It will go down in history as one of the more anti-climactic “surprise” announcements. Microsoft’s Windows XP Mode, which was billed as an eleventh hour killer feature for Windows 7, arrived with a thud, thanks in large part to its curious need for Hardware Assisted Virtualization (HAV) support.
The company’s media apologists quickly scrambled to defend the decision, pointing out that most new business-class PCs were shipping with HAV-enabled CPUs anyway. However, this argument did nothing to stem the tide of complaints, both from consumers - who purchased seemingly state-of-the-art, multi-core PCs only to learn that they were incapable of running XP Mode – and from small business customers who wished to leverage the capability on existing, non-HAV-supporting PCs.
A year later, and Microsoft has finally caved to the pressure. Just this week the company released an update to XP Mode’s underlying virtual machine engine – Windows Virtual PC 7 – that allows it to run on non-HAV-supporting PCs. All of which begs the question: Why the bizarro requirement in the first place?
Microsoft’s official line has always been that HAV was necessary in order to ensure an “optimal” end-user experience. However, I suspect a more sinister motive. Specifically, I believe that the “Great XP Mode Boondoggle” was in fact a concession to Intel Corporation – a kind of apology for royally screwing-up with the whole Windows Vista “too fat to fit” debacle
By tying VPC 7 to HAV, Microsoft was helping Intel to discourage small business users from buying low-cost PCs sporting “consumer” versions of its powerful dual and quad-core CPUs – parts that were intentionally neutered in order to create differentiation among the company’s myriad SKUs.
Of course, the whole exercise backfired. Savvy users balked at the restrictions (some even built workarounds using VirtualBox or VMware Player), while small business owners and consumers were left dazed and confused by the various XP Mode “compatibility matrices” that cropped up on the Internet
And then there was the matter of Microsoft’s Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V). A forerunner to VPC 7 and XP Mode, MED-V does not – and thanks to the aforementioned VPC 7 update, never will – require HAV, ostensibly because enterprise customers would never put up with these sorts of “marketecture” shenanigans in the first place
In fact, XP Mode users can likely thank Early Adopter Program (EAP) customers – many of whom have no doubt been evaluating the VPC 7-based MED-V 2.0 in pre-release form – for this reprieve. Now the only question is whether or not Microsoft will provide updated integration components that allow XP Mode VMs to run with good performance and functionality under the non-HAV update
As of right now, the plan is to not release an optimized integration solution for users of VPC 7/XP Mode on non-HAV PCs. But you can be sure that MED-V customers will get them, and this provides hope that somehow they’ll trickle-down: Either unofficially, through some end-user hack; or officially, as part of yet another “mea culpa” update
Regardless, it’s a good day for Microsoft’s small business customers and end-user consumers. The “Wintel” duopoly tried to foist another bogus restriction on its customer base, and the base fought back.
You balked. They blinked. Chock one up for the little guy!
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