How to run older programs in Windows 10 using compatibility settings

At its core, Windows 10 is very similar to Windows 8.1 and Windows 7, although it's also very different from older operating systems like Windows XP. Most of the desktop apps that were developed for Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 will likely work just as well in Windows 10. On the other hand, it's unlikely that apps which were developed for Windows XP work well on Windows 10. Regardless, if you have an older program that crashes on Windows 10 and you must use it no matter what, you can try to run it using Windows 10's compatibility settings. They can make old apps work, even if the apps weren't designed to function in Windows 10. Read this guide to find out everything there is to know about Windows 10's compatibility settings and how to use them to run old programs:

A word of caution

Although compatibility settings are a very good way of making older programs functional in Windows 10, it doesn't mean that you should apply them to any old software programs. For instance, it's highly advisable that you don't apply compatibility settings to programs like old antivirus/security programs or disk management utilities. Using compatibility settings on software that deals with security products can mean that they don't function at their fullest and, as such, may not protect you as they should. On the same note, using compatibility settings on disk software means that the software is not working like it should, which is not something you'd want for programs that deal with such important things as your hard drives. For instance, a disk utility that runs in compatibility mode can do unexpected things like corrupting your hard drive's master boot record.

How to run the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter

The simplest way of applying compatibility settings to an older program that doesn't work as it should on your Windows 10 computer, is to run the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter wizard.

To launch it, right-click or tap and hold the executable file or the shortcut of your old program. Then, in the contextual menu, click or tap "Troubleshoot compatibility".

The Program Compatibility Troubleshooter automatically checks for possible issues, and then it offers you two choices: "Try recommended settings" and "Troubleshoot program".

Here's how compatibility settings are applied, depending on the option you choose:

  • "Try recommended settings" - the wizard tries to apply and use compatibility settings that are automatically selected by Windows 10. After choosing this solution, the wizard tells you which compatibility settings it used and lets you test the program to see if it now works. If everything worked well, you can save the compatibility settings and close the wizard. If not, you can go back and try different settings or you can report the problem to Microsoft and search for a solution online.
  • "Troubleshoot program" - walks you through a shorter or longer series of questions designed to help Windows 10 understand what issues are stopping the program from functioning properly. For instance, you can tell Windows 10 that "The program worked in earlier versions of Windows but won't install or run now" or that the "Program starts in a small window (640x480 pixel) and won't switch to full screen". Based on your answers, Windows 10's Program Compatibility Troubleshooter can set the appropriate compatibility settings that are needed by your old program in order to function.

The Program Compatibility Troubleshooter should be able to help you apply the appropriate compatibility settings that are needed by just about any old desktop application. However, if the wizard didn't do the job for you, or if you prefer doing things the old way, you can also change compatibility settings manually. Read the following section of this tutorial to see how.

How to manually change compatibility settings for old programs

Start by opening the Properties of your old program. Right-click or tap and hold on its executable file or on its shortcut and then click/tap Properties.

In your program's Properties window, go to the Compatibility tab. It should look similar to the screenshot below.

The first thing you get in the Compatibility tab is a button that launches the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter, which we've already covered in the previous section of this tutorial.

Next, there's a section called Compatibility mode. This lets you set your old program to run using settings from previous versions of Windows. If you know that your old program was designed to work with a specific version of Windows, select it from the list.

Windows 10 can run your old program in a compatibility mode that matches Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista (with or without Service Pack 1 and Service Pack 2), Windows XP (with Service Pack 2 or Service Pack 3), Windows 98 / Windows Me and Windows 95.

The next section from the Compatibility tab is called Settings and it contains other compatibility settings that you can apply to your old program so that it can function properly even if it wasn't designed to work on Windows 10. The available compatibility Settings are:

  • "Reduced color mode" - lets you set Windows 10 to use only a limited set of colors in your old program. Some older programs were designed to use fewer colors than today's apps. You can set your old program to run in "8-bit (256) color" or in "16-bit (65536) color" modes.
  • "Run in 640 x 480 screen resolution" - runs your old program in a small window with a 640x480 resolution. You should try this compatibility setting if your old program's user interface doesn't render properly and looks bad on your screen.
  • "Disable display scaling on high DPI settings" - turns off the automatic resizing of your old program when a large-scale font is used. If the fonts scaling feature from Windows 10 affects the way the user interface of your old program is rendered, consider disabling this option. This problem can be encountered more often on high resolution screens, like 4K displays.
  • "Run this program as an administrator" - there are some older programs that require administrative privileges in order to function properly. Check this compatibility setting to make sure that your old program is always run as administrator.

The final compatibility option from the Compatibility tab is a button that lets you "Change settings for all users". If you click/tap on it, it will open a new window that lets you manually select the compatibility settings that you want to be applied to your old program for all the user accounts on your Windows 10 computer. The compatibility settings are the same as the ones we've talked about earlier.

That's all! When you're done fiddling with the compatibility settings of your old program, don't forget to click or tap the Apply or OK button to save them.

Conclusion

Even if you have a new computer running Windows 10, that doesn't necessarily mean that you can no longer use older programs that weren't designed for this newer operating system. Windows 10 offers an easy to use compatibility troubleshooter and also a series of manually configurable settings that you can use to make your old programs function again. Hopefully, these compatibility settings will do the job for you. Otherwise, in order to be able to run your old programs or old games, you might have to try running virtual machines or installing emulation tools.