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Running your old version of Windows XP in a Virtual Machine

If you haven't heard by now, Windows XP has come to the end of its life. After April 8th, 2014, Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP, which means no more security patches or hot fixes. Using Windows XP as a primary operating system is no longer an option. But you can still use your old version of Windows XP and the installed programs on a newer version of Windows using a Virtual Machine (VM).

A physical to virtual migrated version of Windows XP inside of VirtualBox running on Windows 8
A physical-to-virtual migrated version of Windows XP inside of VirtualBox running on Windows 8

The problem most people are having with going to a new version of Windows is that they have software installed on Windows XP that they cannot install or will not run on a newer version of Windows. Either the software came pre-loaded, they lost the installation media or the company went out of business. If you're one of these people, there is hope.

I've written a few times about using VM's to run different operating systems on the same computer. Basically, you create a virtual hard drive and install your operating system inside of it. You can also create a virtual hard drive from your physical hard drive. This way you can upgrade to a newer version of Windows and still have access to your old Windows XP programs.

Note: With the change of hardware from physical-to-virtual, Windows will need to be re-activated. Physical-to-virtual hard drive migration of a Windows installation is a valid function for customers with full retail copies of Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.

To do this you will need two programs, Microsoft's Windows Sysinternals Disk2vhd and Oracle's VirtualBox. Both programs are free for personal use and the links to the software are below. First thing to do is create a virtual hard drive from your existing physical hard drive. Start up Disk2vhd and you get only one simple menu. Select 'Prepare for use in Virtual PC' and 'Use Volume Shadow Copy' and deselect 'Use Vhdx'. Next select the location for the virtual hard drive file. For the best performance, you should create the virtual hard drive on a different physical drive (network or external).

The Disk2vhd main screen with options
The Disk2vhd main screen with options

Now it's time to install VirtualBox on the new system. Remember to also download and install the VirtualBox Guest Extensions. Once installed, copy over the virtual hard drive you created with Disk2vhd. Next you create a new VM with settings (operating system, memory, etc.) based on your old computer. You then will be prompted to create a new virtual drive or use an existing one. Browse and select the virtual drive that you created.

Modified boot menu in physical to virtual migrated version of Windows XP
Modified boot menu in physical to virtual migrated version of Windows XP

The first time you start the VM, it will find the new VM hardware and try to install drivers for them. If it fails to find drivers, just go to the 'Devices' tab on the top menu and select 'Insert Guest Additions CD image'. Open Windows Explorer and browse to the virtual drive named VBOXADDITIONS and run VBoxWindowsAdditions. This will install the keyboard, video and mouse drivers. You will have to tweak the settings to get it run flawlessly. If you're migrating a version of Windows XP, I recommend disabling access to the internet, since there is no longer security updates and patches for Windows XP after 4/8/14.

For more information on VirtualBox or Disk2vhd, just follow the links below.

Oracle VM VirtualBox
Sysinternals Disk2vhd

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