“Windows XP Mode” isn’t included with Windows 8. Microsoft will soon be discontinuing support for Windows XP and doesn’t want anyone using it, even in a virtual machine. However, you can easily set up your own Windows XP mode in Windows 8.
You can virtualize Windows XP with almost any virtual machine program, but we’ll cover a solution that gives you Windows XP-mode like desktop and taskbar integration on Windows 8.
How Windows XP Mode Worked
Microsoft pitched this feature as a way to run old applications in “Windows XP mode,” but it’s not just another Windows compatibility feature. On Windows 7, Windows XP mode is actually full copy of the Windows XP operating system running in Microsoft’s Virtual PC virtualization software. Applications you install in Windows XP mode run inside the Windows XP virtual machine.
Microsoft one-upped their competitors by including a fully licensed copy of Windows XP, offering a nicer experience than installing Windows XP in VirtualBox and having all your old Windows XP applications confined to the virtual machine window.
Windows XP mode isn’t available on Windows 8, but you can reproduce it pretty closely with VMware Player. You could also use VirtualBox or another virtual machine solutions, like the Hyper-V virtualization feature included with Windows 8. However, VMware Player offers Windows XP-mode-like integration features — you can create direct shortcuts to Windows XP applications and have unique taskbar icons for each virtualized program.
Windows 8 doesn’t include a licensed copy of Windows XP, so you’ll need a copy of Windows XP to set this up. If you have an old Windows XP disc lying around, it will do. VMware Player is completely free. Unlike Windows XP mode, which was only available for Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions of Windows 7, you can set this up on any edition of Windows 8.
Setting Up Windows XP Mode With VMware Player
First, download and install VMware Player on your computer. Once it’s installed, launch it and create a new virtual machine. Go through the setup process, providing either a Windows XP installation disc or a Windows XP disc image in ISO format.
Enter your product key, username, password, and other information. VMware Player will automatically install Windows XP inside the virtual machine, so you won’t have to do anything during the installation process. Just wait and let the process complete on its own — VMware Player will handle everything, including installing the VMware Tools package that enables the desktop integration features.
Integrating Windows XP with Windows 8
To make your Windows XP system integrate with Windows 8, click the Player menu in VMware Player and select Unity. This enables a special mode where your Windows XP applications will run on your Windows 8 desktop.
Any applications you have running when you enable Unity mode will appear on your Windows 8 desktop with their own icons on Windows 8’s taskbar.
To launch applications running in Windows XP mode, move your mouse to the lower-left corner of the screen and use the VMware menu to launch applications from the Windows XP system. They’ll appear on your Windows 8 desktop, too.
To create direct links to such applications, right-click their shortcuts in the VMware launcher menu and select Create Shortcut on Desktop. You’ll get a shortcut you can click to launch the application.
At any time, you can click the Windows XP menu and select Exit Unity to disable Unity mode and confine your Windows XP applications to a single virtual machine window.
VMware Player automatically sets up drag-and-drop and copy-and-paste integration, so you’ll be able to use the applications much like they were running inside Windows 8. However, they aren’t running in Windows 8, so they won’t have access to the every file on your Windows 8 system. You may want to set up shared folders from the virtual machine’s settings window so you can share files between your Windows 8 system and Windows XP applications.
It’s a shame Microsoft removed this feature from Windows 8, but it’s clear why they did. Microsoft no longer wants to support Windows XP, not even in a virtual machine. Windows XP mode was a feature for business customers to feel confident upgrading from Windows XP — they could feel confident upgrading to Windows 7, knowing that any applications that experienced problems could just be run in Windows XP mode.
However, Windows XP mode isn’t forever — Microsoft wants businesses to upgrade their applications and ensure they’ll continue to work on newer versions of Windows rather than depending on Windows XP forever. It’s a good idea to upgrade to applications that work on modern versions of Windows and not depend on a Windows XP virtual machine, but other virtualization programs will continue to provide a failsafe option even while Microsoft no longer offers Windows XP Mode.