Retiring Windows XP to VMware Virtual Machine


After many years of working with Windows XP OS, I recently (and finally) upgraded my OS system to Windows 7. I liked the XP system quite a lot, however, with so many recent software applications that were only working under newer OSs (e.g., Adobe Lightroom 4), I realized that it was the time to move on. I did a “clean” install on my current C: partition, which obviously meant that I lost all my programs and settings as installation went through the partition formatting. Another challenge was to maintain my disk partitioning scheme as I am used to have four partitions:

  1. Drive C: the main and boot partition with system maintenance software
  2. Drive D: productivity software (Photoshop, Lightroom, Office, …)
  3. Drive E: web and internet software
  4. Drive F: data only

Since C: partition contains Windows registry, links and registration info for the remaining software on those other partitions is lost. Having so many customizations and applications working well on my XP machine, I did not feel like losing them all at once. This is where the virtual machine comes in.

A little bit of background – virtual machine is a software implementation of a computer system (real physical computer) that runs programs like a physical machine. It can be thought of as a computer in another computer. It comes handy when one wants to test a software outside of the main computer system or wants to keep older computer setup (or operating system), like in this case.

Software needed for the transition:

While I am sure that there are other options available, I am used to make system backups (images) of all critical partitions (C, D, E) with Acronis True Image (TI) application (at this time – Home 2012).  For the virtualization part, I use VMware Workstation 7 ( version 8 is now available) application that runs both under Window and Linux systems. Depending on the version of True Image (and the .tib file), we may also need a copy (evaluation copy is just fine) of WinImage.

Here is the sequence of file transformations for two scenarios:
a) TrueImage Echo -> .tib -> [TrueImage .tib -> .vmdk] -> VMware Workstation
b) TrueImage Home 2012 -> .tib -> [TrueImage Home 2012 .tib -> .vhd] -> WinImage -> vmdk -> VMware Workstation

From tib to vmdk:
I was quite happy with Acronis True Image Echo Workstation that was able to convert True Image images (.tib) directly to VMware .vmdk format (see the menu snapshot on the left). Done that way, the virtual disk could be used directly in the VMware Workstation or Player software (scenario a, Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 TI-Echo Workstation Tools menu

Unfortunately, True Image Home 2012 edition does not support this feature and can only save virtual disks in .vhd format (found in “Acronis backup conversion” section). Had I made my .vmdk disks with the earlier Echo version, I would save myself quite a lengthy process of vhd to vmdk conversion. Since I used the newer Home 2012 edition and have the corresponding version of .tib file, here is how to proceed.

First, if you still have the older version of .tib image file, there is a free version of virtual disk (VD) conversion application from VMware called “VMware vCenter Converter Standalone Client” that can convert many third party VD file types into the vmdk type (Fig.2). Unfortunately, newer (TI-Home 2012)info VD .tib files cannot be converted.

Fig. 2 VMware Converter filetypes

If you only have image files created with TrueImage Home 2012, go to “Tools and utilities” tab and launch “Acronis backup conversion” under the “Backup conversion” section. Choose the .tib image of partition that you want to convert, click Next and choose archive location of the future .vhd file. Click Next, confirm, and wait until the conversion finishes. With the new .vhd file in hand, proceed to WinImage conversion into the .vmdk file.

I recommend making a copy of the original .tib disk image file as I lost the original image after .tib -> .vhd conversion. So, just in case.

As mentioned above and unless you already have it, download and install the copy of WinImage. I will go only briefly through the steps as there is already one detailed description on the web.

Fig. 3 Convert Virtual Hard Disk image …

Fig. 4 Select the .vhd file to convert

  1. Start the WinImage
  2. Go to “Disk” and choose “Convert Virtual Hard Disk image …” (Fig. 3).
  3. Next, select the earlier created .vhd file (Fig. 4).
  4. Click “Next” and choose what type of virtual disk you want to create (I prefer dynamically expanding disk, Fig. 5).
  5. Click OK and type the name of .vmdk file in the “file name” field (Fig. 6).
  6. Click OK and wait for conversion to complete.
  7. At the end, WinImage will ask to select the partition to connect to. Click “Cancel”.

Fig. 5 Choose the type of VD

Fig. 6 Type name of the final .vmdk file

At this point, we should have one or more original partitions (in this case C, D, and E) converted to virtual disks and saved as the corresponding .vmdk files. Now, it is time to launch VMware Workstation.

VMware Workstation setup:
The following steps assume that you have VMware Workstation installed on your computer. For this tutorial, I will be using version 7. Here is the outline of main steps that we will go through:

  • Create new virtual machine with a default hard disk.
  • Replace the above disk with the boot partition created earlier (former c: drive).
  • Customize this virtual machine (memory, network, shared folders).
  • Add additional virtual disks (former D, E drives – if applicable).
  • Troubleshoot shared folders and internet access.

We will start by launching the VMware Workstation.

  1. File -> New -> Virtual machine.
  2. Choose the typical machine, click Next and at the Operating system page, select “I will install OS later” (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7 Choosing the OS system

Fig. 8 Selecting guest operating system

  1. Click “Next” and for the operating system, click Microsoft Windows (XP Professional) as shown in Fig. 8.
  2. On the next page, enter virtual machine name – use any name (without the .vmdk extension) and select location of the new machine (same location where the vmdk file resides). If you get a warning message, click Continue.
  3. At the disk capacity page (Fig. 9), keep the default and click Next.
  4. Another Next and Finish.

Fig. 9 Specify disk capacity

Fig. 10 Remove and Add virtual disks

At this point we shall see a new tab created in the main VMware window.

