How to: Run 16-bit Programs on Windows 10 64-bit

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader 'Colin' writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I have Windows 10 64-bit and when I try and run an old Visual Basic software program, it says 'This app cannot run on your PC'. I believe the Visual Basic program uses 16-bit architecture. So the question is, how can I run 16-bit programs on Windows 10 64-bit? "

My response:

The simple answer is that you cannot run 16-bit applications on 64-bit Windows directly, including Windows 10 64-bit. The same holds true when trying to run 16-bit applications on Windows 7 64-bit or Windows 8 64-bit. That said, there are workarounds to the problem.

Option #1: Use Windows 10 32-bit to run 16-bit Programs

Windows 10 32-bit supports 16-bit applications directly, but before you install it, please note that Windows 10 32-bit supports a maximum of 4 gigabytes of RAM. Since RAM makes a massive difference in the usability and speed of a computer, you would not want to switch to Windows 10 32-bit if you have more than 4 gigabytes of RAM. In that case, try Option #2.

Option #2: Use a Virtual Machine to Emulate Windows 10 32-bit

If your computer has at least a quad core processor and 8 or more gigabytes of RAM, then the best bet would be to use a virtual machine to emulate Windows 10 32-bit inside of your Windows 10 64-bit environment.

Going about this would be somewhat tricky to avoid paying for another Windows license. To do so: backup your existing Windows 10 64-bit using a disk image, then format the drive and install Windows 10 32-bit. Following that, use vmware vcenter converter to convert the physical machine to a virtual machine. Once that is done, test the virtual machine to ensure it works, then restore your disk image backup to put your system back to Windows 10 64-bit.

In theory your Windows 10 32-bit should now run inside of the Windows 10 64-bit desktop, using the same license. To be honest, I have not tested whether or not the license will 'stick,' since technically it is running on new 'virtual machine hardware'. Anyone who has tried this is welcome to comment.

Option #3: Use DOSBox to Run your 16-bit Program

DOSBox is a program that emulates a 32-bit environment, which supports 16-bit applications. In the extremely rare case you need to run a 16-bit DOS-based program, you might want to consider using DOSBox. But, since DOS hasn't been really been used much since the Windows XP days (back in 2001), there's a very slim chance that anyone will want to go this route - especially if the 16 bit application was meant to run on Windows in the first place.

Option #4: Find an Alternative Program

If none of the above three options sounds appealing to you, then I suggest you find an alternative program to replace the 16-bit program which is no longer supported on 64-bit versions of Windows. Before doing that, you may need to export data from the old program and import it into the new one so you don't lose any information. As an example: on most major web browsers, there is a feature to 'export bookmarks', which can be saved to a file, then re-imported into the browser later.

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About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of Infopackets.com. With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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Comments

nate04pa's picture

I have had good results using a freeware program vDos (site: https://sourceforge.net/projects/vdos/) to run DOS programs under 64-bit Windows 7, 8.1, and 10. In addition to running such programs, you can also use your Windows printer or print to a PDF file.

Formedras's picture

DOS-oriented solutions such as #3 entirely fail to answer the question: Visual Basic programs (barring the QuickBasic-based Visual Basic 1.0 for DOS) were exclusively for Windows.