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How to Use Other Programs with Microsoft Vista

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Authors Larry Magid and Dwight Silverman show you how to install new programs that work with Microsoft Vista and what to do when you inevitably run into problems.
This chapter is from the book


  • Find out whether the programs you use on Windows XP will work when you upgrade
  • Learn how to install programs, both from disc and from the Web
  • Get tips on how to keep your programs organized
  • Control what programs launch for specific tasks and files

Windows Vista comes with many applications that are built into the operating system, so you can get started immediately with what’s included. But at some point, you’re going to want to do more, so you’ll need to install other software.

This lesson explores the different ways you can obtain new programs and how to install them. It also provides troubleshooting tips you can use when the programs don’t work as expected. Because Vista is a new version of Windows, you’re likely to run into software that isn’t completely compatible with it. But don’t despair—we’ve got some tricks up our sleeves!

Evaluating Existing Program Compatibility

Microsoft works hard to make sure you can run your existing programs when you upgrade to a new version of its operating system. So one of the strengths of the Windows operating system is that most programs written for older versions work with the latest ones. This capability is called backward compatibility. Even the simplest software programs are complex under the hood, however, and as anyone who’s upgraded an existing Windows-based PC knows, not every program survives the transition.

In the vast majority of cases, if your programs work with Windows XP, they’re likely to be compatible with Vista—with a few significant exceptions that we’ll delve into later in this lesson. But the older a program is, the more likely it is to encounter problems. Software that is compatible with Windows ME, 98, 95, and 3.1 might work, but don’t count on it.

Use the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor

If you’re upgrading to Vista from Windows XP, the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor (mentioned in Lesson 2) can flag programs that may not work or that could cause problems with Vista. In some cases, Vista’s installation routine may actually disable problematic programs if they would interfere with the operating system in some way.

Take the Advisor’s recommendations to heart, and if it indicates that a program should be removed or updated, do it before you upgrade to Vista.

Get a sense of what works

Certain programs generally work better than others when you upgrade to a new operating system, and these programs vary by type:

  • Productivity applications. For the most part, the programs you use at work—word processors, spreadsheets, presentation managers, photo editors, and so on—should be compatible with Vista. Exceptions may include programs that work with modems (such as faxing software) and custom programs created in-house to work under a specific operating system.

  • Network and Internet applications. Email, Web browsers, chat, and FTP programs should work, but there are exceptions. Some instant-messaging applications, such as AIM Triton, don’t work well with Vista. Again, when it comes to custom programs, all bets are off.

  • Music and multimedia applications. Mainstream programs (such as iTunes and Napster’s software) will work, but lesser-known programs may not. Programs that write to CD and DVD drives may have a hard time if they don’t get along with Vista’s built-in drivers for these devices.

  • Games. Newer games should also do well, but those designed for Windows 98 or ME are likely to cause problems. (Many of them didn’t work even under Windows XP!)

  • System utilities. Programs in this category are least apt to work; they include antivirus and antispyware programs, disk defragmenters, disk editors, and utilities suites. In most cases, the developers of these programs introduce new versions in conjunction with the release of a new Windows version, so you will need to update to those versions when they become available.

Don’t be alarmed if one of your favorite or irreplaceable programs falls into one of the problematic categories. There are plenty of exceptions.

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