It can be frustrating to get your shiny new computer, only to find that a well loved old game or utility simply won’t run any more. Sometimes, older software can be persuaded to run by using various compatibility tools. Some of these tools are built into Windows itself, while others need to be downloaded separately. The tutorials on this page will discuss how to best use these tools to fight the compatibility gremlins.
Compatibility options and running as administrator
With Windows Vista, Microsoft made some fundamental changes to how things work behind the scenes in the operating system. One of the biggest changes (and the biggest shock to users) was their effort to fix the most common security problem in Windows XP, the over-reliance on administrator accounts. All users who are new to Vista, Windows 7, 8 or 10 quickly notice the Windows User Account Control prompts that appear whenever new software is installed or settings are changed on the PC. Although these prompts can be annoying, they strengthen the security of the operating system against all kinds of common malware. If you want to learn more about User Account Control and the benefits it brings, check out our guide to User Account Controls in Vista or our guide to User Account Controls in Windows 7.
One of the downsides of these changes was that many older applications and games were no longer compatible with Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8. If you have an old game that you are fond of, or an old business or productivity application that you simply must run, the first step is to try the compatibility options. The tutorial below will show you exactly how to do this.
If you have a multi-core CPU (e.g Intel Core Duo or AMD X2) then some older software (especially games) may run better if you set the processor affinity to one core only. The tutorial below shows you how to do this (this technique works on Windows XP and Windows 7, 8 and 10 too).
On modern versions of Windows there is a new security feature called Data Execution Prevention (DEP). This feature is incompatible with some older software (games particularly). If you have an older software title that keeps crashing, try it with DEP disabled. This tutorial will show you how.
If you’re using an older program or a game and you find that, although the game will run, you cannot save any game data, you may simply need to change folder permissions on the games installation directory. The tutorial here will show you how to do this.
If your program still won’t run even after trying the steps mentioned above, you still have a few options. We discuss several of these options in our guide to Windows Vista compatibility. This article is also completely relevant to Windows 7, 8 and 10 users:-
Virtual Windows XP with VMware Player
If you really need to run that old, XP only game or utility you could always try VMware Player. VMware Player is a virtualization suite, meaning it runs a virtual computer on your current operating system. This virtual PC can run another operating system such as Linux or Windows XP. If you’re not sure if this is the right solution for you, check out our article Are virtual machines for me?.
You can also view and read a great tutorial on DOSBox, one of the compatibility tools mentioned in the guide, by visiting this page.
If you’re struggling to get an older game to run, check out our list of compatibility tools over on Play-Old-PC-Games.com