Running Older Programs in Windows

by Barry Dysert
(last updated February 9, 2015)

Gina just updated her system to, and one of the programs she was using on her old system doesn't seem to work right any more. She suspects it is because the program hasn't been updated in a long time (she was using Windows XP before), but the software company is out of business so she can't get an update. Gina wonders if there is anything she can do to use the program.

Fortunately, Windows does provide one feature, called the Program Compatibility Wizard, that you can try. It allows Windows to operate as if it is an older version of Windows in order to provide an environment in which older programs can run. The only thing (typically) that it won't work for is device drivers and anti-virus software; those have to be updated to run in whatever Windows environment you are using.

How you start the wizard depends on the version of Windows you are using. If you are using Windows 7, click the Start button, type "compatibility" (without the quotes), and press Enter. If you are using Windows 8, press Win+S, type "compatibility" (without the quotes), and choose the first option found (Run Programs Made for Previous Versions of Windows). Windows starts the Program Compatibility Wizard. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The Compatibility Wizard starting step.

***Insert Figure 1 – S03022.png

The first step is to click the Next button. The wizard scans for programs that may have compatibility issues. When done, just select the program you're having problems with, and click the Next button to proceed to the next step. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The Compatibility Wizard troubleshooting step.

***Insert Figure 2 – S03023.png

It is best to click the Try Recommended Settings button. This causes the wizard to try running the program using the recommended compatibility settings. Based upon the needs of the program you specified, the wizard applies whatever settings it feels are correct and prompts you to start the program (Windows 7) or test the program (Windows 8). (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3. The Compatibility Wizard "start program" step.

***Insert Figure 3 – S03024.png

Click the Start the Program button (Windows 7) or the Test the Program button (Windows 8) and the program is loaded and started. You can then test to see if the program is running properly. When satisfied, come back to the wizard and click the Next button. This takes you to the wizard's final step. (See Figure 4.)

Figure 4. The Compatibility Wizard final step.

***Insert Figure 4 – S03025.png

If the program is working properly, click the top link of the screen. If it's not working properly and you want to try it again with different compatibility settings, click the second link. If it's not working properly and you want to search for a solution online, click the third link. Depending upon what you click, the wizard will either exit or enter a troubleshooting sequence whereupon you can answer a variety of questions determined by what particular problems you're having. At the end, settings appropriate to the program will either have been established, or it's likely that the program simply cannot be made to run properly under your version of Windows.

 This tip (10113) applies to Windows 7 and 8.

Author Bio

Barry Dysert

Barry has been a computer professional for over 30 years, working in different positions such as technical team leader, project manager, and software developer.  He is currently a senior software engineer with an emphasis on developing custom applications under Microsoft Windows. ...

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