Run older programs in compatibility mode in Windows 11/10

Like any other software, the Windows operating system is constantly being updated to new versions. And while the transition maintains program compatibility during a live upgrade, things start to get worse across multiple versions.

Programs and games that work perfectly on your Windows XP PC don’t even run on Windows 11 anymore, even though the hardware is actually more powerful. Some apps may launch but have visual problems, strange colors, or glitches.

Luckily, you don’t have to downgrade your computer back to the stone age just to play an old game on it. Thanks to a Windows feature called “compatibility mode,” you can run that particular program with older settings that match the performance of a previous version of Windows. Let’s find out how.

What is compatibility mode?

The reason old programs don’t work in newer versions of Windows is because the underlying architecture has changed. Modern operating systems manage memory differently, display more colors, and may have even changed the I/O code.

To allow legacy software to run on these versions, Microsoft introduced Compatibility Mode. Using this, it is possible to mimic the environment provided by an older version of Windows, allowing older programs to function properly.

However, keep in mind that this feature is not a perfect reproduction of older versions, but an approximate feature. Sure you may not get some programs not working correctly even in compatibility mode, although such cases are rare.

Run the program in compatibility mode in Windows 11/10

The compatibility mode feature is identical in both Windows 10 and 11. The only thing different in Windows 11 is the new look of the right-click menu. Additionally, these instructions will allow you to apply compatibility mode on the program of your choice in both versions of Windows.

  1. To enable compatibility mode for a program, right-click its executable and select Characteristic.
  1. In Windows 11, this drop-down menu will appear slightly different, but it is still available Characteristic options you can choose from.
  1. The properties window opens, displaying information about the program, along with many other tabs with their own settings. Switch to Compatibility navigation.
  1. Now in this tab you have two options. You can Run the compatibility troubleshooter or set the mode manually. You’ll probably have to go the manual route, but there’s no harm in trying the troubleshooter first.

With Program Compatibility Troubleshooter

  1. Once Program Compatibility Troubleshooter opens, you are again presented with two options. You can Try recommended settings or Troubleshooting program. If the first option doesn’t run the program correctly for you, choose the second option to actually diagnose the problem.
  1. The troubleshooter will now prompt you to select the problems you are having while running your application. Based on this information, Windows will choose the appropriate compatibility setting for you.
  1. You can test new settings before actually applying them to the program with Check out the program… button. After exiting the application, select Next.
  1. If the program works correctly, select Yes, these settings are for this program. If not, you can choose No, try again with other settings to try running the program with different settings. Just press Cancel if you want to close the troubleshooter without saving the settings.

Manual Set

  1. Setting compatibility mode manually is actually less tedious than using the troubleshooter. Activated Run this program in compatibility mode for and select the appropriate operating system from the list. If you don’t know which version of Windows can run the program correctly, work your way down from Windows 8 down to Windows 95.
  1. That’s just about it. You can turn on things like Reduced color mode or Change high DPI settings if you’re having color or font issues. Application after each change and test the program to see what works.

Usually, you should be able to run any old program with one of the compatibility modes. In case it still doesn’t work, the problem may lie in the lack of DirectX version or missing DLL.

Can you run legacy programs with compatibility mode in Windows 11/10?

Both Windows 10 and 11 give you the option to set the compatibility mode for each program individually. This way, you can run applications for earlier versions of Windows, just by selecting the correct mode from the list.

Compatibility mode can also be used to use legacy color options or reduce DPI settings, in which case you may be able to run the program but are getting visual artifacts. This is especially useful when playing old video games on a modern system.

It’s very rare that changing the compatibility mode isn’t enough to run an older program. This is because this feature is not a perfect recreation of older operating systems and some things like drivers may still be different. When this happens, try to see the system requirements of the software in question and install any missing components before trying again.

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