Let’s Go Virtual!
In June of this year Kieran Kelly blogged about bringing new life back into his school’s 34 Windows XP computers by going down the road of a clean re-install. This batch of PC’s were rejuvenated and Kieran was looking forward to the new academic year and a whole lot less hassle from IT related issues. However a recent announcement about XP has probably cast a shadow over Kieran’s hopes and aspirations; Microsoft has announced the end of support for Windows XP SP3 and Office 2003 on the 8th of April, 2014. This means that Kieran’s 34 PC’s and every other Windows XP PC in schools around Ireland will no longer receive security updates, hot fixes or online support from Microsoft. My gut feeling is that this event will pass un-noticed by the vast majority of schools and the Windows XP machines will continue to operate until the PC hardware eventually fails and is reluctantly replaced with a newer machine purchased with funds raised by a Parents’ Committee Table Quiz, Sponsored Walk or any combination of other events. No doubt Kieran’s IT skill set and diligence will keep his PC’s humming for many more years to come!
This XP announcement coupled with comments and queries from teachers participating in this summer’s TeachNet online courses got me thinking about software obsolescence, specifically educational software that no longer “Runs” on a newer operating system. I would argue that many of the best software programs designed to support the curriculum came from the Windows 98 time period. The vast majority of these happily migrated to the Windows XP operating system.
However many of the original software programs are languishing in dusty boxes at the back of classroom presses because they no longer work properly on a classroom PC / laptop running Windows 7 that is inevitably connected to an IWB. I believe that not only is this a waste of school funds it is also a waste of some fantastic educational resources. Of course some of the software vendors have kept their programs updated so that they can continue to run on newer operating systems and a smaller number have successfully produced iPad compatible versions of the programs. But how many schools have purchased these upgrades? So I decided to look for a cost effective way to enable schools to dust down these programs and reintroduce them to the classroom.
The 1st way would be to install and use Windows XP Mode in Windows 7 (the OS version on most laptops and PC’s purchased for connecting to IWBs). I tried this process myself only to be greeted with an error message! Further investigation showed that Windows XP Mode only applies to Professional, Ultimate or Enterprise versions of Windows 7.
I then decided to see if I could upgrade my Windows 7 Home Premium. This process is carried out by the Windows Anytime Upgrade process(From the Start button – Search – Anytime) a wizard series of steps. My choices were to either go online or enter an upgrade key purchased from a retailer.
The online route was a dead end as Ireland is not one of the countries listed for the online upgrade process. The retailer option is another dead end as Windows 8 has superseded Windows 7. (Well not completely! There is a purchase option on Amazon.co.uk for Windows 7 Professional; however at £134.99 plus P&P, no thanks!) Maybe a Windows 8 upgrade! At €199.95 for Windows 8 Professional upgrade on Software4students.ie, it’s a possibility HOWEVER – Windows 8 includes Hyper-V virtualisation technology replacing Virtual PC but NO Windows XP Mode! And that’s for Home use only, not for schools; schools need to use a different licensing policy.
I then turned to a product that I am already using on my Home PC; Parallels Workstation 6; this program allows me to run multiple Virtual Machines without the need to re-boot! Great for testing out trial versions of Windows 8, Linux or Mac OS. Windows XP is one of the listed options during the Virtual Machine setup process. Stepping through the wizard allows you to create a fully functioning Windows XP Virtual Machine where you can install and run all those great educational programs I wrote about earlier in this blog. Are there any stumbling blocks? You do need to have your original Windows XP key for use during the setup process; however this is usually found on a sticker somewhere on the PC or the underneath of a laptop.
But wait! There’s more! There is a “Transporter” function built into the program that allows you to “clone” an existing Windows XP machine; ideal for someone like Kieran who has just re-installed XP and has the machine humming along. The Transporter function creates an identical Virtual Machine with all of the current software being transported across to the Virtual Machine. Simply ensure that both the source XP PC and the home for the Virtual Machine are on the network (or use a USB disk). The software connects both machines and completes the transport operation.
When the process is finished your original Windows XP machine will be available as a Virtual Machine on your Windows 7 PC or laptop. You will be able to seamlessly switch from one OS to the other without having to reboot. At the time of writing this blog, Parallels Workstation 6 was on special offer at $49.99. In the same market segment there’s VMware Workstation which has academic purchase options.
The free route is served by Oracle’s Virtual Box but only if you have Windows 7 Professional or above because you loose Windows XP activation after 30 days if you use Virtual Box on Home Premium!
Clearly the less complicated route is to follow Kieran’s option; a clean re-install of XP followed by the re-installation of all those wonderful educational software programs. And finally if teachers get fed up inserting physical CD’s every time they want to run a program then you could use one of the many Virtual CD programs that are available. For example Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel from Microsoft, Magic ISO Maker, Virtual CD (there’s also a File Server version) Gizmo and Virtual CloneDrive.
Finally here’s a few of my all time must have curriculum software resources for your Virtual XP machine, some of these programs have had a series of updates and have also been transported to other platforms:
The Living Books series from Broderbund, especially “Just Grandma and Me” and “Arthur’s Teacher Troubles”. (Some of these titles have been brought to the iPad by Wanderful Inc)
The “Carmen San Diego” series (also now out for the Wii)
Mighty Math Carnival Countdown (link to an online resource from this series)
My all time favourite “the “Zoombinis” series.