XP virtual computing avoids dual-boot complexity

Scott dunn By Scott Dunn

It’s possible to have Vista and chow down on your XP cake, too, if you apply a free — for now — virtual machine.

If you’re stuck with a Vista PC, but you really prefer using XP, I’ll show you how to set up XP as a virtual machine on Vista, plus some tricks you can use to get the most out of this setup.

Why you should give virtual machines a free try

It’s unarguable: Windows XP operates more quickly than Vista (a fact that PC World recently demonstrated even with the new Service Pack 1 installed on Vista). Additionally, no one who’s independent of Microsoft’s payroll suggests that device drivers are just as easily available for Vista as they are for XP, or that Vista supports as many software applications that people own.

It’s Microsoft’s mission to make the marketplace more Vista-friendly, which seems to be the company’s primary motivation for shutting off retail sales of XP on June 30. But many Windows users want to stick with XP, either for performance reasons or so they can use software that’s not Vista-friendly. With fewer PCs on the shelf that will run, or even support, Windows XP — and with that number dwindling each day — a way you can run XP on a Vista machine that may be your only option is a blessing.

Operating XP in a virtual machine (VM) is a great alternative for those with newer PCs that may not, out of the box, be XP-compatible. Indeed, when I explained in a Feb. 14 article how to set up a computer to dual-boot between Vista and XP, a number of readers suggested another possibility: run XP in a virtual machine.

UPDATE 2008-04-03: Many readers sent in this suggestion. The first reader to recommend the approach was David Gustafson. Gustafson received a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of his choice for sending the XP-in-a-virtual-machine tip we printed.

One related fact makes this option even greater: you can prove that it works for free, using downloads from Microsoft that will function at least through July 3, 2008. (More on that later.)

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2008-03-27: