Some old programs are simply stubborn. No matter how much you play around with Compatibility Mode or administrative privileges, they just won’t run under Vista. That’s where Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 comes in. It lets you create a virtual Windows XP installation on your Vista system, but without any of the usual disk partitioning or dual-boot hassles. Instead, in effect, you run Windows XP as an application on your Vista desktop, then use your ‘PC within a PC’ to run your old programs whenever you like. Virtual PC doesn’t generally support games, and you will need a Windows XP disc and license number to create your installation. Also, you can’t use a version of XP that you’re using elsewhere. But if these aren’t issues for you, then Virtual PC could solve your Vista compatibility issues.
You can install Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 from www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/virtualpc. With no complicated setup options to consider, accept the default settings and it will install in a fewmoments. Launch Virtual PC and click Settings to configure your first Virtual Machine (VM). This can get complicated, as you’re able to define everything from how the mouse works to the number of hard disks your XP installation will have, but let’s keep things simple. Click File Name and call this VM something like ‘My XP PC’, then select the Memory option and set your VM to use 256MB, or half your PC’s memory — whichever is less. Click OK when you’re done.
Place your Windows XP disc into your computer’s CD drive, click Start in the Virtual PC console, and a window will show your VM as it boots.Wait 30 seconds — if the Windows XP setup screen still hasn’t appeared then the program probably needs a little help. Click the CD menu and choose ‘Use Physical Drive D:’ (or whatever drive contains your XP disc), then close the VM window and click Start. This time you should see Virtual PC boot from your Windows CD and launch the Setup program. Press Enter on your keyboard to choose the ‘Set up Windows XP now’ option, and work through the installation. This might feel scary, but don’t worry — none of this will affect your Vista installation. Setup is running inside your VM, so your Vista settings will be untouched.
When Setup has finished, your VM window will contain a complete Windows XP desktop. It will probably be small, but you can resize it in the normal XP way: right-click on an empty part of the desktop, select Properties > Settings and choose a larger resolution. By now you will also have noticed that the VM has ‘captured’ your mouse and keyboard. You’re not able to move the mouse cursor away from its window to launch a Windows Vista program, and pressing the Windows key, or Ctrl and Alt and Del, only affects your Windows XP installation — not Vista. To switch control back to your Windows Vista system, press ‘Alt Gr’. To return to the VM and Windows XP, just click your mouse somewhere within its window.
Click Action > Install or Update Virtual Machine Additions in the VM window, then follow the instructions to complete the setup process. Let the VM reboot when it’s done — you don’t need to reboot your PC. You now have a Windows XP installation running inside the VM window on your Vista desktop. To install programs there, if your old software is on disc, place it in your optical drive, open the XP version of Explorer, locate the setup file and launch it. If you have the setup file on your hard disk instead, just drag and drop it onto the XP desktop. After the file has copied there you will be able to double-click on it and install the programas normal.
Virtual PC can’t handle OpenGL, DirectX or any other gaming platforms, so it probably won’t run any of your old games. Most other software should install without any problems. If you can’t get an old scanner or printer to work with Windows Vista, for instance, then try installing it on a Virtual PC VM instead. If you can’t get a program running under Virtual PC, it might be worth tweaking your VM options. Click Settings and increase the amount of memory available. You may also need to create an extra virtual hard disk, or try turning the VM soundcard off, too.
You’re now able to run most XP software from within Virtual PC, but how can these applications communicate with the outside world? If your program needs internet access, then click Edit > Settings > Networking and set your network adapter to ‘Shared networking (NAT)’. This tells the VM to act as though it’s in a local network with your Vista installation, so if your host PC is connected to the internet the VM should be, too. If you want to share files created in the VM with your Vista installation, then click Edit > Settings > Shared Folders > Share Folder and specify a Vista folder. Save work there from the VM, and you’ll be able to access it later from Vista.