As the years progress and Microsoft moves on from Windows 7 into Windows 8 and beyond, it’s certainly starting to feel like Windows XP is just an artifact of the past. But is it? Might there be situations where you need to use XP again – or maybe you just miss XP and want to take a stroll down memory lane?
Well, what if I told you that right now, by using VirtualBox, you can download a free Virtual Machine featuring a full, free version of Windows XP? It’s absolutely true – you can download Windows XP. Microsoft knows that web developers always have a need to test their websites on a variety of browsers and operating systems (OS). So, Microsoft provides a Virtual Machine that you can run on your computer, which will offer you a contained system with a fully-functioning version of Windows XP installed.
You can use this system to not only test out what your website looks for people running older versions of Internet Explorer (IE) on an older operating system, but you can also use it to test applications on XP if you’re an application developer, or to run older programs that only run on Windows XP. The version of XP gives you a temporary use license, but if you need to use it longer, you could always reinstall it or activate it with a valid XP license you may have already purchased but aren’t using on any of your computers anymore.
Downloading and Installing Windows XP Virtual Machine
At the Virtual Machine download page, you’ll need to choose the options to download a Windows OS Virtual Machine, and choose which version of IE you want to test. Yes, you’ll also notice options like Windows Vista running IE7 and Windows 7 running IE8. For the sake of this article, where the goal is to focus on testing websites and applications that run on an older OS, we’re going to focus on the XP Virtual Machine.
Once you’ve downloaded the image file, you’re going to want to import the appliance.
The download is an OVA file, not a virtual hard drive, so you need to use the appliance import by going to File, and then “Import Appliance”.
The wizard will give you a single button to choose the appliance file you’ve just downloaded.
Browse to the OVA file – in my case it’s Windows XP running IE6 – and select it.
The wizard will import the appliance and then show you all of the features that are included/pre-configured with it, including CPU, RAM size, etc.
Once this quick wizard is done with the import, you’ll see the new Virtual Machine show up in your list of appliances.
At this point, your brand new Virtual Machine with a fresh Windows XP install is ready to go. When you hit start, it’ll launch. However, there is one more little thing you need to do to get the system connected to the Internet, so you can test what your website looks like on this version of IE.
Setting Up Your Windows XP Virtual Machine Internet Connection
If you use VirtualBox often to test out different images, then you probably already know how to get the Internet working via your host PCs network connection. However, if this is your first time, it’s not just a quick and simple matter. Unlike when you’re running the TorBox Gateway, which connects to the Internet via its own proxy (after going through your home network), this setup is strictly meant to connect legitimately through your network directly to the Internet.
When you first launch the XP machine, you’ll see that it looks and acts just like a regular, freshly installed Windows XP machine.
However, you most likely won’t be able to connect to the Internet. In the larger VirtualBox window, before you launch the Virtual Machine, choose the “Settings” icon and then navigate to the Network item in the left menu.
In many cases, simply selecting NAT and making sure “Cable connected” is selected would work for other Virtual Machines that I’ve tried, like the test of Google Chrome OS that I tried recently, this will work fine. However, in the case of this Windows XP appliance, I could not get a good Internet connection. In fact, I couldn’t even get on the local WiFi network.
What I found that I had to do was change the network adapter to “Host-only Adapter”, and select the “VirtualBox Host-Only Ethernet Adapter”. This is actually an adapter installed with VirtualBox that you’ll find in your network settings area of your host machine.
What I did was I held down the control key, clicked and selected the regular WiFi host connection and the VirtualBox network adapter, right clicked, and chose to “bridge” the two connections.
This created a third icon called a “Network Bridge”, which connects to the wireless network (or whatever your hosts network connection normally is), and shares that with the two connections you’ve just bridged. You’re almost done. Now, you just have a couple of things to check.
Double check the Network setting in VirtualBox to be sure you have “Cable connected” selected. Trust me, not having this selected has had even the most skilled PC troubleshooters banging their head against the wall.
Inside of your XP Virtual Machine, go into the network settings and manually set the IP settings to match an available IP on your home network. For example, my network subnet is 192.169.1.x. After pinging 192.168.1.9 from my regular computer, I knew that nothing on the network was using that IP, so I set the XP Virtual Machine with that IP manually.
Also make sure to set the right subnet mask and default gateway (the gateway is your router IP). Then set the DNS servers to match your own host PC’s DNS server. If you don’t know what it is, open a command prompt on your host PC and type “ipconfig /all” and look for “DNS Servers:”.
Once you’ve done all of that, restart your XP Virtual Machine again, launch IE – in my case it’s the antiquated IE6 – and you should have no problem connecting to the network.
Now you’re ready to start using your brand new XP Virtual Machine to test web pages, applications, run old programs and much more. Are you as excited as I am?
Using Your Windows XP Virtual Machine
So, to give this a test drive, I opened up IE6, and launched my blog to see how it handled running in a much older browser. I have to admit I’ve never even considered testing in IE when developing the site, so I knew this would be interesting.
I immediately came across an issue with some Flash-based videos not loading on the main page – apparently due to the fact that this version of IE6 did not have the latest Flash Player. Not really a surprise there of course, but good to know.
However, I found other pages just falling to pieces in this old browser. Clearly many pages on the site don’t really have compatibility with older browsers like this, something I never really knew or gave much attention to. In fact, I found that my geo-feed page completely broke the browser – it stopped responding.
It’s clear that this is a great way to test websites or applications, but if you think about it – even after you’ve thrown out your last good Windows XP machine, downloading this Virtual Machine and running it on your system allows you to never be without Windows XP.
Why does this matter? Well, think of all the cool games you’ve got stashed in your basement. Games that you used to love to play, before your old PC died and you upgraded to Windows 7. Now you’ve got a fully-functioning XP machine that can use your network connection and your CD ROM to do anything you would have normally done with that old XP system you no longer have.
Who says Windows XP is dead? Thanks to VirtualBox and Microsoft offering these test appliances for free, now we can hold on to Windows XP forever. Because, it really was one of the best Windows versions of all time, wasn’t it? Well, I think so.
Can you think of any cool reasons to download Windows XP Virtual Machine? Are you going to give it a test drive? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!