  1. On the left, click “Edit Virtual machine settings”.
  2. Highlight the Hard Disk (IDE) 40 GB and click Remove at the bottom (Fig. 10).
  3. Click Add, choose Hard Disk, Next and choose “Use existing virtual disk”. Browse for our c .vmdk file and confirm selection by clicking Finish and OK.

Now, we have a modified virtual machine that can boot from the image of our original Windows c: partition.

In the next several steps, we will adjust settings of our new machine.

  1. Click “Edit virtual machine settings”.
  2. Increase virtual memory to about 1,000 MB and set network adapter according to Fig. 11.
  3. In Options tab, set the Share Folders as shown in Fig. 12.

Now, let’s power on the machine. It should boot into the former system partition. New virtual machine will go through an automated installation of several drivers and will also issue a warning that our new XP system has to be activated.

Yes, you will need the original code from the XP package. Activation has to be done within 3 days and can be accomplished by sending proper credentials through the web (from virtual machine).

Fig. 11 Setting memory and network adapter

Fig. 12 Set shared folders

Now, it is time to connect additional disk images, i.e., .vmdk images of our other computer partitions created earlier.

  1. In the Virtual Machine Settings/Hardware, click Add at the bottom (similar to Fig. 10) and choose Hard Disk (IDE) option.
  2. Browse for the corresponding .vmdk image file and confirm by OK
  3. Repeat the same for each drive (Fig. 13)

As a result, “original” disks (C, D, E, and F) are now part of our new virtual machine with all settings, programs, desktop icons, e-mails, … are back. While we continue working with the new Windows 7 system, we can get back into our previous “computer” at any time and transfer missed settings, links, bookmarks, icons to the new system.
Unfortunately, things often do not go as one expects and disk drives may be switched (D: may be mapped as E:), real physical partition (F share) will not connect properly, or we have no access to the internet from the virtual machine. It is time to read the following section of troubleshooting.

Fig. 13 Adding other virtual disks


Disk drive letter:
After adding single .vmdk disk images, resulting order of drives may differ (e.g., E, D instead of D, E). Since windows registry and links are originating from the c: partition, many desktop icons and programs will be blank or not working. We need to change the assignment of drive letters to correct this situation.

  1. From within the virtual machine, go to Start, Run and type diskmgmt.msc into the blank field.
  2. Disk management window will open (Fig. 14) that will allow us to change the drive letter.
  3. Click (highlight) the mislabeled disk (say, D in this example would read E), right-mouse-click and select Change Drive Letter and Paths.
  4. New window will open (Fig. 15) where we could change the drive letter as indicated.
Make sure that unique letter is assigned to each partition. Computer cannot have the same letter pointing to two different partitions. If that would be the case, change the letter of other drives to end up with unique drive identifiers.

Fig. 14 Identify disk that needs new letter

Fig. 15 Change disk letter

Map the share drive:

Earlier, we have mapped the data disk (real physical partition) to our new virtual machine (Fig. 12).

Fig. 16 Mapped drive in the Windows Explorer

Fig. 17 Drive remapped to My Computer

Mapped drive actually shows up in the “My network Places” under the “VMware Shared Folders” menu (Fig. 16). While we can use this path and browse the local mapped drive, if any icons or links in the new VM point to this drive, they would be broken. To correct that, we need to re-map this drive as the original data drive in My Computer (e.g., F: as in Fig. 17).

  1. In Windows Explorer, go to Tools -> Map Network Drive.
  2. Choose any unused letter in the Drive: pull down menu (e.g., S:)
  3. In the Folder: field browse to the folder that we want to re-map (F:) as shown in Fig. 16.
  4. Check the “Reconnect at logon” box and click Finish.

Our VM shared drive (F:) will be mapped as a network file to My computer (Fig. 18). Even though it is mapped under letter S:, computer sees it as the original F: drive.

Fig. 18 Mapping network drive to My computer

Internet connection:

Network connection is a hit and miss scenario when running VMware Workstation under Windows 7. The initial setup is shown in Fig. 11. Make sure that “NAT:” is selected and “Connect at power on” is checked. This is basic and supposedly the easiest choice. Additional setting to check:

  • In the VMware application, go to Edit -> Virtual Network Editor.
  • Make sure that VMnet8 is associated with NAT and connected (Fig. 19). Note the VMnet0 Bridged setting that we try use later.
  • In Windows 7, click on Start and in the search field type “network and sharing center”.
  • Overview of the local network settings will appear (Fig. 20). We should see the VMnet8 adapter installed with “No Internet access” above it (that is OK).

Fig. 19 Virtual Network Editor in VMware Workstation

Fig. 20 Win7 Network settings

By choosing “NAT”, we let the router assign IP address to our virtual machine through the DHCP protocol. For a communication between computers (including the virtual ones) to happen, network adapters (so called NICs) have to be present (typically they are part of computer motherboard accessible through ethernet ports). The Plug and Play code in Windows handles all the work of installing drivers for those adapters.
Settings in the virtual machine (XP Pro) are shown in Fig. 21-22.

Fig. 21 Network settings in Win XP (virtual)

Fig. 22 Details for Local Area Connection

Click My Computer -> My Network Places -> Network Connections to review what networks are setup and available (Fig. 21). Device name should read something like “VMware AMD adapter”. In my case, I have two adapters installed for testing purposes (not necessary). Right-mouse click on “Local Area Connection” and select Properties. We should see connection modules shown in Fig. 22.

Make sure that same protocols are set in Virtual Network Adapter (Fig. 19) and Virtual Machine Settings (Fig. 11). The latter is also accessible via a little icon (looks like two monitors) at the bottom-right of the VMware Workstation application.


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