How to Run Old Programs in Windows 8 and Windows 10

Some older programs don't like Windows 8, but you can fix that.

DOOM garbled by incompatibility.
Image courtesy of ID software. Robert Kingsley
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Well, this image of a program running in Windows 8 doesn't look right at all. If you've ever seen anything like this, you know the annoyance of attempting to run a legacy application on a modern computer. The issue certainly makes sense: you're using a machine with a new operating system to run software that was designed for a ​much older, much slower piece of hardware. Why should we expect it to work?

Be that as it may, old programs may still have value for certain users. Doom may be older than most high school seniors, but it's still fun to play. If Windows 8 doesn't want to run your old programs right out of the box don't give up hope. With a bit of tweaking, you can save your aging software thanks to the compatibility mode built into Windows 8 and Windows 10--Windows 7 has a similar tool.

Go ahead and install your old program even if you don't think it'll work. You may be surprised.

Run the Compatibility Troubleshooter

In an attempt to make compatibility mode more accessible to those who lack a certain technical aptitude, Windows 8 includes a Compatibility Troubleshooter. To run this helpful utility right-click the program's executable file, typically an EXE, and click "Troubleshoot compatibility."

Windows will attempt to determine the problem your program is having and select settings to resolve it automatically.

Click "Try recommended settings" to give Windows' best guess a shot. Click "Test the program…" to attempt to launch your problem software using the new settings. If User Account Control is enabled you'll need to grant administrator permission for the program to run.

At this point, you may find your issues are resolved and the software is running perfectly, then again it may be running the same or even worse than before.

Make your observations, close the program, and click "Next" in the Troubleshooter.

If your program works, click "Yes, save these settings for this program." Congratulations, you're done.

If, however, your program is still not working, click "No, try again using different settings." At this point, you'll be asked a series of questions that you'll need to answer to help pinpoint the exact issue. Windows will use your input to fine tune its suggestions until you find something that works, or until you give up.

If you don't have luck with the troubleshooter, or you know right out of the gate what sort of settings you'll want to use, you can try manually setting the Compatibility Mode options.

Manually Configure Compatibility Mode

To manually select your own compatibility mode options, right-click your old program's executable file and click "Properties." In the window that pops up, select the Compatibility tab to view your options.

Start off by selecting "Run this program in compatibility mode for:" and select the operating system your program was designed for from the drop-down list. You'll be able to select any version of Windows going all the way back to Windows 95. This one change may be enough for your program to run.

Click "Apply" and try it out to see.

If you're still having trouble, return to the compatibility tab and take a look at your other options. You can make a few additional changes to the way your program runs:

  • Reduce color mode - Runs the program in 8-bit or 16-bit color mode which helps when your program throws an error saying it needs to run in one of these modes
  • Run in 640 x 480 screen resolution - Changes your display to a much smaller resolution which helps if your program opens a tiny window and won't switch to full screen
  • Disable display scaling on high DPI settings - Turns off automatic resizing which helps when your program displays incorrectly when large-scale fonts are selected

    Once you've made your selections, try applying the settings and testing your application again. If all goes well, you should see your program start up without issue.

    Alas, this is not a perfect solution and certain applications may still fail to work properly. If you come across such a program, check online to see if a newer version is available for download. You can also use the troubleshooter mentioned above to alert Microsoft to the issue and check for a known solution online.

    Also, don't be shy about using the old reliable Google search to find out if anyone else has come up with a solution for running your program.

    Updated by Ian Paul.