on must support hardware-assisted virtualization. What makes this a particularly sticky catch is that it sort of contradicts the purpose of Windows XP Mode. If you are still running Windows XP and using legacy hardware devices, odds are fair that you are also using older computer hardware that won't have the required technology to use Windows XP Mode. If that is the case, you will have to buy a new system rather than simply upgrading, but you can still use Windows XP Mode to connect older peripherals.
Assuming you meet all of the requirements and get Windows XP Mode installed, I believe you will be impressed. I frequently use Windows Virtual PC to be able to install and work with alternate operating system platforms. I like Windows Virtual PC, but you can definitely tell that you are taxing the system resources and things can get sluggish.
Windows XP Mode is fast. Lightning fast. It works, and it works well. I found installing and working with the Windows XP Mode to be significantly easier and more satisfying than any other virtual computing environment I have used. If you have legacy peripherals that won't work natively in Windows 7, don't let that stop you from taking advantage of the many improvements in Windows 7.
Not to beat a dead horse, but it is very unfortunate that Microsoft did not include Windows XP Mode as an option for Windows Home Premium. Millions of consumers still rely on Windows XP and Microsoft is banking on them making the switch to Windows 7. It is bad enough that there is no seamless upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7. The least Microsoft could have done was to provide consumers with Windows XP Mode to make the transition smoother.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.