And Now, for Something Completely Different …


I recently moved away from Windows XP, an operating system that I’ve used since 2003.

No problem, except I had bought a Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart S20 scanner, which runs only on Windows XP or earlier.

What to do? Get another computer? No, the answer was to run Windows XP in a virtual machine on top of Windows 7 and Windows 8 (two different computers).

Windows 7 was simple, because Microsoft offers Windows Virtual PC. The one requirement is that you have to be running Windows 7 Professional. Microsoft has the setup files for Windows XP. The instructions are here.

The downside is that color depth is limited to 16-bt, and as a result there is dithering of images. What I had done was to scan in Windows XP and then copy the file to DropBox, where I retrieved it on the Windows 7 side.

Clearly, this was clunky. Let’s add another layer of complexity by tossing in Windows 8. The Start menu wasn’t the only thing that Microsoft eliminated. Microsoft did away with Windows XP virtual mode, which might seem like a negative, but isn’t. There are two options, and both are free:

  • Oracle VM Virtual Box
  • WMware Player

Neither will work correctly with the Windows Virtual PC file, because it requires authentication, and it won’t accept the software key that is included with the file. This means that you’ll need to find your Windows XP installation CD. It must be a bootable CD, and not merely a CD with the Windows XP installation files.

After extensive testing, I found that VMware Player worked best for me. Your results might differ.

After installing VMware Player, next came creating the virtual drive. What VMware Player (and other virtualization software) does is to set aside a portion of your hard drive for you to run other operating systems. You can also allocate the computer’s regular memory and video memory to the virtual computer.

When creating the virtual box, you decide which operating system you plan to run — anything from DOS and Windows 3.1 to Unix to the Mac OS X.

I found it best to use 512MB of RAM and give it 40GB of hard drive space. This worked fine for me, because I installed the VMware Player on a secondary 500GB hard drive. I allocated 32MB of video memory.

You must have the Windows XP installation disk. Insert it into the CD drive, and the installation process begins when you launch the VMware Player. Very simple. For installing DOS, you would use the diskettes and hope that they’re still readable.

I had the original release of Windows XP, which meant that I had to patch it with SP2 (SP1 is no longer available), SP3 and roughly 100 “critical” patches, which Microsoft calls “updates.” That in itself took an entire day.

The nice thing about the VMware Player is that you can easily have it recognize USB devices. It also provided 32-bit color and numerous video resolution options, starting with 800×600. It’s simple to switch between windowed and full screen, and in short it’s been a seamless experience.

Earlier, I installed the Oracle VM Virtual Box, but after upgrading to the most recent version, it could no longer “see” my attached USB scanner. And that was after suffering through the “day of Microsoft OS patches.” Ugh.

With VMware Player, I can easily mount any folder or drive on the Windows 8 computer, which makes it simple to scan photos and then save them to the mounted drive. You do this in the settings before you launch the VMware Player, and you can always add or remove drives and folders.

For me, it means that I can scan a photo and save it to the mounted folder, making it available in and out of the VMware Player.

The scanner runs exactly as expected. No complaints from me.

This clearly was the solution that I needed. And the fact that both were free is a nice little bonus.