VMware takes on Windows XP-to-7 move

The virtualization leader says its free software can ease the migration from Windows XP to 7. But, like a product from rival Parallels, the approach raises licensing issues.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read

VMware says that, like its rival Parallels, it has virtualization software that can help ease the transition from Windows XP to Windows 7.

While its approach is less comprehensive than Parallels $50 product, VMware's approach is free, using a combination of VMware Converter and VMware Player, both of which are available from the company's Web site. VMware's approach uses Converter to package up and transfer a physical XP desktop into a virtual machine and then allows that XP desktop to run virtually inside the new Windows 7 machine.

VMware's products have been available for some time, but the company this week posted a blog outlining how the two can be used in combination specifically to ease the move to Windows 7.

VMware says its free converter product, shown above, when used along with the free VMware Player software can help ease the Windows XP-to-Windows 7 transition. VMware

"We were making more of our customers aware of the idea," group product manager Jason Joel said in a telephone interview on Friday. "With Windows 7, there are a lot of people that are switching currently or looking to switch."

But, he said, the standard tools for moving to Windows 7 are difficult, requiring users to back up all their data, perform a clean installation of Windows, then restore their data and reinstall their applications. Using virtualization allows the programs and data to more easily be carried forward into Windows 7.

Sensing the same opportunity, Parallels introduced its Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7 product earlier this year. That program, though not free, allows some additional features, such as the ability to migrate some programs directly to Windows 7 and virtualize only those programs that are incompatible with the new operating system.

However, consumers using VMware's software could face the same licensing issues created by using Parallels' product--namely that the license that comes with the typical Windows PC can't be transferred to a virtual machine. After CNET raised the issue, Microsoft issued a warning of its own.

"Microsoft does not endorse moving the user's desktop from a physically loaded OS into a VM as a consumer solution, because the vast majority (more than 90 percent) of consumers do not license Windows under a license that would allow them to transfer Windows into a virtual machine, move Windows to a different machine, or run a secondary virtual machine that is not running XP Mode on the same machine," Microsoft's general manager Gavriella Schuster told CNET last month. The same issue would appear to be the case with VMware's product.

Consumers that bought a full boxed copy of Windows XP or businesses with a Software Assurance contract with Microsoft might be properly licensed.

"I know our focus has been on enterprise customers who have Software Assurance," Joel said. "We are very aware of the OEM licensing restrictions and we notify our customers."

As for the decision to stick with the free tools, Joel said that VMware considered creating a separate Windows 7 upgrade product, but ultimately decided that it would rather tout the free options and look to build goodwill rather than revenue. Joel noted that many of the techies likely to use the product are the same people that serve as advocates and evangelists for its paid products. Plus, he said, the free tools will reach people that would likely not otherwise use virtualization.

"We're hoping it will open the eyes of consumers to all the benefits virtual machines can offer," he said.