Windows Vista compatibility problems – Part 1 – When the software compatibility gremlins strike
Windows Vista compatibility problems have plagued the beleaguered operating system since its launch in 2007. Of course, when moving to a new version of a program or an operating system, compatibility problems are nothing new. In the world of computing, nothing stays the same for long. Our insatiable appetite for faster, smarter and higher capacity computer systems drives the technology industries to keep innovating and reinventing our favourite gadgets and consumer electronics devices. Nowhere is this more true than on the most complex piece of consumer electronics, the home computer. As processors get faster and RAM and hard drive sizes increase, operating systems expand their features to take advantage of this increased capacity. New versions of Windows are often met with disdain from users who are disappointed that their older software no longer works. In this article, we’ll explore what options you have for running that stubborn piece of legacy software on your new PC.
Why can’t Microsoft maintain compatibility with older software?
Windows began with version 1.01 (version 1.0 of Windows was only ever released internally within Microsoft) in 1985. At that time, most PC’s (or IBM PC’s as they were more commonly known then) ran text-only operating systems such as MS-DOS.
Compared to the more advanced graphical operating systems of the time, such as the Commodore Amiga and the Apple Macintosh, Windows 1.01 looked and felt very primitive. Few computer enthusiasts even encountered Windows 1.01 and fewer still predicted that Windows would become the dominant desktop operating system.
If you’re upset that your favourite game or application is not running on Windows Vista or Windows 7, you might scoff when we say that Microsoft actually do consider backward compatibility to be important. It’s amazing to think that Windows has actually been around since late 1985. Take a peek at a screenshot of the first version of Windows, Windows 1.01 on the left. As you can probably tell, computers have come a long way since a desktop looked like that. If Microsoft had engineered Windows Vista or Windows 7 to run all the software that Windows 1.01 users could run, it would have seriously hampered the new operating system and would simply not be practical or sensible.
The world is a different place now compared with 1985. With nearly 25 years of changing technology and dozens of different revisions of the operating system, it is surprising that so much older software still works on modern versions of Microsoft Windows.
Later on in the article, we’ll show you how you can, after a fashion at least, run Windows 1.01 programs on the very latest version of Windows, Windows Vista 64-bit (or even Windows 7 64-bit!). We’re not sure that many people will want to do this, but it’s interesting to observe nontheless.
So, hopefully we’ve now convinced you that sometimes backwards compatibility needs to be sacrificed in the name of progress. That’s as maybe, but what if you have an application or favourite game you simply must run on your super duper modern PC? Well, even if the application won’t initially play ball, there are still a few tricks you can try. We’ll take a look at your options now and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
Windows XP/Vista/7 64-bit editions
Are you running a 64-bit version of your operating system? 64-bit versions bring about a whole new range of compatibility problems. Early versions of Windows ran software for 16-bit processors. This refers to the maximum size of number the processor can work with in one go. On a 16-bit machine, that number is 65535. Clearly this wasn’t going to be adequate for long, so way back in Windows 3.11, Microsoft began to move to 32-bit. In order to maintain compatibility with the programs designed for older processors, a special compatibility layer was added.
However, when running a 64-bit version of Windows, a new compatibility layer works to ensure that 32-bit applications can run and 16-bit applications are no longer supported. Although few users need to run 16-bit Windows applications from the pre-Windows 95 days any more, unfortunately lots of installers for older games and applications were actually 16-bit applications. This means that installing legacy software on 64-bit systems can be somewhat hit and miss.
If you ever see the window shown above, you’ve tried to run a 16-bit application on a 64-bit operating system. No amount of setting compatibility options will help you this time. However, check out Method 4 – Virtualization for a workaround for this limitation.
Ready to learn more? Click the links below to go to the next part of the article.
Go to Part 2 – The Internet Detective and Dual Booting
Go to Part 3 – Emulation, Virtualization and Conclusions
Back from Windows Vista Compatibility to Vista Troubleshooting
Discuss this page in our forum.