Software Application Compatibility in Vista

As we begin the upgrade process from Windows XP to Windows Vista, we look first to hardware compatibility and what hardware needs to be upgraded. This process is fairly easy. Is my processor fast enough? Do I have at least the minimum amount of RAM? Do I have a driver for my modem, printer, scanner, camera, graphics card?

Unfortunately, we tend to overlook the one thing that, if it fails to operate, will generate as much or more grief than the hardware—software applications themselves. Application compatibility problems can take several forms – UAC (User Access Controls, which equals security) issues; Hardcoded file locations that no longer exist in Vista; installation issues, version compatibility problems and graphics issues.

Fortunately, help is not too far away. In Vista, the Application Compatibility Toolkit is part of the Programs submenu of the Control panel:

The Application Compatibility Wizard will help you select the programs you want to work with:

Then allow you to select the version of the previous version of the OS that the application worked on:

Simply select the previous version of the OS that the application worked with and then review the graphics requirements of the application.

Then select the Security Level the program will require:

Finally, test the application with the new settings and see if it runs correctly.

The Old Way

In addition to the Application Compatibility Wizard, which allows you to review and change a number of applications, you may also be able to modify individual applications. This is done by right-clicking the program icon.

If you right-click the program icon you are presented with a menu that allows you to run the program as Administrator:

This will allow you to overcome the vast majority of UAC issues. This is especially helpful when a program has installation issues. If the program installs, but does not run correctly, right-click the program icon and select Properties

On the Properties tab, select Compatibility


You now have a host of options that will allow you to get most programs up and running. The first and most often used is the Compatibility Mode.  By select the previous operating system version that allowed the program to run correctly, you will generally solve the problem. 

Before you upgrade, however, you might also want to verify that your applications are certified.  Microsoft has provided this Knowledge Base article that will help you review your applications for compatibility before you upgrade.

After all of this, you may well find that your application still does not run the way you expect in Vista.  In that case, the best option is to check with the application vendor to determine if there is an upgrade available for Vista.  Many applications have upgraded versions that are designed to make the application compatible with Windows Vista.