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Windows 7 'XP Mode' Nears Release

A final piece of the puzzle meant to smooth the migration of Windows XP holdouts to Windows 7 is now available as a "Release Candidate," or RC, Microsoft said.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) first introduced what it calls XP Mode (XPM) in April. The Windows 7 add-on provides a virtualized environment where users will be able to run Windows XP applications that won't run directly in Windows 7 itself.

Now, the feature is edging closer to its final version. That could be good news for XP users planning the move to Windows 7. With more than 50 percent of IT shops planning to go directly to Windows 7 from XP, the add-on may appeal a large group of XP loyalists, thus making the upcoming Windows release even more attractive.

"Windows XP Mode is specially designed for small and medium-sized businesses to help ease the migration process to Windows 7 by providing additional compatibility for their older productivity applications," Microsoft spokesperson Brandon LeBlanc said on the Windows 7 team blog.

With the release of XPM into the final phase of testing, Microsoft hopes to get the add-on out around the same time as Windows 7's Oct. 22 launch. Windows 7 reached its final milestone when it hit "Released to Manufacturing" (RTM) status two weeks ago.

"The goal is for Windows 7 GA [general availability] for the final ship date for Windows XP Mode, while we also recognize that we are just entering release candidate of the product, and we want to be receptive to feedback we receive from testers," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail.

New features

Besides an XP virtualization environment, XPM includes a full license for Windows XP Service Pack 3. The XPM add-on will be a free download.

"Windows XP Mode now works with the RC and RTM versions of Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise," LeBlanc said in his post.

The RC of XPM has also added a handful of new features. For one, users will be able to connect USB devices to Windows XP Mode applications directly from the Windows 7 task-bar, including printers and flash drives. XPM applications will also be accessible via Jump Lists, and the initial setup adds a user tutorial on how to use XPM.

Despite the effort being put into XPM, LeBlanc noted that many XP applications shouldn't need to use XPM, but instead will run "natively" on Windows 7.

"Windows XP Mode provides what we like to call that 'last mile' compatibility technology for those cases when a Windows XP productivity application isn't compatible with Windows 7," he added.

Microsoft posted a link to the download site for users interested in trying out the RC.