The years have rolled by and Windows XP is now an antiquated and unsupported operating system (OS). But just because Microsoft no longer provides support, that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to revisit Windows XP. They might be work related, or maybe you miss XP and want to take a stroll down memory lane?
Well, the death bell may have tolled, but there is still a way of installing Windows XP, using a download provided by Microsoft. It is absolutely true — you can still download Windows XP. Microsoft knows that web developers always have a need to test their websites on a variety of browsers and OS.
As such, Microsoft provides Windows XP Mode, a full version of XP that runs from within Windows 7. Now, most people have also long since moved on from Windows 7, too. Making this compatibility mode fix, well, a little unhelpful.
Don’t give up though because I’m going to show you how to take that Windows XP Mode download, extract a file or three, and load it up in a virtual machine.
Before we begin, you’re going to need to download and install the latest version of Oracle VirtualBox, available here. Furthermore, you’re going to need a file archive tool, such as 7-Zip or PeaZip. I’ll be using 7-Zip for this tutorial, but PeaZip comes with the same functionality. Once you’re ready, head on to the next section.
Downloading and Extracting Windows XP Mode Virtual Hard Disk
Let’s get started. Head to the Microsoft Windows XP Mode download page. Select Download. On the next page, select WindowsXPMode_en-us.exe, then hit Next. The Windows XP Mode executable will now download.
When it completes, don’t install it.
Instead, browse to the executable, then right-click and select 7-Zip > Open archive > cab from the context menu.
This immediately opens the executable in 7-Zip for you to have a poke around. There are three files.
Select Sources to reveal another three files.
Double-click xpm. This is the XP Mode virtual hard drive folder. It should look the same as the image below.
These are the files we need to create the XP Mode virtual hard disk. Unfortunately, they’re Archive files, meaning they’re currently Read-only. (What’s in an executable, anyway?)
We need to extract these files to a new folder. Select Extract from the toolbar, then press the ellipsis icon next to the address bar. Browse to where you’d like to extract the files — your C: drive is fine — and select Make New Folder. I’ve called my folder Windows XP Mode, but the choice is yours. When you’re ready, press OK, then OK again to start the extraction process. This can take a minute or two.
Head to the folder you created when the extraction process completes. You’ll see the same list of files. The difference is that we can now edit these files as we see fit.
Select the file named VirtualXPVHD. Press F2 to rename. Insert a period (full-stop, U.K. readers) between the “P” and the “V,” and press Enter. The file should immediately change into a virtual hard disk, and the icon to boot.
Installing the Windows XP Mode Virtual Hard Disk in VirtualBox
Before we completed the XP Mode virtual hard disk extraction, I asked you to download and install VirtualBox. VirtualBox is a very popular, free virtualization device. It can virtualize all sorts of operating systems, including macOS (read our tutorial here), Linux (try five different Linux distros!), and of course, copies of Windows, old and new.
- Open VirtualBox. Select New. At bottom of the Create Virtual Machine window, select Expert Mode (if your window shows an option for Guided Mode, you’re already using Expert Mode). Now, give your virtual machine a suitable name. If you include “XP” in the virtual machine name, the Version will automatically change to reflect that. Even so, double-check the Version is Windows XP (32-bit).
- Assign the virtual machine some memory. Memory is a shared resource, meaning both the host (your PC) and the guest (the virtual machine) use it concurrently. Luckily, Windows XP is old, and doesn’t require buckets of RAM to run. I would advise assigning a minimum of 512 MB — but you won’t need more than 2048 MB.
- Finally, we need to assign a hard disk — the virtual hard disk we extracted from the Windows XP Mode executable, earlier. Under Hard disk, select Use an existing virtual hard disk file. Then, hit the folder with the green arrow. Browse to the folder we extracted our files to, select VirtualXP, then Open.
When you’re done, your new virtual machine setup should look like this:
Okay? Hit Create.
Windows XP Mode Virtual Machine Disk Settings
Before we boot up our shiny new Windows XP virtual machine, we need to tweak a few settings.
