Windows XP mode is restricted to Professional versions of Windows 7. Microsoft doesn’t officially support it on Windows 8, but there’s a way to get Windows XP Mode running on Microsoft’s latest operating system anyway. You won’t need a Windows XP disc or license key — just a computer running Windows 8.
Download Windows XP Mode
First, you’ll need to download the Windows XP Mode installer file from Microsoft. To download the file, you’ll have to validate your version of Windows. Microsoft won’t let you download this file if you’re using a pirated or improperly licensed version of Windows 8.
Choose to download the WindowsXPMode_en-us.exe file when prompted. Don’t actually run this installer when it’s downloaded — just download it.
Extract the Windows XP Image
You’ll need to extract files from the Windows XP Mode installer. For this job, we recommend the 7-Zip file archiver; it’s free and works well. Once the .exe file is downloaded, right-click it in File Explorer, point to 7-Zip, and select Open archive.
Double-click the sources folder inside the file and locate the xpm file. Drag and drop the xpm file from the archive to a folder on your computer to extract it.
Open the extracted xpm file with 7-Zip in the same way.
Locate the VirtualXPVHD file inside the archive and extract it to a folder on your computer in the same way.
This is a VHD — or virtual hard drive — file, so we should give it the correct file extension. Rename the file and add the .vhd file extension.
You can now delete the WindowsXPMode_en-us.exe and xpm files to free up space.
Boot Windows XP Mode
We now have a .VHD file we can boot in a virtual machine program. We’ll use VirtualBox for this because it’s free and runs on all versions of Windows 8. You could try booting this file in Windows 8’s Hyper-V virtual machine manager, but that utility is only available on Windows 8 Professional, so most people won’t be able to use it.
Download and install VirtualBox, if you haven’t already. Then click the New button to create a new virtual machine. Go through the setup process, selecting Windows XP (32-bit) as the operating system version.
Select as much memory as you like — VirtualBox recommends 192 MB, but your physical hardware probably has a few gigabytes to go around. You may need to allocate more memory if you’ll be running demanding applications in Windows XP Mode.
On the Hard drive screen, select Use an existing virtual hard drive file and navigate to your VirtualXPVHD.vhd file.
You can now boot your Windows XP Mode system by clicking the Start button in VirtualBox. You’ll have to enter a few details to finish setting it up, but you won’t have to go through the entire installation process or enter a product key. From here, the process is about the same as if you had installed Windows XP inside a virtual machine from a Windows XP disc. Install your old software that requires Windows XP inside the virtual machine.
Windows XP Mode is noteworthy because it lets you run Windows XP applications on the same desktop as your Windows 8 system, while VirtualBox will confine your entire Windows XP system and its applications to a window by default. To have your Windows XP applications run on a desktop, you can use VirtualBox’s seamless mode. First, you’ll need to select Devices > Insert Guest Additions CD image and install the VirtualBox guest additions drivers and software utilities inside Windows XP. Next, you can click View > Switch to Seamless Mode to have Windows XP applications appear on your Windows 8 desktop.
Remember, Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. They’re not supporting Windows XP Mode after then, either — that’s why Windows XP Mode isn’t officially part of Windows 8. Be sure to secure your Windows XP systems, even the ones running in virtual machines.