Windows XP is More Compatible

Updated: October 03, 2001
By Jerry Honeycutt

Windows XP is compatible with most popular hardware and software

Don't expect many compatibility problems with hardware or software that's designed for Windows 2000 or Windows XP. Products bearing the "Designed for Microsoft Windows XP" moniker are built for Microsoft's latest 32-bit operating system, and they go through rigorous testing processes to ensure they work well.

But what about legacy products, including those designed for Windows 98 or, gasp, Windows 3.1? Since Windows XP's dragnet is much wider than earlier Windows—targeting businesses and consumers—Microsoft added compatibility technologies to the operating system that give you, and me, broader support for the applications and devices we use.

On This Page

OOTB and in to the Computer
Some Applications Just Need a Push
Bases Covered
Additional Links

OOTB and in to the Computer

The first thing I noticed after installing Windows XP Professional was that it supported all but a few of my devices natively. In my office, where I run ten or so computers, all with a mishmash of different devices, I declare that to be a boon to my productivity. When I get my hands dirty helping a company deploy Windows XP, I won't be customizing distribution shares to add dozens of third-party device drivers—a break from deciphering INF files and copying driver files to and fro.

The devices for which Windows XP didn't include support fit in to three categories. The first are obscure devices that few realize even exist anymore (legacy port expanders?). I finally tossed these in favor of newer technologies. Second up are devices from IHVs (Independent Hardware Vendors) that haven't coughed up a driver yet. All you can do is wait, and hope, that they'll eventually get around to producing one. On the other hand, these IHVs tend to produce devices that are more common at home than in the enterprise (think TV tuner cards, etc.). The last category includes devices that are frequently too new for Windows XP to support natively. I was able to get joy from most of these new devices after finding updated drivers on the IHVs' Web sites.

I didn't just get compatibility out of the deal, by the way; I got some nice surprises. Not only did Windows XP support the vast majority of the hardware I use, but it supported them better. I was surprised to find a better TrackPoint driver for my IBM ThinkPad than I had with Windows 2000, for example. And my Microsoft Internet Keyboard Pro worked better as well. I was well pleased.

Some Applications Just Need a Push

After installing Windows XP and wiping the smug grin from my face, I set about testing the 50 or more applications I use on a regular basis. Most were designed for Windows 2000, with a handful of Windows 98-based programs sneaking in to the mix. Not one of the Windows 2000-based programs choked during or after installing them in Windows XP. Not one.

I did run in to one application, which will remain unnamed, that had a small problem running in Windows XP. It checks the version number of the operating system. If the version isn't Windows 98, the setup program throws up an error message that says the operating system version is incorrect. Well, I suppose the developers didn't know that the millennium was coming either, because they certainly didn't anticipate a newer version of Windows.

Windows XP takes a two-pronged approach to compatibility issues. First, the operating system maintains a list of incompatible applications and notifies the user when upgrading from an earlier Windows version. The upgrade report gives the user instructions on how to best deal with the problem. Second, Windows XP includes compatibility fixes for over 200 applications. The operating system applies these fixes when users run applications on that list.

If your application isn't on the fix list, you can still fix the problem yourself, which is what I had to do. My particular problem was easily solved by using the compatibility shell extension (the Program Compatibility Wizard is available to do the same thing, but the shell extension is quicker):

  1. I right-clicked the program's shortcut, and clicked Properties.

  2. On the Compatibility tab, I clicked to select the Run This Program in Compatibility Mode check box, and then clicked Windows 98. Other settings are available from this dialog, including running the program with 256 colors, running the program with a 640 by 480 screen resolution, and disabling visual themes.

  3. The application ran as though nothing was amiss.

Enterprise IT professionals aren't going to turn users loose on the Program Compatibility Wizard. The average user won't even know that it exists much less that they need to use it. So, the Application Compatibility Toolkit is available to automate this process. Administrators can use this toolkit to distribute compatibility fixes alongside Windows XP.

Bases Covered

All our bases are covered. Most hardware, particularly enterprise-level devices, works well in Windows XP. In the rare circumstance that a device doesn't have native support, the IHV will undoubtedly produce one soon. You can add those devices to your Windows XP distribution share's $OEM$ folder later.

Most contemporary software is compatible with Windows XP, too. And the programs that won't install or won't run are often easily fixed using the compatibility shell extensions or, in the enterprise, using the Application Compatibility Toolkit.

Additional Links

We at Microsoft Corporation hope that the information in this work is valuable to you. Your use of the information contained in this work, however, is at your sole risk. All information in this work is provided "as is," without any warranty, whether express or implied, of its accuracy, completeness, fitness for a particular purpose, title or non-infringement, and none of the third-party products or information mentioned in the work are authored, recommended, supported or guaranteed by Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft Corporation shall not be liable for any damages you may sustain by using this information, whether direct, indirect, special, incidental or consequential, even if it has been advised of the possibility of such damages.