How to Run Legacy Applications in Windows 7

December 8, 2010, By Christian Cawley

With Windows 7 you have at your hands the most powerful desktop operating system available – a means to enjoy the web, multimedia, Windows games and applications, with a new focus on safety that older versions of Windows ignored (Vista notwithstanding).

However thanks to some of these changes, you might run into problems running older software. This can prove particularly galling – you might have a legacy application that you need to continue using but for some reason are unable to install or run, or you might be part way through a particularly enjoyable retro game that won’t run on Windows 7.

What you shouldn’t do, however, is give up on these – there are ways to run programs made for previous versions of Windows, such as using Windows 7’s built-in compatibility tools or virtualization.

Run legacy applications in Windows 7 with Windows Virtual PC

Program Compatibility

There are two ways to launch the Program Compatibility wizard, either after a program made for a previous version of Windows has crashed, or via Start > Control Panel > Programs >  Run programs made for previous versions of Windows.

Once running, this wizard will scan through all installed programs, detect problems and do what it can to repair them.

To begin, click Next – here the wizard will look for installed software. In the following screen, you should browse through the list of programs to find your problematic software. If you cannot see it, select Not Listed and click Next. In this case you will Browse for the program’s location

With the incompatible program determined, you will have two options:

  • Try recommended settings – this will “test run” the program with some different settings
  • Troubleshoot program – this option will set compatibility settings based on problems you have experienced.

Both of these options are used to attempt to force the program to run as intended. Recommended settings might set compatibility with a previous version of Windows such as Windows XP with Service Pack 2, then ask you to run the program and judge the results in the final screen.

Meanwhile the Troubleshoot… option will give you options to choose from, such as focussing on issues with the display, or informing the wizard that the program worked in previous versions of Windows. Selecting options from the subsequent screens (for instance selecting a version of Windows that the application performed acceptably under) will then apply new settings which should enable you to run the program successfully.

Windows XP Mode – Windows Virtual PC

If none of the above resolves your compatibility issue, you have a further option in the form of the latest version of Microsoft Virtual PC. Now dubbed Windows Virtual PC, this application is free and exclusive to Windows 7 users and will provide you with a virtual version of Windows XP that can be downloaded and run as a “guest” operating system within Windows 7.

This is probably the ultimate in cross-OS compatibility and underlines how Microsoft is keen for its customers to be able to continue using legacy software. Once installed, the virtual Windows XP can be used as easily as your main operating system, enabling easy installation and use of older software.

Visit to download and install a version of Windows XP Mode suitable for your version of Windows 7.

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