Microsoft has released the final beta of Windows 7 XP Mode, adding new USB and drive sharing support options along with a user tutorial for the operating system add-on aimed at the small and midsize business market.
Microsoft said the so-called 'release candidate' is available for download and is compatible with the RC and RTM versions of Windows 7 Professional and higher.
The software also requires an additional 1GB of RAM, 15GB of available disk space, and a processor capable of hardware virtualisation with AMD-V or Intel VT.
Microsoft said it plans to have the final release of XP Mode ready in time for the official October 22 release of Windows 7, but company officials added the usual caveat that the software will not ship until beta testers deem it ready.
First released into beta in April, XP Mode provides the platform that lets applications written for XP run on Windows 7. The software creates a virtual XP environment running on Microsoft's Virtual PC.
Microsoft is trying to deflect the perception that XP applications in general are incompatible with Windows 7.
"I'd like to take a moment to clarify what Windows XP Mode is designed for, and highlight the point that in many cases Windows XP Mode will not be necessary," said Scott Woodgate, director of desktop virtualisation and Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) at Microsoft, on the Windows Team blog. Woodgate said many applications that run on XP should run natively on Windows 7.
Microsoft is playing a public relations game with users who found significant compatibility problems when researching a move from XP to Vista (Win7 is built on the Vista code base).
In an interview, Woodgate called XP Mode the "last mile" of compatibility. He said if users can get their XP applications to run natively on Windows 7 they can take advantage of the performance, management and security improvements in the new operating system.
Microsoft also is recommending users install a separate copy of antimalware and antivirus software in the XP Mode version in addition to any security software they have installed with Windows 7.
Corporate customers that need centralised management of Windows 7 PCs running Windows XP Mode can use the Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) software that is part of MDOP, Woodgate said.
Woodgate also said partners HP and Lenovo are promising they will ship XP Mode pre-installed on PCs loaded with Windows 7. AMD has agreed to enable hardware virtualization on all its CPUs by the launch of Windows 7 excluding the Sempron processor.
Microsoft is also working with antivirus vendors on licensing terms that would allow for single instance installations for both Windows 7 and Windows XP Mode.