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VMware, Others Offer Windows 7 Upgrade Advice

VMware has extended a helping hand to consumers considering migrating from Microsoft Windows XP to Windows 7.

The solution is desktop virtualization. In a blog post on Thursday, Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware advocated using two tools to enable desktop virtualization on Windows 7, easing XP migration and Windows 7 upgrade pains. The idea is to bundle up your XP desktop, settings and files in a virtual machine (VM) using VMware Desktop Converter. The next step is to save the VM on a USB drive and then install VMware Player on the Windows 7 machine.

Using VMware Player, the XP VM can be opened within Windows 7, running in its own window. The XP VM can stay on the USB drive or it can be installed to the Windows 7 machine and run there.

The best part of this scenario is that VMware Player and VMware Desktop Converter are both free for noncommercial use. They can be downloaded from VMware's site here and here, respectively (registration required).

VMware claims on its download page that VMware Player is "better than Windows XP Mode," which is Microsoft's desktop virtualization solution bundled with Windows 7 for smaller organizations. Microsoft typically downplays running XP Mode for consumers because the VM has difficulty running graphics-intensive applications such as games. In addition, XP Mode is only available with the Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise editions.

VMware Player users can "run legacy Windows XP applications with better graphics, faster performance, and tighter integration than Windows XP mode offers," claims the VMware Web site. Using VMware Player also avoids the "need to re-install and re-configure your existing applications which is necessary with Windows XP Mode," the site adds.

VMware's free products have been available for a while, but Parallels, based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, introduced a similar option in May designed to help with consumer XP migrations. The new Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7 solution works with PCs only and costs $40 (or $50 with a cable).

A Parallels blog claims that free desktop virtualization solutions are "not always better." It singles out Oracle's VirtualBox, stating that "swapping USB devices between host and guest is still an issue with VirtualBox."

Citrix, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., offers its XenDesktop Express desktop virtualization solution, which is free for up to 10 users.

Microsoft's solution for consumers upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 is to use a custom installation option. The steps are rather tedious, perhaps making the option of desktop virtualization seem more attractive.

According to a Microsoft consumer upgrade page, users are advised to move files and settings off to an external hard drive using Microsoft's free Easy Transfer program. However, Easy Transfer does not move your programs, which need to be reinstalled after a Windows 7 upgrade. After performing a custom installation of Windows 7, files and settings can be moved back to the PC using Easy Transfer. Finally, users need to reinstall the programs they want and update the drivers.

Reporting by Ina Fried of CNet has called into question whether Microsoft considers these desktop virtualization options (other than Microsoft's own XP Mode) legal from a licensing perspective. She cited a statement attributed to Gavriella Schuster, general manager for Windows client commercial, as saying that most consumers buying Windows PCs from OEMs don't have the rights. Consumers typically lack a license "that would allow them to transfer Windows into a virtual machine, move Windows to a different machine, or run a secondary virtual machine that is not running XP Mode on the same machine."

The situation is different for Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing-option customers.

"We do endorse this solution [desktop virtualization] for enterprise customers with Software Assurance, because that license does give users the option to transfer the license and run a secondary VM on the same machine," according to a statement by a Microsoft spokesperson sent on Friday via e-mail.

"Users of Windows 7 Pro and Ultimate have the additional license right to use a copy of Windows XP Mode, which is available as a separate download from www.microsoft.com," the spokesperson continued. "It may be used with either a Windows Virtual PC, VMware software or Parallels virtualization software, as long as the user is a licensed user of Windows 7 Pro or Ultimate."

The Parallels FAQ and System Requirements omit such discussions about Windows licensing. Similarly, such details are missing from the VMware Player FAQ.

Desktop virtualization licensing rights may be absent for Windows 7 Home Premium edition users, but those who do run Windows XP in XP Mode or a third-party VM can still use the free Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus solution with it. A Microsoft spokesperson explained by e-mail that "Microsoft Security Essentials will run and receive regular updates on virtual Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 PCs including XP Mode on Windows 7 PCs."

The question is still out as to whether Microsoft will eventually offer desktop migration solutions in the future to consumers that are similar to those of VMware, Parallels and other such vendors. According to the Microsoft spokesperson, "we do not have any information to share at this time" on that question.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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