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Troubleshooting Windows 7 With Microsoft's Built-In Tools

The Compatibility Troubleshooter

One of the major sources of problems with any new operating system release is compatibility with existing applications. The problem, of course, is that not all apps written for older versions of Windows will run on a newer version.

The compatibility troubleshooter helps you determine if an app will run under Windows 7, whether it needs tweaks, or if it will run at all. However, it’s not a particularly user-friendly tool.

You can get to the compatibility troubleshooter from within the Windows Action Center by clicking on the Troubleshooting link at the bottom of the pane. This takes you to the Troubleshooting control panel page. The top entry is "Programs: Run programs made for earlier versions of Windows."

When you run this, you get a huge list of all applications installed on your system, not just the ones that Windows thinks may be incompatible. If you’re like me, that means wading through a very, very long list. However, I knew of one older application that would have problems: Nikon Transfer, which came on a CD with my Nikon D300 digital SLR.

You can actually fix compatibility issues with the compatibility troubleshooter.

After clicking through the buttons, the compatibility troubleshooter set up Nikon Transfer to run as a Windows XP SP2 app. At that point, it ran without any hitches under 64-bit Windows 7.

The troubleshooter isn’t perfect, though. For example, it assigned Steam as an app that should run as if it were a Windows Vista mode. Steam complained about this, popping up a message telling me in no uncertain terms that compatibility mode for Steam was a bad idea, so I manually set it to run as a native application.

Of course, the right way to run the troubleshooter is every time you install an application--at least, one that hasn’t been written with Windows 7 in mind. And you can, of course, right click on any application executable and manually change compatibility settings. But the troubleshooter does a pretty good job of automagically setting up the right compatibility mode.