After the expense of upgrading to a new OS or buying a new PC with Windows 7 pre-installed, you won’t want to fork out for all-new software too. There’s already a good selection of software available that’s certified to run on Windows 7 but you should find the vast majority of Vista-ready software runs fine on Windows 7 too. There are no guarantees that this will be the case for every program though, and we certainly wouldn’t recommend running vital security software in Windows 7 if the developer hasn’t expressly stated that the OS is supported.
With Windows 7, Microsoft has gone to great lengths to ensure program compatibility is as broad as possible, to help remove many of the obstacles that would otherwise prevent XP or Vista users from upgrading. Your first port of call in the case of a program that won’t run in Windows 7 is Program Compatibility. This clever tool recreates the environment of previous operating systems. Therefore, if a program was originally designed to run under Windows Vista or XP you can use Program Compatibility to mimic these settings. If Program Compatibility doesn’t do the trick then you can run a copy of the old OS within Windows 7 using virtualisation.
Windows Virtual PC is a free download (click here to get it) which enables you to create and run virtual computers within Windows 7. On each virtual machine you’ll be able to install an operating system as though it were a real PC with a blank hard drive. You’ll need an install disc and license for the OS you want to install, just as you would normally. If you have an older application that will only work on an older operating system, such as Windows 2000 or XP, you can create a virtual hard disk on your existing PC then install the old operating system onto this virtual disk. You’ll then be able to use your older application in its preferred environment. All this can be carried out without disturbing your existing Windows configuration.
One key problem with Windows Virtual PC is that it requires an original install disc and licence for the OS you want to run. That’s not much help if your original XP CD is long since lost or you only have a recovery disc. Microsoft’s answer to this problem is the Windows XP Mode add-on, which can be downloaded from here and is a virtual machine that has its own version of the XP OS built-in. After installing Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode, simply run XP Mode from the Start menu to load up a virtual Windows XP desktop. It’s worth noting that Windows XP Mode makes use of hardware virtualisation and will only work if you have an AMD-V or Intel-VT CPU. This means that before you use the program you’ll need to boot into your BIOS and make sure hardware virtualisation is activated. Unfortunately, if you don’t have this option in your BIOS then you won’t be able to use Windows XP mode.
(For a complete guide to running older software under Windows 7, look out for The Essential Windows 7 Handbook, now on sale from Magnesium Media and all good newsagents.)