Microsoft is trying to make it easier to sway users of Windows XP onto the latest version of its operating system.
For some time now, the company has been quietly building a "Windows XP mode" that uses virtualization to allow Windows 7 to easily run applications designed for Windows XP. According to sources familiar with the product, the application compatibility mode is built on the Virtual PC technology that Microsoft acquired in 2003, when it scooped up the assets of Connectix.
By adding the compatibility mode, Microsoft is aiming to address one of the key shortcomings of Windows Vista: its compatibility issues with software designed for Windows XP and earlier versions of the operating system.
Details of the Windows XP mode, previously known as Virtual Windows XP, were first published earlier Friday by the Windows SuperSite blog.
The technology has not been part of the beta version of Windows 7 or previously disclosed by Microsoft, but is expected to be released alongside the upcoming release candidate version. Microsoft said on Friday that it will release it to developers next week and publicly starting May 5.
According to the SuperSite report, written by bloggers Paul Thurrott and Rafael Rivera, the XP mode won't come in the box with Windows 7, but will be made available as a free download for those who buy the professional, enterprise, or "ultimate" versions of Windows 7. The site also has some screenshots of the mode in action.
There had been rumors of a secret user interface, but until Friday, no mention of the XP mode.
Update: Late on Friday, Microsoft confirmed XP Mode in a blog posting.
"Windows XP Mode is specifically designed to help small businesses move to Windows 7," Microsoft's Scott Woodgate said in the blog. "Windows XP Mode provides you with the flexibility to run many older productivity applications on a Windows 7 based PC."
According to the post, "all you need to do is to install suitable applications directly in Windows XP Mode which is a virtual Windows XP environment running under Windows Virtual PC. The applications will be published to the Windows 7 desktop and then you can run them directly from Windows 7."
Microsoft said it "will be soon releasing the beta of Windows XP Mode and Windows Virtual PC for Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate."