How to Run Old Programs with Compatibility Mode in Windows 10

Use Compatibility Mode Windows 10 Featured

This guide will show you how to run older Windows programs using the compatibility mode in Windows 10. It can help run your favorite programs designed for an older operating system in the latest version of Windows.

We will follow the detailed steps in Microsoft’s official troubleshooting guide and discuss each compatibility setting. This should cover various tricks of getting the older programs to run on Windows 10.

Run Compatibility Mode Troubleshooter in Windows 10

As a general rule, the closer you get to Windows 10, the application remains more stable. Therefore, to demonstrate the full capabilities of “compatibility mode,” the steps to run an outdated Windows XP application designed way back in 2002 on the latest Windows 10 version 1909 will be shown! It used to be a popular screen capture tool for Windows XP.

Compatibility Mode Windowsxp Program Test 1

Go to the Start menu, type “run programs,” and click the Control panel option, “run programs made for previous versions of Windows.”

Compatibility Mode Run Programs Previous Start 1

It will now launch the “Program Compatibility Troubleshooter” wizard. Click “Next” to proceed.

Compatibility Mode Run Program Compatibility Shooter 1

Allow the Troubleshooter a few seconds to detect any possible issues before it creates a list of available programs on Windows 10.

Compatibility Mode Detecting Issues 1

Next you will see a list of all programs available on your Windows 10 system. Scroll down and select the program giving you trouble. If your older Windows 7 or XP program is not visible, select “Not Listed.”

Compatibility Mode Select Incompatible Programs 1

You can directly import the older program .exe file for a complete analysis and resolution. Click “Next” to do so.  

Compatibility Mode Program File Location 1

1. Compatibility Mode: Try Recommended Settings

The Program Compatibility Troubleshooter offers two different options to resolve any compatibility issues. We will examine each. Use “Try Recommended Settings” which will allow the Troubleshooter to automatically apply the Windows 10 compatibility based on internal presets.

Compatibility Mode Recommended Settings

The selected program is ready to be fixed for compatibility issues (MovieMaker in this example). Test the program to note the issues. Click “Next” to continue.

Compatibility Mode Test Programs 1

The Program Compatibility Troubleshooter will quickly detect and resolve any issues and probe you on whether the problem has been fixed. If yes, “save the settings” for the program and exit the wizard. You should not be facing any more problems after this step.

If there are still issues, you can “try again using different settings,” and it will send you back to the second option, as shown in the next section.

Compatibility Mode Troubleshooting Over

2. Compatibility Mode: Troubleshoot Programs

As a second option in the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter, select “Troubleshoot program,” which allows you greater manual controls on the exact nature of the issue.  

Compatibility Mode Troubleshoot Programs Option 1

You will be given a selection of older operating systems the program may have been designed for. Select “I don’t know” if you don’t remember very well. After selecting, the program will automatically establish compatibility with the older version.

Compatibility Mode Previous Windows Version

As shown here, the screen capture tool designed for Windows XP is finally working. But instead of copying the screen correctly, it could only paste a blank screen. There are more advanced compatibility tricks shown below. Remember this is an outdated XP program. For most Windows 7- and Windows 8-designed apps, you may not require going any further.

Compatibility Mode Running Xp Program In Windows10 1

3. Use Reduced Color Mode

Today’s PC graphics are much more advanced than the older versions. It is possible that some of your older programs may have been designed to run using a limited set of colors in the palette. This is what leads to blank screens.

You can reset your older Windows program to operate either in “8-bit (256) color” or in “16-bit (65536) color.” To do this, right-click the program’s .exe file on any PC location, and go to “Properties -> Compatibility.” Use the “reduced color mode” option to fix the issues. Apply the changes to save, and run the older program once again. If it still does not work properly, go to the next compatibility setting.

Compatibility Mode Reduced Color Mode 1

4. Run in 640×480 Resolution

Sometimes the display problems in an older program are due to graphics issues which may be jagged or rendered incorrectly. Right-click the program .exe file again and select “Properties -> Compatibility.” You can select the “640×480” screen resolution as shown below.

Compatibility Mode 640 480 Resolution 1

The above setting worked perfectly for the example Windows XP tool. It can now be used to capture the screen in the latest Windows 10 version. You may also notice a “Did this program work correctly” prompt on the Program Compatibility Assistant.

Compatibility Mode Old Program Run Successfully 1

5. Change High DPI Settings

There is another compatibility setting called “Change High DPI settings,” which will resolve any conflicts due to programs that are appearing blurry, too big, or too small in Windows 10.

For this, go back to the “Properties -> Compatibility” option and click “Change High DPI Settings.” It will open a new dialog box as shown here. Select either “fix scaling problems” or “override high DPI scaling behavior.” Both will help you make the programs appear less blurry.

Compatibility Mode High Dpi 1

There are two more compatibility settings with the official Microsoft recommended manual. Some programs require administrator permissions to run correctly, so you need to right-click and run the program as an administrator. You can also go back to “Properties -> Compatibility” and change the settings for all users.

As we have seen in this guide, most older apps or games run poorly on Windows 10 because they were specifically designed for Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP. But with the Windows Compatibility Troubleshooter, there is always a way to run your legacy apps on a newer computer. If you still have old DOS programs you want to run on Windows 10, here’s a way to do that as well.

Image credit: Windows XP start menu bar by DepositPhotos


Sayak Boral Sayak Boral

Sayak Boral is a technology writer with over ten years of experience working in different industries including semiconductors, IoT, enterprise IT, telecommunications OSS/BSS, and network security. He has been writing for MakeTechEasier on a wide range of technical topics including Windows, Android, Internet, Hardware Guides, Browsers, Software Tools, and Product Reviews.

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