The rule of thumb is that if a program runs in Vista, it will run in Windows 7. Conversely, in general, programs that won't run in Vista also won't work with Windows 7.
At least in a few cases, though, even applications that didn't run in Vista will run in Windows 7. That's because of some work that Microsoft has done to "rescue" certain types of programs that were rendered incompatible by the move to Vista.
"Along with the core tenet of ensuring that any application that worked on Windows Vista also works on Windows 7, we have a stretch goal to 'raise the bar' and make applications work on Windows 7 that never worked on Windows Vista," Microsoft said in a blog posting this week.
So far, Microsoft said, it has managed to take about 30 international applications that were broken in Vista and make them work in Windows 7. Among the "rescued" titles are things like the Spanish-language IKEA Home Kitchen Planner, a German version of QuickTime, and the Arabic program Khalifa Cartoon Characters Creator.
"This means that Windows 7 will have higher application compatibility than Windows Vista," Microsoft said. Microsoft's blog lists a host of non-English applications that have been "rescued." Presumably, it is doing the same with some English programs, though the company did not offer up any names.
Application compatibility has always been a key benchmark for new Windows releases and one of the knocks on Vista was the significant number of software and hardware titles that didn't work at launch.
Windows 7 is seen as having less of an incompatibility issue, in part because of Microsoft's work, but also because it is making less significant changes to things like the driver model and other issues that tend to affect compatibility. The company also took other steps, such as making Windows 7 technically version 6.1 of Windows, in an effort to try to make the software more likely to run with older software.
Still, while most Vista-compatible applications should run fine in Windows 7, Microsoft did note that there are always a class of applications that run very close to the operating system--things like security software--that have to be tweaked for a new version. That will also be the case this time around, Microsoft said.