Understanding (and troubleshooting) Auto-Publishing in Windows Virtual PC

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One of the cool features of Windows Virtual PC is how applications that are installed into Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 virtual machines automatically appear in the start menu on the host operating system – and can be launched directly without first needing to open the virtual machine in question:


These shortcuts get created through a process that we call Auto-Publishing.  What happens is that we monitor the guest operating system while it is running, and when we detect that a new application has been installed, we create a shortcut for the application in the host start menu.

Most of the time this “just works”.  When it does not work there are a couple of areas that you can look:

  1. Does the guest operating system support auto-publishing?

    Auto-publishing is only supported for virtual machines running Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista SP1 (or later) or Windows 7.  Windows 7 virtual machines are ready to go when it comes to auto-publishing.  But Windows XP and Windows Vista virtual machines need to have an extra update installed in them in order for auto-publishing to work.  You can download the Windows XP update here and the Windows Vista update here.

    No matter which guest operating system you are running you will also need to ensure that the Windows Virtual PC Integration Components have been installed, and that integration features are enabled.

  2. Is auto-publishing enabled?

    Auto-publishing is enabled by default, but we allow you to turn it off if you want to.  It is always worth double-checking this option in the virtual machine settings, to make sure you have not disabled it accidentally:

  3. Was a shortcut for the application created in the “All Users” start menu in the guest operating system?

    Windows Virtual PC detects that an application has been installed in the virtual machine by looking for shortcuts that have been created in the All Users start menu.  If the application installer did not create a shortcut in the start menu, or created one in the local user start menu, Windows Virtual PC will not auto-publish the application.  You can check this by looking in the All Users start menu in the guest operating system.  Here are the locations to check under each guest operating system:

    Windows XP: %SystemDrive%\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs
    Windows Vista: %SystemDrive%\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs
    Windows 7: %SystemDrive%\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

    If you cannot find a shortcut in these locations – create one there and you should be good to go.

  4. Is the application being blocked by policy settings?

    In order to stop a blank Windows virtual machine from spamming your start menu with a bunch of shortcuts when you first bring it up – we block a bunch of applications by default.  The list of blocked applications is stored in the registry inside the virtual machine at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Virtual Machine\VPCVAppExcludeList.  You can go here to check to see if the application you are trying to get published is on this list:


    If it is, you can delete the registry key for that application, and it should appear in the host start menu.


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  • Ben,

    What about more basic applications that don't have an installer and just require a set of files to be copied/extracted from a zip? Is there a way to get these to appear as a shortcut or do I have to write my own installer using e.g. WiX to get them to appear?

  • I don't have a Windows 7 machine handy at the moment but I believe you can just create a shortcut in the All Users start menu and it will be picked up and auto-published to the hosts start menu just like any other application.

  • William, you are correct. I copied some files on, created a shortcut in %SystemDrive%\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs under XP and it appeared in the Windows 7 menu.

  • Why is MS not making WVPC without processor virtualization if it has also got a tool to check computers and which sends information back? I really want to try XP mode but can't because of the silly requirement.

  • I have a program that installed but runs from a mapped network drive (required for our company).  I still get the application blocked even though the menu shortcut is there in the xp virtual machine.  If I can't get this to work, our company will not upgrade to Win7

  • Hi Ben,

    There are a couple of questions that I've been trying to figure out regarding Auto-Publish:

    --If the application is uninstalled on the VPC, the shortcut doesn't seem to be removed automatically from my start menu.  Can I just manually delete it without causing any problems or is there an automatic process that should do this for me?

    --Similar to the question above, if I remove a VPC completely, the shortcuts are still in my start menu.  Do I need to delete the shortcuts manually or should it be automatic?

    --I forgot to uncheck Auto-publish on a VPC and now the shortcuts are in my start menu.  Can I uncheck Auto-publish and then safely delete the shortcuts?

    Sorry if these are dumb questions.  If they are no more than shortcuts, I know that I can safely delete them, but I just wanted to make sure.  Thanks for your help!

  • Is this also possible for 2003 server (as a guest) ?

  • Curtis Maurand -

    This should work (I just setup a program on a network share in my VM and it worked).  Can you double check that the shortcut is created in the "all users" start menu and not in the local user start menu?

    John -

    Yes, you can just delete it.  Yes, you need to delete them manually.  Yes, you can delete them.

    Robert Ivanc -

    No, this is only supported on Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7.



  • Forgive me if this is a stupid question, but I am trying to understand for the purposes of our Knowledge Base.  Your article links to an update to RemoteApp which you have stated is required for Auto-Publishing to work.  Yet the Download page for this hotfix states 'This package is not required if you are using Windows XP Mode.'  So my question is, is this update required only if I do clean install of Windows XP SP3 within the Virtual Machine, and Windows XP Mode contains the update within it?  Thanks.

  • Hi Ben

    I'm trying to install the RemoteApp update on a Vista Home Premium SP2 guest VM.  The update refuses to install.  I get an 'update does not apply to my system' message.  This is my own legit copy of Vista.  I'm doing this so I can run a Cisco VPN client to connect to my work PC.  Cisco doesn't offer a 64 bit VPN client so I have installed the 32 bit version inside this VM.  I'd really like to have it auto published into my Windows 7 desktop but right now I'm stuck because I can't install this update.

    The system requirements for KB961741 are a little contradictory/vague.  I am running Vista SP2 which is apparently supported, so I assume this isn't working because Vista Home Premium has terminal services crippled.  Is this the case, and if so is there a way around this?



  • I have auto publish set up and see the links in the host start menu, but when I try to run the app it starts to launch but I get this error popup:


    Cannot start virtual application

    Check the Group Policy settings for Terminal Services in the virtual machine.  Some of the settings required to run virtual applications might be disabled.


    Do you have any suggestions what could be wrong. Thanks

  • Hi everyone. I'm hoping someone can help me. I installed Virtual PC and XP Mode yesterday and so far it works fine in desktop mode. I then added a shortcut as documented so that I can launch an application which physically resides on my host's partition (I need to test the software in Win7 and WinXP.) Yesterday my auto-published shortcut worked just fine. The app displayed in full WinXP theme glory. Today, however, I get the following message:

    Cannot start virtual application

    The application is blocked from running as a virtual application.

    Nothing has changed and I have confirmed that my shortcut is still in the All Users folder and auto-publishing is enabled. Also, I can still run the shortcut just fine from within the XP virtual desktop. Only seamless launching is a problem.


  • Very nice article but where can I download virtual PC for Vista

  • Hi Ben,

    I installed an application under the 'administrator' profile and it works fine there.

    When users's log into the computer, they do not see the XP mode application previously installed, I tried hte fixes you mentioned above with no success.

    What would cause an application installed under one profile to not propogate and function under the others?

  • Evan -

    You are correct that the Windows XP update is only needed if you are not using the "Windows XP Mode" virtual machine - and have instead installed Windows XP yourself.

    David -

    Your instinct is correct.  You need a buisness / enterprise / ultimate version of Windows Vista for this to work.

    Bob -

    Have you checked to see if group policy is used in your environment?

    Don Bakke -

    What is the application that you are trying to run?

    Blacxcom -

    You want "Virtual PC 2007 SP1" which can be downloaded from here: www.microsoft.com/.../details.aspx

    Nerd Cop -

    Are you talking about another profile in the virtual machine, or on the physical computer?



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Understanding (and troubleshooting) Auto-Publishing in Windows Virtual PC