Q. How Do I Get My XP Virtual Machine to Run in Windows 10?

Q. How Do I Get My XP Virtual Machine to Run in Windows 10?

Q. I just upgraded my 64-bit Win7 system to Win10 — and discovered that there’s no support for XP virtual machines in the new OS. Although I can go get other VM software and build a new VPC, the old one is loaded and tuned with a number of legacy apps that I need several times a year. Each of the apps has an initial install and layers of updates, so “just reinstall what you had” could be a two- or three-day-long process that I’d rather avoid.

I need something that will allow the old VPC to be used again, without reinstalling everything. Is there any way to take an existing XP VPC from Win7 and then load (or restore, or overlay, or whatever) it into a new VPC?

A. Yes, it might be possible to re-use the existing and already-set-up virtual hard drive in a new, Win10-compatible virtual machine. Conceptually, this is the same as moving a physical hard drive from one PC to another. As long as the PCs aren’t too different, the software on the relocated hard drive can usually run on the new machine.

Likewise, a virtual hard drive can usually be moved from one VPC to another. As long as the new virtual machine is configured similarly to the original, the software on a relocated virtual hard drive should run.

But whether this will work for a specific XP virtual PC depends entirely of the kind of VPC you’re talking about.

If you have an XP virtual machine that you created yourself, from scratch, using an XP setup CD and Microsoft’s old VirtualPC software or third-party, virtual-machine software such as Oracle’s VirtualBox, then yes, you may well be able to directly transfer the XP virtual hard drive and setup to Win10.

Win10’s Hyper-V can support some older types of virtual PCs, though with some gotchas. For example, your PC’s chip-level hardware and your Win10 edition must both be compatible with Hyper-V. (See the MSDN article, “Windows 10 Hyper-V System Requirements,” and the companion article, “Hyper-V on Windows 10.”)

Oracle’s VirtualBox (free can create virtual PCs optimized for XP. It works with all common virtual-drive formats, including VDI, VMDK, VHD, and HDD. VirtualBox also is compatible with just about every current Windows version and edition — including XP (see Figure 1).

XP VPC

Figure 1. My reference copy of XP still runs fine in a VirtualBox VPC hosted by my daily driver Win10 PC.

But if you have a Windows 7 XP Mode VPC — a preconfigured VPC with its own internal, pre-licensed copy of XP — then the answer is no; XP Mode was a stopgap tool designed primarily to help people transition from XP to Win7. By design, XP Mode won’t set up properly on any other Windows version except Win7.

That said, I can think of one possible workaround. Note that this is a thought experiment on my part; I have no way to test it. But the logic seems sound. The idea is to restore your intact XP setup from a full-system backup/image to a new and empty virtual hard drive.

Here’s how I’d do it:

Create a full-system backup of the XP Mode VPC and store the backup files in a safe place that’s off the VPC. Next, use a tool such as VirtualBox to create a new, raw XP VPC that closely matches the virtual hardware in the old XP Mode VPC. As part of the setup process, you’ll create a new virtual hard drive.

Boot the new VPC from your backup tool’s rescue disk and restore the saved XP Mode backup to the empty virtual drive.

The new setup will likely sputter and stumble when you first start it, due to unavoidable differences in the VPC hardware. You might also get nags from the XP-activation process — again, with no way to test this, I can’t say. But with luck, the setup will at least run enough for you to iron out the kinks and get your old applications running again.

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Editor's note: We feature an abridged Q&A from Fred Langa's LANGALIST, a column available exclusively to paid subscribers of the Windows Secrets newsletter,. What you see here is just a small sampling of what Langa's writing for the newsletter — go here for more information on how to subscribe.

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