Many of us have been living on the digital edge, still running Windows XP despite dire warnings from Microsoft that using it exposes us to all sorts of viruses and malware, making us sitting ducks for hackers.
Microsoft ended support for XP in April, but people are still not willing to let go of it because their old programs will not run on newer versions of Windows. Fortunately, there is a way out of this quandary that will let you use your old programs and at the same time keep you completely secure.
The trick is to run Windows XP inside your Windows 7 or 8 with a technique called virtualisation. Since XP and your old software will be running in a virtual environment no changes will be made to your real computer’s hard drive. You are thus protected from any security-related issues.
Follow these steps and you will be up and running with a virtual machine in less than 20 minutes. First you need to install a virtual machine program. The best one is VirtualBox and it is completely free. Get it from www.virtualbox.org. Keep your Windows XP installation disc or a downloaded ISO file at hand. If you have forgotten the licence key of your Windows there is a solution for that too. Use the Magical Jelly Bean key finder on the system running XP to retrieve it. This smart utility can be found at www.magicaljellybean.com.
Installing VirtualBox is easy. Just choose the default options in the wizard. Once installed, click on the blue ‘New’ button in the top left corner to set up a new virtual machine. You will be now guided through several dialog boxes. On the first one name your virtual machine and select Windows XP as the operating system.
In the second dialog box allocate 512MB or 1GB of memory to your virtual machine. One the next page, select ‘Create a virtual hard drive now’ hit the ‘Create’ button. A new window will open. Leave the default ‘VDI’ option selected, and click Next. On the following page, choose ‘Dynamically allocated’. On the next screen pick the size of the drive as 10GB or a little more depending on the number of programs you want to run.
The virtual machine is ready. You just have to install XP on it. Start VirtualBox and you will be asked to select a startup disc. Browse to your CD drive or navigate to the location of the Windows XP ISO file. The virtual machine will start and Windows XP’s installation will begin. Click through the wizard filling up basic information. After a restart you will see a small window of the Windows XP desktop.
Your Windows XP is now running in a virtual machine, but VirtualBox needs to install some programs to make life easier for you. To install these, click on the VirtualBox menu bar item called ‘Devices’, and after that select ‘Insert Guest Additions CD Image’.
A popup window will appear inside the Windows XP virtual machine. Click next a few times, and the computer will restart.
Since you have installed ‘Guest Additions’ in an earlier step you can now create some shared folders so that you can transfer files from your real computer to the virtual machine running XP. To do this, click on ‘Devices’, and then on Shared Folders Settings. This will open the virtual machine settings. On the right you will see a small icon with a plus sign in green. After clicking the plus sign, select a folder you want to be shared. Ensure that ‘Auto-mount’ and ‘Make Permanent’ are checked.
There is one precaution you need to take. It is best to first create the folder you want to share in your host computer’s C Drive and keep this folder name short and do not use spaces or special characters in the name. You can then put the path to the folder as explained in the previous step.
Restart your virtual machine and you are ready. You can now use Windows XP safely with the fear of ruining your computer.
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