One of the challenges to moving users to Windows XP isn’t usually the data. There are plenty of methods to mitigate that.

Very often people will scream “I can’t migrate to Windows 7 because Application XYZ” doesn’t work on Windows 7. So therefore I will always use Windows XP because I just can’t get past that point.  

But more often than not, you CAN get yourself running in Windows 7 now.    Sometimes it DOES mean updating to a newer version of the program (which is good, as this means vendor support).  Sometimes you cannot.   A newer version is not available or the original developer does not exist.  Maybe the source code has vanished into Cyberspace.

I’m not going to get into the support debate or why XP is no longer supported in about 7 days.

The fact is you have a mission critical application that your business relies upon and you need some help over this hurdle. I’m here to give you some tips on getting over that hurdle.

First and foremost, my background. So you all understand the world I lived in prior to this. I do not work for Microsoft. I have been floating in the industry as a Professional and as an enthusiast since I got my first Commodore Vic 20. I’ve built PC’s and fixed ones found by the side of the road. I made a great living servicing residential, Professionals and even working in the Enterprise.

It was at one point my job to not only Deploy Vista and Server 2008 with its security fully enabled (that’s right, leave UAC ON, take away local Admin rights, lock down with Group Policy).

It was also to ensure that every application we needed to operate as a business worked still and worked seamlessly. It had to operate with NO USER HAVING LOCAL ADMINISTRATIVE RIGHTS.

The old environment was an Administrators Hell. There is no other word. Users were Domain Admins, everybody had the right to do whatever they pleased. It was pure Anarchy. Six co-op students all day long was imaged and replaced computers and re-installed applications.

But the business ran.

So how did I meet this challenge? First there are tools out there to help make this happen. The biggest and BEST one which is FREE is called the “Application Compatibility Toolkit”. It’s a free download from Microsoft that’s pretty easy to use.

Once you load it up, you can scan your network in a variety of ways to see what applications you have. The ones it recognizes as Compatible for Windows 7 it will TELL YOU. Compatible means it will load / run / operate WITHOUT excessive rights.

Then it had a little box of “Shims”. Shims are tiny applications (we It Pros call them magic lies) that run underneath the original program to make it work. To make your life easier Microsoft even has a pile predefined to recognized industry application INCLUDING Kids games.

Then in the SAME kit (often missed by IT Professionals) is simple Developer’s tool called the “Standard User Analyzer”. This simple application is run WITH Administrative rights but watches any single application as if it DIDN’T have local Admin rights. You can load the program, watch it crash and then the Standard User Analyzer will build an “AutoShim” to mitigate what the application was trying to do.

You see sometimes applications fail or Bluescreen because they didn’t have permission to do something (like write a file) and the Shim can get the rights to that single file without the user being a local Administrator.

Now let’s step even deeper. You might have (like many have) gone for the 64 version of Windows. You’ve got a pile of programs that don’t work in Windows 7 still and management is freaking on you.

There is a very good chance the program has been around a long time. Maybe since Windows 95? So it could be a 16bit application. There is NO 16 bit support in the 64 bit version of Windows 7. But you have options still!

Current versions of Windows 8.1 / Windows 8 and Windows 7 all have a 32bit version. The 32bit version still has the 16bit engine and you can try it in that. Or is it an Enterprise situation? Server 2008 has a 32bit version which is still supported until January 14th 2020.

But let’s look at the Small Business too. Windows 7 has Windows Virtual PC, an improved version of Microsoft Virtual PC. You’d had to obtain a license for the additional copy of Windows 7 but you could install a second 32 bit Windows 7 within it…. And Windows Virtual PC supports Com ports for all of those applications that actually use a com port.

Or let’s get “old school”. It’s a Dos program that only works in Dos. You occasionally need it but there is critical data to you need to access. There is an application called DosBox which has been out in the Open Source community. It provides a simple emulated environment to run Dos Applications independent of the parent O/S. It has some limitations of course (I believe opportunistic File locking is a big one presently), but will allow the operation of ANCIENT applications.

When I mean ancient, for fun I fired up an old game from Apogee and an old copy of dBase I dug up on the internet. They worked. They worked in DosBox on a 64bit version of Windows 8.1.

There also free resources from Microsoft on Springboard to help you alleviate migrating not only applications to modern versions of Windows but data as well. Yes, Microsoft even has tools such as the Office Migration Planning Manager, Office Environment Assessment Tool and Office Code Compatibility Inspector. These tools can help you easily debug that old backend VBA word in your master Word template to migrate to a modern DOCX file or identify actual files that might have issues in a more modern version of office. Online just do a quick search for OEAT,OMPM and OCCI.

So never fear, you can get to whichever version of Windows you need. It is more than possible. It is very achievable. At the very end everything will all work out and the users won’t even care.

In fact that same environment that went Vista?  It tripled in size over the years, lost all of it’s Co-op students and became manageable with just two IT Pros.

So I know. I’ve been there.  We can do this.

Windows PowerShell MVP
Honorary Scripting Guy