Resolving Windows 7 compatibility issues

Have you experienced application compatibility issues while switching to Windows 7? If so, here are some Windows 7 compatibility issue mitigation tips.

At some point or the other, all of us face the question: "Why does my application break when we change the operating system?" Many users must have faced Windows 7 compatibility issues while migrating to the Windows 7 OS. Unfortunately, as the OS evolves along with reliability, security and performance improvements, some compromises are also made, which end up breaking some applications.

Thankfully, when it's decided that certain changes are to be made, there are also alternate plans which will help us to overcome Windows 7 compatibility situations. Let's take a look at some such useful Windows 7 compatibility fixes.
Applications facing major Windows 7 compatibility issues are typically 16-bit, 64-bit, internal and unsigned applications. These have the highest fallout frequency. Most 16-bit applications are not able to fit in the 64-bit architecture of Windows 7, leading to compatibility issues.
Some of the common concerns when it comes to Windows 7 application compatibility are:
  • Certain operating systems are not supported.
  • The application throws the user access control (UAC) dialog every time one launches an app.
  • You don't see a Web browser element when observing WIN 7.

How do you overcome such Windows 7 compatibility issues? One solution is to use the Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.5. To use it, there's a three step process: Collect-Analyze-Mitigate.

When it comes to resolution of applications facing Windows 7 compatibility problems, there is the Application Compatibility Mode, which was introduced with Windows XP. Here are the steps:

  • Right-click on the application.
  • Go to Properties.
  • Click on the Compatibility tab, which will ask for the respective version of Windows that you want to run it for.
  • Click Ok.
  • Run the application.

The other option to sort out Windows 7 compatibility issues is the Windows XP mode. It actually acts as a virtual PC for Windows 7 to be deployed. You have to download Microsoft Virtual PC or free build XP mode. After starting it on a seamless mode, it is ready to act as a virtual PC for Windows 7. In this case, the only limitation is that you need a processor which runs virtualization.

App vendors don't distribute shims to fix applications, so enterprises must independently deploy them. For support reasons, avoid the practice of shimming applications without thorough research.
Another option to resolve Windows 7 compatibility issues is to take the shim roadway. Shims for different applications are issued by Microsoft itself. Application vendors do not distribute shims to fix their applications, so every enterprise must independently deploy them to mitigate Windows 7 compatibility problems. For support reasons, you might want to avoid the practice of shimming your applications without thorough research. So are shims available to avoid Windows 7 compatibility issues for all applications? The answer is no.

Shims ship as part of Windows 7, and are updated through Windows Update. Consequently, they fall under the same support terms as the rest of the Windows operating system.

The shim infrastructure implements a form of application programming interface (API) hooking to resolve Windows 7 compatibility issues. It leverages the nature of linking to redirect API calls from Windows to alternative code—the shim itself. The Windows Portable Executable and Common Object File Format specifications include several headers, and the data directories in these headers provide a layer of indirection between the application and the linked file.

About the author: Vijay Raj works with Texas Instruments, and focuses on application setup, as well as deployment. He is a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) and a Springboard Series (STEP) Member for Windows 7. Vijay Raj's also a regular speaker at user group communities and other events. He blogs at, and recently discussed this topic at Microsoft TechEd 2010 in Bengaluru.)  

(As told to Jasmine Desai)

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