Get Windows XP Free Virtually, With a Catch

Microsoft is providing a free virtualized copy of Windows XP SP2 to assist developers in migrating IE6 applications to IE7. However, it will only work until April 1, 2007.

The time-limited Virtual PC image would come with a pre-activated copy of Windows XP SP2, Internet Explorer 6, and the Internet Explorer 7 Readiness Toolkit. Microsoft says that the solution is the only supported method for running both versions of the browser side-by-side.

Workarounds to permit the two versions to work on the same machine are available, however are difficult to implement and sometimes cause either copy to operate differently had they been installed on separate machines. Microsoft says it will not provide support for those installations.

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Microsoft made Virtual PC 2004 a free download in July of this year with the release of Service Pack 1. The company also said it would make Virtual PC 2007 freeware along with providing support for Windows Vista.

Users interested in taking advantage of the program would need Virtual PC to open the image. The IE team said it was also investigating the feasibility of shipping VPC images with previous versions of IE back to version 5, as well as in foreign languages.

"Now you can install IE7 on your main machine for development, and get all the advantages of IE7, like the RSS platform, native XMLHTTP stack, and improved security, while still running IE6 simultaneously in the VPC on the same computer," IE product manager Pete LePage wrote in the IE Blog on Thursday. "Most importantly, you don't even have to buy an additional Windows license."

The free copy of Windows XP may also allow Mac OS users running the current beta version of the Parallels virtualization software to use the included "Transporter" utility to convert the image into one usable by the application. VMware also supports importing Virtual PC images.

While such a use for the image would work in theory, it is not known if anyone has attempted such an implementation.

Although this particular image will expire on April 1, 2007, LePage said Microsoft hopes to provide future VPC images in the future as a service to developers.

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