Windows 8 is more forgiving with regard to application compatibility than some of the previous versions of Windows were, but some applications just will not work with it. Thankfully, you don't always have to accept defeat. Although there is no silver bullet that guarantees application compatibility, you can use a number of tricks to improve your odds of getting a stubborn application to run in Windows 8.
1: Create a virtual machine
I will go ahead and get the last resort step out of the way up front. Windows 8 includes its own copy of Hyper-V. If you can't get an application to function in Windows 8, you can enable Hyper-V and create a virtual machine running a legacy version of Windows as a way of running the application.
2: Turn off User Account Control
I haven't experienced any User Account Control (UAC)-related compatibility problems in Windows 8 yet, but I have run into problems in Windows 7. When I first adopted Windows 7, there was a particular dictation application that would not work until I disabled UAC. I have read posts on the Internet from people who have had similar experiences in Windows 8, where disabling UAC resolved a compatibility issue.
3: Install .NET Framework 3.5
When you install Windows 8, version 4.5 of the .NET Framework is installed by default. However, older apps often require an earlier version of the .NET Framework. If you receive a .NET Framework-related error, you can go into the Control Panel, click on Programs, and choose the option to turn a Windows feature on or off. Windows will display a list of the various components you can enable or disable. One of the items on the list is .NET Framework 3.5, which also includes .NET 3.0 and 2.0. Installing this component will likely correct the issue that you are experiencing.
4: Check for application patches
One of the first things you should do upon discovering an application compatibility problem is contact the application vendor and find out if it has a Windows 8 patch available. Sometimes, a patch is all you need.
5: Upgrade to the next version
When I made the switch to Windows 8, I discovered that a video-editing application I use on a regular basis would not work with Windows 8. Although I might have been able to resolve the problem using less drastic measures, I ultimately decided to simply upgrade to the newest version of the application. Not only was the latest version certified to work with Windows 8, but it also had some other new features I wanted to try out.
6: Upgrade your hardware drivers
One of the biggest problems I had when I upgraded to Windows 8 was that a program I use every day wouldn't run. The error message I received indicated that Windows 8 did not support OpenGL. However, OpenGL support is provided by the video driver, not by the operating system. It turned out that my problem was caused by an outdated version of AMD Catalyst. When I upgraded to the latest version, the problem went away and I was able to run the application.
7: Let Windows troubleshoot the problem
Windows 8 includes a utility called the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter that can sometimes automatically resolve compatibility problems. You can run the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter by right-clicking on the problematic application and choosing the Troubleshoot Compatibility command from the shortcut menu.
8: Trick the application into thinking it is running on an earlier version of Windows
Some applications are hard-coded to look for a specific version of Windows. In these types of situations, you can configure Windows 8 to lie to the application about what version of Windows you're running. Start by running the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter (as described above). When you get to the What Problems Do You Notice screen, choose the option for programs that worked in an earlier version of Windows. After clicking Next, you will have the option of telling the utility which version of Windows the application worked in.
9: Provide the application with extra permissions
Some legacy applications (especially those written for Windows XP) fail to run due to inadequate permissions. Once again, the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter can help. When you get to the What Problems Do You Notice screen, choose the option related to the program requiring additional permissions. As an alternative, you could try right-clicking on the application and choosing the Run As Administrator option (assuming that you have administrative permissions).
10: Check the Compatibility Center
One last thing you can do is check the Compatibility Center for information about the application. The Compatibility Center is a Web site Microsoft uses to provide application compatibility information for Windows 7 and 8. In some instances, it provides a link to detailed instructions on what you must do to make an otherwise-incompatible application work with Windows 8.
Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.