Windows XP Program Compatibility Wizard

by Dan DiNicolo

While Windows XP provides a new interface and a number of new features that are easy to get excited about, there are a number of stumbling blocks associated with deployment. Beyond the increased hardware and memory requirements now dictated by Microsoft, the single biggest issue is still the one that seems to forever haunt Windows operating systems - application compatibility. Whether it's an older version of your office productivity package or some legacy application, at some point you're still likely to run into issues. Beyond its increased hardware and memory requirements, the single biggest issue in Windows XP is still the one that seems to forever haunt Windows operating systems -- application compatibility. However, the Program Compatibility Wizard provides an easy to use and effective way to successfully get your legacy applications running on Windows XP.

Microsoft has generally provided different tools to help overcome some of these limitations. Examples included various utilities that were somewhat helpful, if only you knew they existed. In Windows XP, however, Microsoft provides the ability to run applications in compatibility modes, both through the regular XP interface as file properties and through an application referred to as the Program Compatibility wizard. These tools allow you to 'fool' an application into thinking it's running in its native environment. This provides an easy way to avoid those 'this program was not created for your version of Windows' messages, and get on with more important issues, like babysitting servers.

If an application has already been installed, you can use both the properties of the program's executable file or the wizard to provide the correct environment settings. For example, let's say that my version of WinZip only works on Windows 95. If this is the case, I can browse to the WinZip executable, and access its properties, as shown below.

Notice the Compatibility tab. It provides me with a checkbox to choose a compatibility mode, and then a drop down list that provides a wide range of different environments to choose from. These include:

  • Windows 95
  • Windows 98/ME
  • Windows NT (SP5)
  • Windows 2000

The display settings shown allow me to run a program with 256 colors, a lower display resolution, and disabled visual themes if necessary - each of these may be requirements in order for your older programs to run correctly.

While you could go ahead and manually dig up the executable for each program on a system, you're much better off accessing the Program Compatibility Wizard found under All Programs - Accessories.

Note the cautionary reminder not to use the wizard for virus protection or backup programs - doing so may lead to those programs not functioning correctly, or not functioning at all. The next screen allows you to find where the program that you wish to make run in a compatibility mode can be found. Choosing from a list is the easiest option, while searching manually might be more easily accomplished using the manual option described earlier. One note on the CD-ROM option - this is unfortunately not meant for pre-creating an installation environment required for an older application. Instead, it creates an environment for an application that is run from CD. Once the application is closed, the compatibility environment is as well.

For this example, I've chosen to display a list of programs to choose from. Note the list of installed applications that appears after a scan of my system has completed:

In this case, I'm going to again choose WinZip and move forward. The next screen allows me to choose a compatibility mode, so I've chosen Windows 95. Notice the final option, which allows for a compatibility mode to not be applied. On the following screen, resolution and color options can be applied.

The next screen simply confirms that I want to add the Windows 95 compatibility mode to WinZip, so I'll skip it here. However, clicking the next button actually performs a test -- opening the application and allowing you to check whether it functions correctly. After closing the application, you'll be presented with the following screen to confirm your choices.

Obviously, choosing yes will save these new settings, while choosing the first 'no' option will allow you to try again. The last 'no' option is equivalent to canceling the entire process. Choosing the 'yes' option moves to the final screen, shown below.

Notice that this final input screen offers to send Microsoft information about the application to help improve program compatibility. Being a bit of a conspiracy theorist, I'll choose no, but if you want to help Microsoft out, feel free.

The program compatibility wizard provides an easy to use and effective way to attempt to get your legacy applications running on Windows XP. I personally wish it could pre-define an environment for me to install an old legacy application that refuses to install on XP, but I guess you can't have everything...


This article was originally published on Mar 12, 2002
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