On the VirtualBox toolbar, press Settings. Head to System. Look at the Boot Order. Uncheck Floppy, and move it down the list. Promote Hard Disk to the top of the pile. Just like your host PC, the virtual machine has a specific boot order. We want the virtual hard disk we created to be at the top, so it boots first.
Under Display, increase Video Memory to 128 MB.
Network Settings: Default
Double-check the Network settings. Older versions of VirtualBox relied on the manual entry of network configurations. The software is a fair bit smarter these days (read: automated), and usually picks up your network settings without prompt.
My Windows XP Mode virtual machine works using the default configuration. That is, using NAT, the adapter specific by VirtualBox, and making sure Cable Connected is checked.
Network Settings: Host-only Adapter
However, if it doesn’t work (and we’ll realize the good or bad news in a moment when we fire up the virtual machine), you can try an alternative configuration.
- Set Attached to: Host-only Adapter
- Set Name: VirtualBox Host-Only Ethernet Adapter
- Set Promiscuous Mode: Deny
- Check Cable connected
Using the Start Menu search bar, type “network,” and select the Network and Sharing Centre. In the left-hand column, select Change adapter settings. Hold CTRL and select both your Ethernet/wireless card and the VirtualBox Host-Only Network. Then, right-click and select Bridge Connection.
This creates a network bridge, allowing the virtual machine to connect to a network even though it doesn’t have direct access to the router (or alternative switch).
When you enter the virtual machine, you’ll have to update your network adapter settings.
- Head to Control Panel > Network and internet Connections > Network Connections.
- Then, right-click the Local Area Connection, and select Properties. Highlight internet Protocol (TCP/IP), then select Properties.
- Select Use the following IP address, and enter an available IP address for your home network. For instance, I will enter 192.168.1.10. Enter your Subnet mask and Default gateway.
- Unsure what they are? On your host machine, press Windows Key + R, then type CMD, and hit Enter. Now, type ipconfig /all. You’ll find the information you need listed under your Ethernet or wireless adapter name.
- Enter the same DNS server addresses as the host. I use Google DNS, so I’ll enter 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52.
- Hit OK.
Turn It On!
We’ve extracted the virtual hard disk. We’ve created our virtual machine, we’ve fiddled with the settings. I think we’re ready to go.
Highlight your Windows XP Mode virtual machine on the main VirtualBox window. Double-click it. Hold your breath!
Looks like we made it!
There is a strong possibility that your mouse will not immediately work with the Windows XP Mode virtual machine. Navigate the operating system installation pages using the TAB key, arrow keys, Spacebar, and Enter key.
Complete the installation. You’ll arrive at a completely black screen. Don’t worry! Press Right Ctrl + R to Restart the virtual machine. When it reboots, you can Cancel the New Hardware Installation and Microsoft Automatic Update wizards. Instead, head to Devices > Install Guest Additions CD Image. Use the default installation location and wait for the setup to complete.
You might encounter warnings that you are attempting to install unsupported software and/or drivers. Select Continue Anyway. Once the Guest Additions installation completes, select Reboot now.
(If it fails to reboot, Restart the virtual machine again.)
And there you have it. A working, fully-featured Windows XP installation to call your own.
Note: this installation will expire within 30-days. If you have an old Windows XP license key, you can enter that to keep the virtual machine active. Otherwise, you’ll have to reinstall.
That’s a Wrap
Who says Windows XP is dead? Thanks to VirtualBox and Microsoft offering Windows XP Mode for free, we can revisit and hold onto Windows XP forever. It was, and indeed, remains a popular version of Windows, even for the nostalgia-inducing sounds and desktop backgrounds. That said, Windows has come a long, long way, and it is clearly no longer suitable as a primary operating system, security issues aside.
What will you use your Windows XP virtual machine for? Are you going to fill it with old games? Or is there a specialist piece of software you need? What do you miss most about Windows XP when compared to Windows 10? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Now that you’re running Windows XP for free, it’s time to get your hand on a free copy of Microsoft Word.
Originally written by Ryan Dube on 5 July 2013.