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How to check Windows 10 compatibility for legacy apps

Testing apps is just one way to ensure that legacy apps have Windows 10 compatibility. Find out how to confirm the compatibility of legacy apps with the OS.

Many users require legacy applications to do their jobs, so IT professionals cannot just remove older apps from the equation as organizations move to Windows 10. Instead, IT must take steps to check for Windows 10 compatibility for legacy applications.

In reality, however, comprehensive application testing is not always practical. For starters, compatibility problems are not always obvious. Just because a legacy application appears to run on Windows 10, that does not mean all its features work as intended. Only granular testing can reveal deeper, feature-specific problems.

Comprehensive application testing also might not be practical because of the sheer number of applications in use. A survey from Netskope found that the average enterprise uses 508 applications. Other estimates put the number of applications closer to a thousand. In either case, IT probably doesn't have the time to check for Windows 10 compatibility with hundreds or thousands of applications.

App testing with Application Compatibility Toolkit

Just because a legacy application appears to run on Windows 10 does not mean that all its features work as intended.

One of the best options to check for Windows 10 compatibility for legacy apps is Microsoft's Application Compatibility Toolkit, which is included in the Windows 10 Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK). ADK is version-sensitive, so IT must be sure to download the version of the kit that matches the version of Windows that its organization is planning to use.

Windows ADK is made up of a number of individual tools, and the installation process requires IT administrators to specify the tools they want to install. Simply choose the Application Compatibility Tools (Figure A).

Install the Application Compatibility Tools
IT admins will need to install the Application Compatibility Tools.

Put Compatibility Administrator to work

The primary tool within the Application Compatibility Tools option is the Compatibility Administrator. This utility serves two main purposes. First, it provides fixes to a huge number of Windows applications with the help of the extensive built-in application list. This list includes the latest business applications. If there is an application an individual or an organization needs to run within Windows 10, there is a good chance the utility already knows what it needs to make the application run.

The Compatibility Administrator provides shims -- a command-line tool that IT can apply to applications to make those applications run in Windows 10. Figure B shows that a particular application has three files IT must shim and includes the fixes that admins must apply to each file.

Use shims for apps with the Compatibility Administrator
The Compatibility Administrator provides shims for countless applications.

IT can also use the Compatibility Administrator to create shims for applications that are not already included in the database. To do this, just right-click on the listing for the database within the console tree, and choose the Create new | Application Fix options from the resulting shortcut menus.

Creating shims for unlisted apps

IT admins can force an application to run in a compatibility mode that matches an earlier version of Windows (Figure C). They can also use the tool to adjust individual aspects of the application. For instance, they can force a specific video resolution.

Shim unlisted applications
The IT admins can shim an application, even if the application is not already listed in the database.

Although the Compatibility Administrator can help make legacy apps work with Windows 10, it is a good idea to talk to application vendors, too. A vendor may be able to provide a patch that ensures Windows 10 compatibility without IT having to apply any application shims.

Next Steps

Explore the legacy app hurdles for Windows 10 Enterprise adoption

Maintenance key to keeping legacy apps going

Ensure whether the Windows 10 upgrade is the right choice or not

This was last published in September 2017

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