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How to Troubleshoot Windows 7 64-bit Compatibility Problems

written by: •edited by: Bill Fulks•updated: 2/17/2011

Although Windows 7 will automatically run older 32-bit programs in a compatibility mode, you may still run into issues when running applications under 64-bit Windows 7. This article will give you some tips on how to troubleshoot these issues.

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    Windows 7 - 32-bit Versus 64-bit

    Although the 32-bit version of Windows has been dominant over the last decade, Windows 7 is finally making some strides in making it easier for users to upgrade to the 64-bit version. The main reason for moving to 64-bit Windows 7 is the ability to use more memory in your computer. Applications that take advantage of a 64-bit operating system can also run significantly faster than their 32-bit counterpart.

    If you haven’t made the jump to Windows 7 64-bit and want a good comparison of the differences between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 7, take a look at Matthew Becker’s article 'Windows 7 32-bit or 64-bit?'.

    With the move to 64-bit, older applications and hardware may be incompatible. Instead of tossing out old applications, there are some things you can do to solve Windows 7 64-bit compatibility issues. If you want more details on the types of incompatibilities you may run into, check out M.S. Smith’s article “Windows 7 64-bit Compatibility Issues: What to Know Before You Buy”. Now that you have an understanding of the possible incompatibilities you may run into, let’s take a stab at getting them resolved.

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    Solving Windows 7 64-bit Compatibility Issues

    Many older applications will run just fine in 64-bit windows. If you do run into issues, start your troubleshooting by checking to see if there is a newer version of the program available. Many vendors will offer free patches or specific 64-bit versions of their programs.

    If you can’t get a new version of the program you are having issues with, you can try running the Windows 7 compatibility troubleshooter.

    1. Open the Windows (Start) menu and click on Control Panel.
    2. Type ‘troubleshooter’ in the search window.
    3. Click on ‘Troubleshooting – Find and Fix Problems’.
    4. Click on ‘Run Programs made for previous versions of Windows’ (Figure 1).
    5. When the Program Compatibility window opens, click Next.
    6. After a few moments, you will be shown a list of applications installed on your system. Choose the application you are having issues with and click Next.
    7. Click the ‘Try recommended settings’ link (Figure 2).
    8. Click the Start Program button to test the new settings. Test out the program and see if it works. Go back to the Program Compatibility window and click Next.
    9. Now you can specify if the settings worked or if you want to try different settings (Figure 3).

    You can also manually specify compatibility settings if you’d prefer to have a bit more control over the settings:

    1. Right click on the shortcut to start your program and select properties.
    2. Click on the compatibility tab (Figure 4) and check the ‘Run this program in compatibility mode for’ checkbox.
    3. Use the drop down box to select the operating system your program was built for and click OK. You can also tweak additional settings if needed.
    4. Try opening the program again and see if it works. If it still doesn’t work, try again with a different operating system setting.

    If you still have issues you may need to use a virtual machine with an older version of Windows. One easy way to do this is by using Sun’s VirtualBox application. For more information on how to use VirtualBox, take a look at my article entitled “Sun VirtualBox – Creating a Virtual Machine”. Running VirtualBox in Windows 7 lets you run another operating system at the same time as your main operating system.

    Hopefully using one of these options will allow you to run your program without any further issues.

    Good luck!

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    Image Credits: Screenshots by Ryan Tetzlaff

    Figure 1 - Program Compatibility Troubleshooter 

    Figure 2 - Compatibility Test Figure 3 - Compatibility Settings Review Figure 4 - Windows 7 Compatibility Mode