Fill up your hard drive with lots of programs from many sources and you shouldn't be surprised if they don't all play along nicely.

This article appears in the May 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.

Installing and running software should be – and often is – simply a case of installing a program, then launching it whenever you want to make use of it. But every so often an application not designed for your version of Windows will refuse to launch. Similarly, some applications won't run alongside programs with similar functions – antivirus applications being the prime example.

For users upgrading to Vista, discovering that software they use on a daily basis doesn't work is a sure-fire way to dampen their enthusiasm. Microsoft has employed two approaches to get software to work.

As with XP, the first is to write 'shims'. A shim is a cunning way to convince legacy applications to work and makes use of manual compatibility modes.

The second approach stems from a common problem: installation routines tend to be designed only for one particular platform (such as XP or 2000). If you attempt to install such a package on Vista, the Program Compatibility Assistant appears and will ask you to reinstall using recommended settings, allowing your program to run.

However, there are some utilities, such as Diskeeper, that require a Vista-compatible version.

Manual labour

Manually setting compatibilities for older applications will sometimes convince such recalcitrant utilities to run. To do this, browse to the folder housing the problem application, right-click its icon and select Properties.

Click the Compatibility tab and, in Compatibility mode, choose an option from Windows 95 onwards. Sometimes, themes or advanced text services cause problems, so switch these off and try again. Another common problem (and one that also applies to hardware) stems from issues with drivers, which interact between hardware and the operating system. In most cases we advise you to check a manufacturer's website for recent updates.

If you aren't sure which application or hardware is causing the problem, an extremely useful tool is DriverMagic. This will scan for and automatically update your PC's drivers.

Incompatibilities between utilities can be trickier to resolve. It's far from uncommon for one antivirus application to be installing, only for another program – usually a competing product – to prevent it loading part of the way through the procedure. Alternatively, it may not get along with a Windows program such as the built-in firewall. For an application that's part of Windows, you may simply need to disable this, but for others the only solution can be to uninstall the alternative.

Turn off pesky apps

Of course, not all application problems are so complicated. An increasing number of apps continuously nag you with pop-ups, or plop an uninvited icon in your crowded system tray.

Although not enough to bring your computer to a standstill, these are sufficiently problematic to irritate the most mild-mannered PC user. Here's how to deal with three offenders:

  • Apple QuickTime To remove the icon from the system tray, right-click it and select QuickTime Preferences. Click Advanced and uncheck install QuickTime icon in the system tray.
  • RealPlayer To remove pop-ups, right-click the RealPlayer system tray icon. Click 'Set Real Message Center preferences… Untick all boxes'. Click Yes on the 'Warning!' screen. To remove RealPlayer's hangers-on, go to the Add or Remove Programs window in Control Panel. First, remove The Weather Channel Desktop (click 'No thanks…' at the warning prompt and quit the browser survey launched afterwards), then remove Weather Services. You must remove them in order.
  • Windows Messenger To prevent Messenger spam, simply disable it. Click Start, Settings, Control Panel, Administrative Tools. Double-click Services. Scroll to and them double-click Messenger. Click Stop. Change the 'Startup type:' field to Disabled.