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MED-V Offers No Rx for Windows XP Migrations

Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) won't help organizations escape Windows XP's expiring lifecycle support, a Microsoft blog post warned this week.

MED-V is a desktop virtualization technology that's part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). Organizations typically use MED-V to run Windows XP in a virtual machine on newer Windows Vista- or Windows 7-based PCs -- principally to support older applications. However, product lifecycle support for the dying 10-year-old Windows XP is firm, with "extended support," including the delivery of free security updates, ending on April 8, 2014.

"No MDOP solution extends or affects the Windows XP Lifecycle end-of-life date for support," a Microsoft blog post explained. "That date is firm and will not change. April 8, 2014 -- as per the reference here."

After that date, Windows XP will be considered "unsupported" in Microsoft's parlance and new security exploits just won't get patched via the Windows Update system. Microsoft's blog post apparently was addressing some customer confusion on this matter. The confusion may arise because the extended support phase for MED-V v. 2 will end on April 13, 2021. Microsoft plans to eventually phase out MED-V, as announced in June.

Use MED-V Sparingly
MED-V was conceived as a remediation approach for organizations moving off Windows XP, explained Michael Silver, research vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner for mobile and client platforms.

"MED-V was Microsoft's way of letting you move to Windows 7 before all your XP applications were fixed -- by running XP under it," Silver said via e-mail. "The idea was that you would deploy Win7, eventually fix your XP apps and remove MED-V and run the apps on Win7. We said this was wrong from the start because people would use it as a crutch, deploy Win7 with MED-V and forget that they had to fix their XP applications."

Silver pointed out that virtual machines (VMs) are security targets just as much as an OS running on bare metal. His point was made in "XP on Windows 7: Temporary Relief for Migration Headaches, but No Cure," published by Gartner in 2010.

"VMs are as susceptible as physical machines to malware and security vulnerabilities," the study explains. "Microsoft support for assistance and security fixes for Windows XP ends the same day for VMs as for physical machines -- 8 April 2014."

The best approach for ensuring application compatibility is just to fix applications that don't run on Windows 7, Silver added. Gartner only recommends sparing use of MED-V or Windows XP Mode, provided that an organization has no other alternative. Silver offers some other XP migration insights here.

MED-V for 16-Bit Remediation
Microsoft's blog alluded to organizations using MED-V to run 16-bit applications on 64-bit hardware, saying that MED-V is "the only option for enterprise customers." Apparently, some organizations are using MED-V to run DOS-based apps on newer hardware. Here's Microsoft's clarification on how 16-bit remediation happens using MED-V.

"32-bit versions of Windows can run 16-bit and 32-bit Windows applications. 64-bit versions of Windows can run 32-bit and 64-bit Windows applications. 16-bit remediation is the ability to run 16-bit Windows applications on a 64-bit platform by running them within a virtualized 32-bit operating system," a Microsoft spokesperson explained via e-mail.

Silver offered a clarification.

"A 16-bit application may run on 32-bit Windows 7," he wrote. "You can also use any other virtualization software, like VMware Workstation, to run a 32-bit OS under 64-bit Windows 7 and run 16-bit apps. In a Microsoft world, MED-V is the only 'enterprise' way, but in the real world, Microsoft's XP Mode and VMware will work fine."

Windows XP Mode is conceived by Microsoft as a temporary desktop virtualization measure for smaller organizations moving from Windows XP. It lacks the centralized management capabilities that MED-V has.

What About Windows 7 Migrations?
Windows 8 is expected to arrive on October 26, so it's perhaps too soon to talk about desktop virtualization as a means of migrating from Windows 7. However, I asked Microsoft if Hyper-V, which is included with the Windows 8 client, would support future Windows 7 migration scenarios. The answer: Hyper-V on Windows 8 is mostly for testing purposes for both developers and IT pros.

"Client Hyper-V is the same computer virtualization technology as in Windows Server and supports the same guest operating systems including Windows XP," the Microsoft spokesperson wrote. "It is targeted at developers and testers primarily and was designed to provide developers and IT pros with a robust virtualization platform that helps them consolidate multiple environments onto their Windows 8 PCs, thereby reducing their costs and improving efficiency. The interface is much more technical for managing, starting, stopping virtual machines."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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