Run Older Programs on Windows 7

Category: Windows-7

Some software is hard to give up -- that old accounting program that saves everything in its proprietary format; that cross-stitch pattern maker you downloaded on a slow dialup modem in 1998; and that awesome DOS-based Jill of the Jungle adventure game. But some of these ancient programs have trouble running under the latest versions of Windows. Here's how to run older programs on Windows 7...

DOS Games

Keep That Old Software Alive

There are several ways to run older programs on Windows. First, there's Windows Compatibility Mode, a built-in function of Windows that "dumbs down" the operating system so it's compatible with older programs. If that won't work, you can try running older MS-DOS software in a Windows' MS-DOS command line window. There's also the "safe mode run" that may eliminate modern drivers and processes that interfere with older programs' operation.

Windows Compatibility mode is a feature of Windows 7 designed to help programs written for Windows XP run under Windows 7. It should not be used with older antivirus programs and other programs that work at the system level, as this may cause data loss or security vulnerabilities. Also, Windows Compatibility Mode will not work on programs that have a .msi extension. But your old clunker is a BAT, COM or EXE file, right? I thought so...

To activate Windows Compatibility Mode, click the Start button, then Control Panel, then Programs, and then click "Use an older program with this version of Windows." Follow the instructions given by the Program Compatibility Wizard.

You can manually adjust the compatibility settings of a program by right-clicking on its program icon - not the shortcut to the program that may be on your desktop, but the executable file's icon in its program folder. Right-click on the icon, then select Properties and then the Compatibility tab. Experiment with the various compatibility settings until your program works - or you give up. Sometimes a bit of Googling will help you find an online forum where someone has found the answer.

Running MS-DOS programs under Windows 7 is also possible, though not guaranteed to work for every program or every version of Windows 7. In particular, 64-bit Windows 7 will not run 16-bit MS-DOS applications; you will get an "unsupported 16-bit application" error message.

Sometimes, you can run a MS-DOS program in a Windows 7 command line window. Click Start, then Run. Type "cmd" into the Run window and up pops a black-and-white command-line screen. Navigate to the MS-DOS program's folder, type its executable file name and hit Enter.

But often, you will need a third-party utility such as DOSBox. Such programs are called "DOS emulators" because they create a protected "sandbox" in memory in which the functions of MS-DOS are imitated, or emulated. DOSBox is free and open source, so if you have the technical chops you can tweak it to emulate even older, more esoteric operating systems.

I should also mention Windows 7's XP Mode, which is a virtualized Windows XP environment that can run on your Win7 desktop. It's the geekiest of these solutions, but if you have a program that runs in XP, and you MUST have it in your Win7 environment, this will do the job. See my related article Windows 7 XP Mode for more info.

Running older programs under Windows 7 may cause system glitches such as freeze-ups, lost data, inability to print things, etc. Most of these bugs are harmless, but any old program that connects to the Internet should be used with extreme caution. Old programs often contain security holes that hackers can exploit, and modern antimalware programs may not protect older programs.

Do you have something to say about running old programs on today's new operating systems? Post your comment or question below.

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Most recent comments on "Run Older Programs on Windows 7"

Posted by:

11 Aug 2010

I thought that I understood that windows 7 professional version could be run in a windows XP mode for those older programs. Was I mistaken about that? Would this work better or different than compatibility mode?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks for mentioning XP Mode. I added a paragraph to the article, and a link to an earlier article I wrote about XP Mode.

Posted by:

11 Aug 2010

You mention accounting software in the heading - but nothing in the article. By far the most common query relating to systems upgrades disabling old software is Quicken. Why not actually write a serious piece or say something actually helpful instead of puffing the ghastly Windows 7 or making jokes about DOS games?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I wasn't joking about Jill of the Jungle, it's a great game!

Posted by:

Jake Brown
13 Aug 2010

It’s funny that you mention Quicken –our company had to upgrade 5 computers to Windows 7 and we had the same problem , so we installed Zinstall. All programs that worked in XP – works now on our computers upgraded to Windows 7.

Posted by:

jerry philip
17 Aug 2010

The article specially for using older programs which do not run on other operating systems,but runs on Windows 7,really helpful for me as my most of the programs developed using older softwares with older executable files and older executable versions of softwares of applications running on Windows.

Posted by:

Tony Schoonderwoerd
26 Aug 2010

Hello Bob,
I have an IBM T60 laptop with Win7 Ultimate..I want to run Kyak Extreme and the Red Baron which work in '98 for the GC's.....can I get 7 to run these old programs from Small Rockets company?

Posted by:

09 Dec 2010

my printer runs on vista and my netbook on 7..Right now i cannot install the printer because the software is not compatible with windows 7. Is there any way to install this printer.

Posted by:

02 Apr 2011

I ran into a problem with W7-64. A free card game that I enjoyed would not install. It kept bombing as W7-64 would not let it open a file in a protected directory.

On a whim, I copied the entire program off of a Windows XP computer from the Program files directory and stored it in the W7-64 Program Files (X86) directory. Then simply made a desktop Icon to activate the program. It ran, and when I first ran the program acted like it had just been installed. I am still using it today. (8-months trouble free)

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Run Older Programs on Windows 7 (Posted: 10 Aug 2010)
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