Windows 7 Compatibility Testing (Part 1)

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Although Windows 7 was built on top of a Vista kernel, it is far from being 100% Vista compatible. This article demonstrates the need for comprehensive compatibility testing prior to a Windows 7 deployment, and discusses the various tools available for doing so.

Although I personally really like Windows Vista, it is no big secret that Vista was ill received by most people (to put it nicely). It also is not a big secret that one of Microsoft’s primary motivations behind creating Windows 7 was to make a version of Windows that addressed all of the things that people did not like about Vista.

While I think that Microsoft did a good job creating Windows 7, it is important to realize that Windows 7 was not built from scratch. Microsoft built Windows 7 on top of the Windows Vista kernel. One of the reasons why Microsoft took this approach was to help avoid the types of compatibility problems that are often experienced when upgrading from Windows XP to Vista.

Unfortunately, Windows 7 has not been completely trouble free though. While I will be the first to admit that Windows 7 does not have nearly as many compatibility issues as some of the previous Windows releases, it isn’t one hundred percent backward compatible with Vista either. In fact, I have personally experienced a few different compatibility issues.

I began to experience minor compatibility issues almost immediately after I upgraded my primary desktop computer from Vista to Windows 7. The first problem that I noticed after the upgrade was that my sound card no longer worked. I thought that it was odd that a Windows Vista driver did not work correctly on Windows 7, but I did not really think much more about it. I simply went out to the Creative Labs Web site and downloaded a Windows 7 driver. Problem Solved.

Another problem that I ran into was that the upgrade process invalidated Dragon Naturally Speaking. I can not really say that this was a full blown compatibility problem, because Nuance’s technical support department was able to give me a code that reactivated the software, and it seems to run fine under Windows 7. Ultimately, it was the upgrade process that caused the problem though, so Windows 7 compatibility was at least a little bit of an issue for this application.

More recently, I ran into some problems with Windows 7 and an HP scanner. Two of my biggest passions in life are foreign travel and photography. I have thousands of 35mm prints from my travels around the world that were taken before I decided to start using a digital camera. Since things are always slow around the holidays I decided that this would be a good time to scan all of those photos.

I invested in an HP Scanjet G4050 photo scanner. I chose this particular model because it supports six color scanning, as opposed to the three colors that most scanners support. I also liked that the HP scanner drivers allow you to scan multiple photos at once, which is a big time saver.

Initially, I connected the scanner to my laptop, which was running Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Half way through my scanning though, a consulting project forced me to upgrade my laptop to Windows 7. When I eventually got back to my scanning, I found that Windows 7 had replaced the HP scanner driver with a generic driver. While the generic driver worked, it did not support six color scanning, or simultaneously scanning multiple images.

HP does not currently offer a Windows 7 driver for this scanner, so I decided to try installing the Vista drivers. Initially, the drivers would not install, but I was able to use Windows 7’s Troubleshoot Compatibility Wizard to fix the problem by tricking the scanning software into thinking that it was being installed on Windows Vista. Although I was eventually able to install the scanner software, I was never able to use the scanner with anything other than the generic feature set provided by Windows 7.

I have told you about all of my compatibility woes to make a point. Although Windows 7 is built on top of a modified Windows Vista kernel, Windows 7 is not Windows Vista R2. Most of the software that is designed for Windows Vista seems to run fine on Windows 7, but there are exceptions. As I explained, I have experienced a variety of compatibility problems. I have had to manually replace a sound card driver, fix an application that was broken by the upgrade process, and have been unable to use many of my scanner’s features. Obviously, none of these issues were catastrophic, but they do underscore the point that you can not just assume that an upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7 will go smoothly.

As you can see, it is essential that you perform some compatibility testing prior to performing a large scale Windows 7 upgrade. Thankfully, Microsoft offers several different tools that you can use to assist you in the compatibility testing process. These tools vary in scope, and each tool is appropriate for a different size of organization

The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor

The first tool that I want to show you is the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor is a really lightweight compatibility testing tool. It is most appropriate for use in small organizations, although it can be used in larger organizations if you want to get a general idea of the types of issues that might be uncovered during more comprehensive testing.

You can download the Windows 7 Upgrade advisor here. After downloading the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, you must install it onto the PCs that you are considering upgrading. You can perform the compatibility tests by simply clicking the Start Check button, shown in Figure A.

Figure A: Click the Start Check button to begin testing the computer’s compatibility with Windows 7

The compatibility test usually takes less than five minutes to complete, at which point the utility displays a detailed summary of its findings. If you look at Figure B for example, you can see that this particular computer met all of the system requirements, but there are three applications that would have to be reinstalled after the upgrade completes, and one application that isn’t compatible with Windows 7 at all.

Figure B: The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor provides you with a detailed system compatibility report

The most important thing to pay attention to in the figure above is the tabs at the top of the interface. As you can see, this report is only valid if I were upgrading to a 32-bit version of Windows 7. There is a separate report for 64-bit upgrades. The 64-bit report, which is shown in Figure C, shows that my sound card driver is not compatible with the 64-bit version of Windows 7, nor is one of my applications.

Figure C: The compatibility information differs depending on if you plan on upgrading to a 32-bit or a 64-bit version of Windows 7

As you can see, the two reports are quite a bit different from one another. Therefore, it is important to know ahead of time whether you want to upgrade to a 32-bit or a 64-bit version of Windows 7. This is true regardless of which compatibility testing utility you are using.


In this article, I have provided several examples of why it is critical to perform comprehensive compatibility testing prior to deploying Windows 7. I then went on to talk about the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. In Part 2 of this series, I will discuss compatibility testing as it applies to larger organizations.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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