How to make legacy applications run on Windows 7

Windows 7 was designed to avoid the application-compatibility problems of Vista, but some legacy apps still require extra effort to work properly.

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Windows 7 was designed to solve many of the application-compatibility problems that Vista was so notorious for, but there are still some legacy applications that don't work on Microsoft's newest desktop operating system. Fortunately, there are ways to make stubborn applications run on Windows 7.

Check for updates
The first thing you should do when an application refuses to run in Windows 7 is to look around on the Internet to see if there are any updates for the app. Windows 7 has been around for about a year, and most software vendors now offer Windows 7 patches for their wares. In some cases, a vendor may require you to purchase an entirely new version of the application.

Compatibility troubleshooting
If an update isn't available, try using the compatibility troubleshooter by right-clicking on the stubborn application and then selecting Troubleshoot Compatibility from the shortcut menu. When you do, Windows will attempt to automatically detect any compatibility problems.

Once the automatic detection completes, you can try to use the recommended settings or perform some further troubleshooting. You should try the recommended settings first, and, if that doesn't work, then you can try manually troubleshooting the application.

If you choose to manually troubleshoot the problem, Windows will display a screen similar to the one in Figure 1. The OS lists potential issues with the application and asks you to select all that apply. As you select the various check boxes, Windows may ask some additional questions until it collects enough information to solve the problem.

When you complete the wizard, Windows will tell you what it has done to resolve the problems, as shown in Figure 2.

Windows XP Mode
One of Windows 7's primary compatibility tools is Windows XP Mode, which is a fully licensed copy of Windows XP that runs in a virtual machine (VM). What's nice is that users don't have to use the VM whenever they want to run their apps (although they can). Applications installed in Windows XP are directly accessible through the Windows 7 graphical user interface, even though they are running in a VM.

The Application Compatibility Toolkit
Microsoft offers a free utility called the Application Compatibility Toolkit. It is intended primarily to assist organizations with Windows 7 upgrade planning, but it can also be used to troubleshoot compatibility issues in organizations that are already running Windows 7.

To do so, you must allow the Application Compatibility Manager, the main tool found in the toolkit, to compile an inventory of the apps that users have installed on their desktops. The Application Compatibility Manager then displays compatibility information for each app.

In many cases, this tool provides information from the software vendor about how to make an application work with Windows 7. The tool also displays the IT community's assessment. In other words, other IT professionals have most likely already tried to make the application work with Windows 7, and the tool often contains information about their findings.

User Account Control
One last way to make legacy applications work with Windows 7 is to disable the User Account Control security feature. However, I recommend that you save this option as a last resort, because disabling User Account Control can compromise a workstation's security.

If you do decide to disable User Account Control, you can do so by opening the Control Panel and then clicking on the System and Security link, followed by the Change User Account Control Settings link (found in the Action Center section). You can disable User Account Control with a slide bar, shown in Figure 3.

Keep in mind that some applications simply will not run on Windows 7, regardless of what you do to them. In those situations, you may have to find a new application, or run the legacy app within a virtual machine that is running the operating system for which the application was originally designed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional Award seven times for his work with Windows Server, IIS and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and health care facilities and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox. You can visit his personal website at www.brienposey.com.

This was first published in August 2010

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