There are many Windows alternatives – you can use more than one different system on a single computer easily and safely
Install the software onto a Virtual PC
Another effective way to try out different operating systems is to install them onto what’s known as a ‘virtual PC’ – essentially a program that simulates a complete PC within a window in Windows. This ‘virtualisation’ technology is tried and tested and it allows you to experiment in a totally safe environment – what happens in the virtual PC window stays in the virtual PC window.
There are two main programs for doing this that we recommend, Virtualbox and Vmware Player. Microsoft produces its own virtualisation software, called Virtual PC. However, it’s not officially supported for Windows 7 so, while it does actually work on that operating system, we’d recommend sticking with one of the alternatives above. You can watch our video showing how to install Windows 7 in Vmware Player at.
We should say here that the Professional and Ultimate editions of Windows 7 include a tool called Windows XP Mode that emulates Windows XP in a window, though it must still first be downloaded (from the Microsoft website). However, if you want to install Windows XP within a virtual computer on other editions of Windows then you’ll need to use one of the aforementioned virtualisation programs.
Also, if you simply wish to get an old but apparently incompatible application working in Windows Vista or 7, there are tools that can help without resorting to virtualisation. First, use Windows Explorer to locate the program’s executable file, right-click on it and choose Properties.
Select the Compatibility tab and use the options here to tweak the way that windows ‘looks’ to the program (for example, click to tick the ‘Run this program in compatibility mode for’ box and choose Windows XP (Service Pack 3) from the dropdown menu.
One benefit of virtualisation is that it offers the opportunity to turn an old Windows PC – replete with all its applications and documents – into a virtual PC. The process is too involved to explain here but you’ll find detailed instructions on our website.
One word of warning though, a virtual computer is no more or less immune to online threats, such as virus infections, than a real one. So, if you install Windows XP inside a virtual PC and use it to go online, you should make sure that adequate security software is installed inside the virtualised Windows XP PC. Any infection would be safely contained within the virtual PC, though, so these concerns apply solely to the PC running within the virtual PC window.
Virtualbox and Vmware Player are designed to simulate an ordinary PC but there are other systems you might want to try. D-Fend Reloaded for Dos Box, for example, can be used to launch games and programs designed for Microsoft’s ancient operating system, Dos.
Indeed, it’s possible to use a PC to emulate almost any device from computing history (in the Workshops pages of issue 370, for example, we explained how to emulate the 30-year-old Sinclair Spectrum).
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