How Do I Run Older Programs Under Windows?

Many older computer programs may not run correctly if you just click on the program’s executable file in Windows; this is particularly true of older game programs. There can be many reasons why. Perhaps the program uses DOS calls that XP does not know about. Perhaps there are graphic hardware considerations. Perhaps…who knows.

Indeed, some older DOS-based programs, in order to speed up the display, wrote directly to the computer’s hardware. These, Windows XP and newer operating systems will not allow to run at all. In order to run these you will have to find a computer with an older operating system.

For those in between, there is some hope in using Windows XP’s (and Vista’s) Compatibility Mode.

Open Windows Explorer and navigate to where the program is located. Then…

  • Right click on the program file (the .EXE or .COM file).
  • Select Properties from the menu that pops up.
  • Select the Compatibility Tab in the dialog.
  • Change the options so the program opens in Windows 95 or 98 compatibility mode. Note the other options in the dialog as you may have to experiment a bit and change some of them as well.

Basically, this action creates a PIF file that Windows uses to determine options to use to run the program in compatibility mode instead of native Windows 32-bit mode. Hopefully, this will allow the program to run.


There is another option for running older DOS programs under newer Windows operating systems: the DOSBox project. DOSBox emulates an Intel x86 PC. It is a developing option because the project is still refining the code. But, you can find it at its Sourceforge home… Link

If these suggestions don’t work for you, you are back to finding a computer with an older operating system.