Microsoft has a long history of backwards compatibility. It hasn’t always worked well, but that backwards compatibility is always present. The majority of Windows applications will work on Windows 10, just as they did on Windows 8. However, as Microsoft presses forward, some older games and software will become obsolete.
Applications designed for Windows XP, Windows 98, and even DOS, may cease to function. In this case, it comes down to a game of trial and error. While some games and software can be coaxed into life using Windows 10 built-in compatibility modes, others will require special system tweaks, patches, or emulators.
Before you give up hope, try our tips getting that old application up and running.
Why Is It Borked?
There are a variety of reasons your old game or software may be refusing to play ball with Windows 10.
- Dependencies on Old Versions of Software — Some software depends on old libraries no longer automatically installed by default.
- 16-bit Software — 64-bit versions of Windows no longer contain the built-in compatibility layer for 16-bit Windows applications.
- DOS Software — Windows 10, like all versions of Windows since Windows XP, no longer runs on top of DOS. Some DOS programs will still run, but the vast majority — and especially games — simply fail to run.
- DRM — Antiquated or non-existent DRM solutions that stop applications booting.
How Can You Fix It?
1. Run as Administrator
If your issue is with a Windows XP program, the first thing to try is running the application as an administrator. During the Windows XP era most users were typically administrators. This isn’t always the case with Windows 10, as Microsoft attempts to shore up security. Applications were coded with the assumption they had administrator access, and would fail if not.
Head to the application executable or its shortcut, right-click, and select Run as Administrator.
2. Program Compatibility Troubleshooter
If right-clicking the application fails to work, we can try to let Windows 10 make its own decision about compatibility settings. Windows 10 has an integrated Program Compatibility Troubleshooter that helps to “detect and fix common compatibility problems.”
Use the Start menu to search for run programs. Select the best match to open the troubleshooter.
Click Advanced. Then select Run as Administrator. Click Next.
The troubleshooter will now scan your system for potential compatibility issues. If your application isn’t listed, select the Not Listed option, and select Next.
You’ll have to browse to the executable or shortcut. I’ll be testing one of greatest football management games ever made: Premier Manager 98.
Continue by selecting Try recommended settings.
Once the settings have been applied, test the program. As you can see, the program now works, albeit notifying me that I need the original CD-ROM. Press Next.
The troubleshooter will now ask you if the fix was successful or not. Selecting Yes, save these settings for this program will close the troubleshooter. Selecting No, try again using different settings will open an additional dialogue containing the following options:
- The program worked in earlier versions of Windows but won’t install or run now.
- Example: The setup program won’t begin.
- The program opens but doesn’t display correctly.
- Example: Wrong colors, size, or resolution.
- The program requires additional permissions.
- Example: Access denied errors appear, or the program requests administrator permissions to run.
- I don’t see my problem listed.
Make your selection based upon the results of the test we ran in the previous section. The examples listed should help you understand which option is right for your application. However, it might take a combination of fixes to get it up and running, so don’t lose hope at the first hurdle.
I Drive a Manual
You don’t have to use the troubleshooter. You can access compatibility options through the application’s Properties. Browse to the application you wish to troubleshoot. Right-click and select Properties from the context menu.
Select the Compatibility tab. Use the Compatibility mode option to run your application in a previous version of Windows. Furthermore, you’ll find compatibility settings for Reduced color modes, Run in 640 x 480 screen resolution, Disable display scaling on high DPI settings, and Run this program as an administrator.
The automated troubleshooter offers the same options. When you’re finished, press Apply, then OK.
Keep in mind that these changes only affect your user account. If you’d like to apply the compatibility settings changes for every user, use the Change settings for all users button.
As with the automated troubleshooter, this will be a process of trial and error.
3. Unsigned Drivers
64-bit Windows 10 uses driver signature enforcement. This requires all drivers to have a valid signature. Conversely, 32-bit Windows 10 doesn’t normally require driver signing, though versions of Windows 10 running on a newer PC with UEFI do require signed drivers.
Driver signing helps with security and stability, ensuring malicious or unstable drivers don’t slip through the net. It isn’t perfect, but certainly helps.
Unfortunately, unless there are updated 64-bit drivers for the application you’re trying to run, you’ll have to disable driver signature enforcement. Consequently, your system will be more vulnerable, so it depends on just how desperate you are for the application.
Disable Driver Signature Enforcement
We can use the advanced boot options menu to boot Windows 10 with driver signature enforcement disabled. This is not a permanent change. Driver signature enforcement will be enabled next time you restart Windows 10. However, your drivers shouldn’t be removed.
Open the advanced boot menu by pressing Shift while you click Restart.
Select Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > Startup Settings. You should have arrived at this screen:
Type 7 at the Startup Settings screen. This activates the “Disable driver signature enforcement” option. Press Enter to boot your system. You’re now free to install unsigned drivers!
4. Virtual Machines
Windows 7 included a “Windows XP Mode.” It was an excellent feature that was essentially just a virtual machine with an XP license. Nonetheless, it made booting older applications that bit easier. Unfortunately, Windows 10 doesn’t have an XP mode. However, we can use a virtual machine to create our own XP mode.
All you need is a virtual machine, like VirtualBox or VMware Player, and an old — but crucially, spare — Windows XP license. Install your Windows XP license in the virtual machine, and you’ll be able to run your application in the older version of Windows, in a window on your desktop.
Realistically speaking, this isn’t an ideal solution. As well as this, the success of a virtual machine depends on the application. Virtual machines have limited hardware support.
If you’ve got an old DOS program or game refusing to work, DOSBox is going to be your friend. DOSBox is a free application that runs a full DOS environment on your Windows 10 system, allowing you to run old DOS games and applications.
DOSBox brings hundreds of classic games back to life. It is extremely well used, meaning if you’re stuck, there will be a solution online. Similarly, you can purchase games via GOG.com pre-packaged to run in a DOSBox instance.
Old Is Gold
Nostalgia is a powerful attraction. I know: I love booting up old games. Windows 10 doesn’t always want to play ball, though. Ideally, you’ll be able to find modern alternatives for old applications. However, it isn’t always possible, and just isn’t possible for some business applications.
Luckily, one of the methods we’ve detailed above will be the solution, so give them a try!
What old game are you firing up? Or do you have old software you depend on? Let us know what you’re up to!
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