Microsoft this week delivered near final versions of its upcoming Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode solutions, which will provide virtualization capabilities to Windows 7 when that product ships in the fall. Both hit the so-called release candidate (RC) milestone and, in the case of Windows XP Mode, there are a bunch of new functional changes to examine. You may recall that Rafael Rivera and I first broke the news about Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode back in April. But we had been using the technology for almost a month by that point, and I can say now that the changes we're seeing in the RC are among the most impressive yet. Here's what's new.

Note: If you're looking for a more complete rundown of how Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode enhance Windows 7, hang tight: I'll be documenting these solutions as part of my Windows 7 Feature Focus series in the weeks ahead.

Information-packed Setup

While the Setup routine for Windows Virtual PC hasn't really changed--it's basically packaged as a hot-fix and requires a reboot--the Setup for XP Mode has gotten more streamlined and now offers some information about how the solution might be used. Here are some relevant parts of the XP Mode Setup routine.

Windows XP Mode Release Candidate

Windows XP Mode Release Candidate

Windows XP Mode Release Candidate

Windows XP Mode Release Candidate

Windows XP Mode Release Candidate

Windows XP Mode Release Candidate

Windows XP Mode Release Candidate

Better USB integration

While Windows Virtual PC is the first version of Virtual PC to support USB devices at all (a feature other virtualization solutions have offered for some time now), it wasn't particularly seamless in the Beta release. Now in the RC, however, you can access USB devices--like printers and USB hard drives and memory sticks--directly from XP Mode applications that are running under Windows 7. Previously, you had to access the guest Windows XP environment to gain access to USB devices from an XP Mode application.

Windows XP Mode Release Candidate

Jump list integration for XP Mode applications

And speaking of integration, XP Mode applications are now available via native Windows 7 jump lists, so you can access your most recently-used virtualized applications via right-click.

Windows XP Mode Release Candidate

Other changes

Microsoft notes a few more changes in the Windows XP Mode RC. You can customize where Windows XP Mode differencing disk files are stored. And you can now disable drive sharing between Windows XP Mode and the host Windows 7 environment if that feature is not needed.