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Microsoft nixes barrier to Windows 7's 'XP mode'

Windows 7 users will no longer need their PC's processor to support hardware virtualization to run the new and old operating systems together.

Although Windows 7's "XP Mode" has been a welcome feature of the new operating system, there's been a fair bit of confusion brought on by the virtualization layer's hardware requirements.

To work, XP Mode has required a PC processor that supports hardware virtualization, and that feature had to be turned on in the computer's BIOS (basic input/output system). Those requirements caused some consternation, as PC owners didn't always have an easy way to tell if their system fit the bill.

Well, those requirements are no more. As part of a wave of virtualization announcements on Thursday, Microsoft said people running Windows 7 will now be able to use XP Mode without having to know whether their PC processor supports hardware virtualization.

"This change simplifies the experience by making virtualization more accessible to many more PCs for small and midsize businesses wanting to migrate to Windows 7 Professional or higher editions, while still running Windows XP-based productivity applications," Microsoft said in a blog posting.

As noted by ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, those already running XP Mode don't need the update, but those who had found themselves on the sidelines because of their PC hardware can download the update and try out XP Mode. To run XP Mode legitimately, users still need to be running the Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate editions of Windows 7.

Microsoft also noted some other virtualization moves in the blog posting, including a forthcoming update that will be part of the first service pack for Windows Server 2008 R2. The update will add two features:

"Microsoft Dynamic Memory will allow customers to adjust memory of a guest virtual machine on demand to maximize server hardware use," the company said. "Microsoft RemoteFX will enable users of virtual desktops and applications to receive a rich 3-D, multimedia experience while accessing information remotely."

Also on the virtualization front, Microsoft announced an expanded partnership with Citrix as well as some licensing changes that will make it easier for businesses to allow workers to remotely access their systems via virtualized desktops.