Tutorial Thursday

One of the biggest complaints that people have with Vista is that many of their applications don’t work like they do in XP. Your program compatibility woes can possibly be solved in just a few clicks by utilizing the built-in “Compatibility Mode” option. What some people don’t realize is that the Compatibility Mode can also serve other purposes.

Today we’re going to show you how to use and configure the Vista Compatibility Mode. It’s actually rather easy, and there are two different ways that it can be done: with a wizard or through the properties window. Before we get into how you’ll go about doing this lets take a look at where it would be helpful.

–Reasons to Use Compatibility Mode–

I think it’s fair to say that most people only look at the Compatibility Mode as a way to fix applications that have issues running, but I’ve found several situations where it has come in handy:

  • If you plan on playing a game you should check the boxes to disable visual themes and disable desktop composition. Disabling the visual themes will remove any of the fancy buttons and borders around the windows, and disabling the desktop composition will turn off things like the Aero transparency. Having both of these things disabled while running a game will definitely help out on performance.
  • It’s kind of a hit or miss when getting older applications to run by selecting the last known operating system that it was compatible with. The available options are Windows 95, Windows 98/Me, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP SP2, or Windows 2003 SP1. Don’t expect this feature to work miracles.
  • User Account Control (UAC) was added to Vista to help with security issues, but a side effect was a lot of broken applications. There’s a compatibility setting available to force applications to run as an administrator each time the program is started (you’ll then receive a UAC prompt when starting the app). To enable this option check the run this program as an administrator box.

The nice thing about all of these settings is that once you close the application everything will return to normal. So if you have Aero disabled when running a game it will automatically be re-enabled once you exit out of it. Pretty cool, huh?

–Compatibility Mode Wizard–

To use the wizard click on the Start button, then Control Panel, then Programs, and finally Use an older program with this version of Windows:

vista use older program 

The wizard is nice because it explains what the various options does, which is something that most Windows users will need. Here are screenshots from the different settings that you can configure by using the wizard:

(Click to Enlarge)
vista compatibility wizard 1 vista compatibility wizard 2 vista compatibility wizard 3 vista compatibility wizard 4

In the first screenshot you can see that the wizard goes and finds every executable file on your computer. The Settings column offers a central place to see all of the applications you’ve already configured compatibility options for.

–Properties Window–

You can access the Compatibility Mode options even faster by right-clicking on an executable file (or on a shortcut) and selecting the Properties option. Then just switch over to the Compatibility tab and adjust whatever settings you would like:

vista compatibility properties


The Vista Compatibility Mode is often mentioned only when users are having troubles getting applications to run, but I actually use it the most to disable the special visual effects when running games or processor-intensive applications. Let us know in the comments below what you use(d) the Compatibility Mode for!