Using Windows 7’s Windows XP Mode to Run Multiple Versions of Internet Explorer

Published: 4 February 2011

This document contains step-by-step instructions for setting up multiple copies of Windows XP Mode on a Windows 7 PC in order to run Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8 simultaneously with IE9 in Windows 7. Windows XP Mode is available on Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions.

These instructions assume a moderate degree of experience working with your PC and are provided “as-is” for developers comfortable performing its steps.

Installing Windows XP Mode

  1. Configure your PC’s BIOS for Hardware-Assisted Virtualization (HAV) by following the instructions here. HAV is not required but XP Mode will run much better if hardware-assisted virtualization can be enabled.
  2. Navigate to the Download Windows XP Mode page. Choose your Windows 7 edition and language and then download, save, and run Windows XP Mode setup. Depending on the speed of your Internet connection, this can take up to an hour.
  3. Return to the Download Windows XP Mode page, if needed choose your Windows 7 edition and language again, then download, save, and run Windows Virtual PC setup. You will need to restart your PC after this installation.
  4. After restart, click the Windows 7 Start button, select All Programs > Windows Virtual PC > Windows XP Mode to begin first-time setup of the Windows XP Mode virtual machine. When first-time setup completes, you’ll find yourself in an XP Mode window with IE6 pre-installed.
  5. Install an anti-virus program in the XP Mode virtual machine. Microsoft Security Essentials is free and works well with Windows XP Mode.
  6. Install all the important and high priority updates except IE7 or IE8 using the Custom option of Window Update (this assumes you want this first virtual machine to stay with IE6). Since Windows Update will keep pushing either IE7 or IE8 on you, you should open each of these and choose “Don’t show this update again.”
  7. Install any other software or utilities that you want available in the XP Mode virtual machine.

Once you’ve configured this first virtual machine, you can move onto copying it to create two more: one for IE7 and one for IE8. To do that, close all open applications then close your Windows XP Mode virtual machine. By default, the virtual machine will hibernate but that seems to be okay for the following steps.

Create a Second XP Mode Virtual Machine for IE7

Creating a second XP Mode virtual machine for IE7 is easier than setting up the first though the steps below are longer because they’re more complete. Briefly, all you need to do is copy the virtual hard disk file, create a new virtual machine using that hard disk file, rename the virtual computer, and use Windows Update to install IE7. Here are the steps in more detail:

  1. Go to the folder where the virtual hard disk files are stored. These will be in the \AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Virtual PC\Virtual Machines folder under your user account. To find this folder:
  2. Select Windows XP Mode file with the type Virtual Machine Hard Drive Image (.vhd extension if you’re showing extensions). Press Ctrl-C to copy the file and then Ctrl-V to paste a copy of it. Copying the file may take a few minutes.
  3. Select the file named “Windows XP Mode - Copy”, press F2 to rename the file, and change the word “Copy” to “IE7”. The resulting name should be “Windows XP Mode - IE7” (the actual name is not important; this is just the convention I’ve used).
  4. Now navigate back to your top-level user folder and open the Virtual Machines folder.
  5. Click “Create virtual machine” on the command bar. This starts a multi-step wizard to create a new virtual machine.
  6. Name the machine “Windows XP Mode - IE7” and click Next and then Next again on the second screen.
  7. On the third screen, choose “Use an existing virtual hard disk”, then browse down to the \AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Virtual PC\Virtual Machines folder under your user account and select the “Windows XP Mode - IE7” virtual machine hard drive image file you created in step 3 above. Click Create.
  8. Double-click your newly-created “Windows XP Mode - IE7” virtual machine. Log on using the password you used when you created the original Windows XP Mode machine.
  9. Rename this “computer” so that it won’t conflict on the network if you run two virtual machines at the same time. In the running XP Mode virtual machine:
  10. Start Windows Update and choose Custom. You should see something like this:
    You've hidden important updates message box
  11. It’s somewhat tricky to get Windows Update to offer you IE7 because IE8 supersedes it. This sequence worked for me:
  12. After installing IE7, run Windows Update from the Start menu, choose Custom, and install the IE7 security updates. Windows Update will still tell you “You've hidden important updates.” That’s IE8, which we’ll install in a moment in a third XP Mode virtual machine
  13. Shut down this virtual machine by selecting Close… from the Action menu and choosing Shut down in the drop down list

Create a Third XP Mode Virtual Machine for IE8

Creating a third XP Mode virtual machine for IE8 is even easier as we’ll start with the IE7 virtual machine hard disk image. The steps below assume you just completed the previous sequence and don’t repeat all the specific details.

  1. Go to the folder where the virtual hard disk files are stored (the \AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Virtual PC\Virtual Machines folder under your user account), make a copy of the “Windows XP Mode - IE7” virtual hard disk image, and rename it “Windows XP Mode - IE8”
  2. Go to the Virtual Machines folder directly under your root user folder
  3. Click “Create virtual machine” on the command bar
  4. Name the new virtual machine “Windows XP Mode - IE8”, click Next, and Next again
  5. On the third panel of the wizard, select “Use an existing virtual hard disk”, browse to the folder containing the IE8 virtual hard disk file from step 1, choose the file “Windows XP Mode - IE8”, and click Create
  6. Double-click the newly created “Windows XP Mode - IE8” virtual machine
  7. Sign on to the machine as “xpmuser” with the password you provided when you created the first XP Mode virtual machine
  8. Follow the steps in item 9, above, to rename this new virtual computer
  9. Run Windows Update from the Start menu and choose Custom
  10. Click “Restore them now” in the “You’ve hidden important updates” message box, check Internet Explorer 8, and click “Restore and Check Again”
  11. Under High-priority Updates, ensure that Internet Explorer 8 is checked, click “Review and install updates”, click “Install Updates”, and then reply to the various prompts as IE8 installs
  12. Run Windows Update / Custom and install the offered security updates

Success

The process outlined above took me about 2-3 hours to complete with interruptions. When finished, I could run the three Windows XP Mode virtual machines simultaneously and access the Internet from each.

IE versions 6, 7, and 8 alongside IE9

One thing I’ve noticed is that the two copies of the original XP Mode virtual machine do not auto-logon like the first. There also appear to be other domain security-related issues but nothing that stopped me from using these additional XP Mode virtual machines to test old versions of IE against Internet content. If the host PC is part of a corporate domain, you may want to join your XP Mode virtual machine to that domain and add your domain account as a local user on the XP Mode virtual machine.

If you care mostly about just one previous version of IE, updating the base Windows XP Mode virtual machine to that version may be a bit smoother than the procedure I’ve outlined here.

—Ted Johnson, Microsoft Internet Explorer Team