One piece of news that seems to have escaped much notice was a recent tweak to a feature in Windows 7 called XP Mode. XP Mode essentially allows businesses stuck with legacy software that will not run in Windows 7's native environment to do so, albeit by launching the application in a virtualized Windows XP environment.
The change made by Microsoft in March, however, allows the Windows 7 operating system to support XP Mode without hardware virtualization support, which was required in the initial release of Windows 7 in October 2009. Conscious of customer dissatisfaction with Windows Vista, Microsoft sought to ensure optimal performance in Windows 7 by mandating the presence of a microprocessor with hardware support for virtualization -- such as Intel VT or AMD-V -- for XP Mode to work.
While the latest processors from Intel and AMD come with the requisite capability, the same cannot be said of older desktops and laptops. Ironically, some small and mid-sized businesses, who are among those least able to afford the cost of modifying or re-architecting troublesome legacy software to work on Windows 7, were finding to their dismay that they needed to purchase new hardware before they could move to the new operating system.
Microsoft appears to have realized the problem. Microsoft's Windows blogger Brandon LeBlanc acknowledged that this move was made to "... make it more accessible to PCs in small and midsize businesses who want to migrate to Windows 7 Professional but have applications that still require Windows XP."
While, Microsoft did not elaborate on how running XP Mode without hardware support would affect application performance, remember that x86 virtualization gained its current critical mass partly due to how entry-level virtualization software like VMware Server and VMware Workstation allowed IT managers and system administrators to experience virtualization first-hand -- and it all took place in an era of far less powerful hardware.
Of course, the continued popularity of Windows 7 probably clinched the deal over at Redmond, culminating in the removal of hardware virtualization support as a prerequisite. One final point for SMBs that can't wait to tap into XP mode though: The feature is available only in the Professional and Ultimate versions of Windows 7.
Assuming you have the correct version of Windows, the update is available as a download from Microsoft's Web site here.