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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Troubleshooting a Software Installation

Vista has a whole new security system in place to thwart malware (viruses and spyware and their odious brethren) from installing quietly in the background. Any system modification including software installation requires elevated permissions on the system. By that, I mean you have to be logged in as an administrator even for basic system changes.

So, here are some steps to take in any software installation, but specifically for software that was designed for an older version of Windows that predates Vista.

  1. Log in as an administrator.
  2. If the application is being installed from the Web, download the installation file to your desktop or another place you can browse to quickly.
  3. If the installation file is on an installation CD or DVD, browse to the installation file on the disk.
  4. Next, right-click on the installation file and choose Run As Administrator (see Figure 9.26). This is true even if you are logged in as an administrator. This tells the system to elevate the rights around the installation of the file and can reduce errors as the installer application copies files to your system's hard disk.
    Figure 9.26

    Figure 9.26 Right-click on an application's installer and choose Run as Administrator to give some older applications enough of a nudge to install on Vista.

This installation technique should allow you to install a vast majority of legacy applications on Vista. Some will still crap out, but it should give you some oomph to get a few of your older pre-Vista applications to install on Vista.

Installation Successful! But, It Doesn't Work

Sometimes you can successfully install an application and you'll be all proud of yourself, and then when you go to run the program, it coughs and splutters and can't talk properly to Vista. Some features such as printing may not work, or you may have a hard time saving data generated by your grumpy old application. The rule of thumb here is that the older the application, the less likely it is going to be compatible with Vista. Heck, you wouldn't install an old 8-track stereo in your shiny new Audi TT. Well, maybe you would, but you have to think that you're asking for trouble. So it is with Vista.

Microsoft has anticipated this, however (perhaps because some of its developers still have extensive 8-track collections in their Audi TTs), and has built a compatibility mode into Vista so that you can run older applications on Vista.

You can tell Vista to communicate with the program in one of six modes. Vista pretends to be any of the following operating systems when it interacts with the old-timer:

  • Windows XP (SP2)
  • Windows Server 2003 (Service Pack 1)
  • Windows 2000
  • Windows NT 4.0 (Service Pack 5)
  • Windows 98 / Windows Me
  • Windows 95

That said, the compatibility mode is not consistent. Some software just won't install or will throw up so many objections and errors when it does a run that it'll drive you to shovel the walk or mow the lawn (as seasonally and climatically applicable) as a means to escape the skull-gnawing aggravation that it causes.

In a bit, I'll show you how to run your application in compatibility mode. First, however, you'll need to "unhide" known file extensions in the Folder Options View tab, so you can look at a file and see its file extension and know whether it's an executable file with an .exe file extension.

  1. To do this, click the Windows button and type Folder Options; then click the View tab.
  2. In the Advanced settings box, scroll to Hidden Files and Folders and select Show Hidden Files and Folders (see Figure 9.27).
    Figure 9.27

    Figure 9.27 To reveal hidden system files, use the option in the Advanced Settings box to show them.

  3. Click Apply and then OK.

Revealing this information will help you discern whether your program launches from an .exe file. Now you're ready to work with compatibility mode.

Program Compatibility Wizard

Vista comes with a Program Compatibility Wizard (see Figure 9.28) that lets you analyze the programs on your system and define what compatibility mode settings it should work in.

Figure 9.28

Figure 9.28 Use the Program Compatibility Wizard to tweak programs into running like they did on older Windows platforms.

To use the wizard:

  1. Log in as an administrator.
  2. Click the Windows button.
  3. Type Run in the Search box and click Run when it appears.
  4. In the open box, type this nasty piece of work: mshta.exe res://acprgwiz.dll/compatmode.hta.

Set Compatibility Manually

If you'd like to set a program's compatibility mode manually, here's how:

  1. Log in as an administrator.
  2. Right-click on the program's shortcut or preferably browse to the executable file that starts the program.
  3. Right-click on the shortcut or executable file and choose Properties.
  4. Click the Compatibility tab.
  5. Check the Run This Program in Compatibility Mode For box and then choose the operating system the application was designed for (see Figure 9.29).
    Figure 9.29

    Figure 9.29 Right-click on a program and click the Compatibility tab to fine-tune how it launches.

  6. There are more settings you can check. If they are applicable to the application, enable them. See the next section.

Clever Compatibility Settings

When setting the compatibility mode for an application, you can enable several settings. Here's a rundown:

  • Run in 256 colors—Some older programs don't know what to do with all the colors available in modern machines, so this setting gives an application a limited set to work with.
  • Run in 640x480 screen resolution—Run the application in a lower resolution. In this case, it executes in a small window. This is also handy for legacy games.
  • Disable visual themes—If you have problems with Vista menus or buttons inside the old application, use this mode to correct it.
  • Disable desktop composition—This turns off the Aero effects, including window transparency and the other yummy graphical effects introduced in Vista.
  • Disable display scaling on DPI settings—This turns off application resizing if large fonts are in use and mess with the way it looks.

Helpful Hints: Problem Reports and Solutions

Microsoft has introduced a new troubleshooting feature that is sometimes useful for figuring out problems with software or drivers on your system. It's called Problem Reports and Solutions. After an application crash, or even a blue screen, the system will attempt to connect to Microsoft and report the incident using the Internet. If it is a known issue, Microsoft will list a problem report and a suggested solution.

To check this list:

  1. Click the Windows button and type problem in the Search box.
  2. When Problem Reports and Solutions appears in the Start menu, click it to start it up (see Figure 9.30).
    Figure 9.30

    Figure 9.30 You can use the Problem Reports and Solutions tool to find out whether Microsoft has figured out fixes for issues that have disrupted your system.

  3. You see fixes you can install under Solutions (see Figure 9.31).
    Figure 9.31

    Figure 9.31 Microsoft might offer a solution to a problem you reported that can fix it.

  4. Under that, check Information About Other Problems. This is a list of issues that have further information. Click each one to see a status of the issue. Sometimes there are hints on how you can remedy them.
  5. On the left, click Check For New Solutions to discover more solutions if available.
  6. Unreported problems can be submitted by clicking See Problems to Check.
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