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No Backwards Compatibility In The Future
"Alright, time to play me some King's Que... oh."

"Spies are used to dealing with cutting edge encryption and billion dollar security, but sometimes the toughest challenge is cracking something old and out of date. If you find yourself up against an old and obsolete tape drive loaded with arcane software, you can either find yourself a time machine, or admit defeat."
Michael Westen, Burn Notice

Our time-traveling protagonists need to recover a piece of information on a computer from our time and they end up stealing the whole laptop. The Fridge Logic asks why didn't they simply just do a file transfer? As it turns out, the future tech doesn't work with tech from our time. Even though the future technology has its roots in the technology that we have currently developed, it is not backward compatible with that of its predecessors.

This can also be applied to a post-apocalyptic future stories only if the equipment is in good condition due to Ragnarok-Proofing. Otherwise it is merely a subversion or aversion of said Ragnarok Proofing.

Of course, when the record must be accessed, this is a job for Mr. Fixit to rig something up to make that possible.

Truth in Television; somewhere along the line, certain new technologies may not be backward compatible with their older versions, because they were deemed obsolete or just not worth the extra cost. Indeed, a significant portion of early electronic archives (1970s through early '90s) are now inaccessible, or nearly became so, because the hardware or file format became too outdated.

The inversion of this, where things that shouldn't be compatible are, is Plug 'n' Play Technology.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 
  • Cowboy Bebop: Spike and Jet hunt through esoteric tech shops, black markets and ancient ruins, to chase down a working Betamax VCR, which is so scarce even avid collectors don't have much hope of seeing one in their lifetime. They have a tape that supposedly holds clues to Faye's past — how far from the past she must have come from in order to have anything recorded on Beta is the biggest clue. Ironically, when they finally do find a VCR in a derelict museum it turns out to be VHS. (Made funnier because they had their choice of VCRs in the museum, and chose the VHS because the tape slot was bigger.)
    • When you put the number together to find out that it was recorded in 2010, you find yourself questioning where they got it from to begin with, and why they would be using it to make a video time capsule instead of any other recording medium found in modern society. It makes slightly more sense if you know Betamax -or at least a close relative called Betacam- had rather more success on the production side of the television industry, and could also be bought commercially as late as 2002 in Japan.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Erico's Mega Man X fanfic series, the Cossack-class Robot Masters are recommisioned at one point in Demons of the Past to help protect Russia. However, they prove to be incompatible with 21xx technology for their internals, so the tech/medic who was sent to do the upgrading had to cannibalize the now-useless Cossack Fortress Guardians for parts like superconductor cabling and power control components. They were also not willing to risk overloading on 21xx subtanks and stuck to their stockpile of E-Tanks from the Classic Era.
  • In Touhou: The Cursed Tape Enters Gensokyo, Yukari is unable to find a VHS compatible player in Kourindou's stock, despite the piles of forgotten "modern" digital devices he had collected from the outside world.

     Live Action Television 
  • The episode "The Neutral Zone" of Star Trek: The Next Generation had a very strange aversion to this: The crew found an old Cryogenics pod from the 21st century, and Data was able to download and decode the entire pod's database (which looked like it used old tape wheels) onto his tricorder just by scanning the thing. (not quite Plug 'n' Play, as there was no attempt at interfacing involved. Just a scan and presto, all the info conveniently downloaded, when realistically speaking, the pod's computer would be too slow to display all its information that quickly)
    • If it is (well-preserved!) magnetic tape, it's not too farfetched to think the tricorder could theoretically read the orientation of the particles on each tape layer rapidly, similar to how a laser turntable can read a record without a needle (in fact, preserving vinyl records is what that's for).
      • Or even badly preserved tapes. There was a case where the flight data recorder tape from a plane crash was too badly damaged by the fire to be replayed. They got the data off it by having people painstakingly examine it with microscopes, and read the ones and zeros off it, at a rate of about 1 second's worth of tape a day.
    • Even more ridiculously, some guy managed to write a computer program that plays back phono records using a flatbed scanner on a lark.
  • Burn Notice has this happen in the present. In one episode, Michael finds an old tape drive that a rival was after in a wall. The next episode, in a voice over, he explains that old technology is often a spy's biggest headache for just this reason, before we hear Fiona say, "Fourteen phone calls, seven data recovery experts and three hours of arm twisting to find out what's on this thing and it's unreadable!"
  • Continuum plays with this. On the one hand, when Kiera arrives from 2077, her super-advanced Augmented Reality implant can't interface with 2012's internet, phones, or pretty much anything else, though she is able to use her suit to brute-force hack an ATM. On the other hand, when she arrives she accidentally contacts a Teen Genius playing in his lab—because he's in the middle of inventing the tech she's using.

    Video Games 
General
  • The major reason why backwards compatibility is hard to come by in consoles is that the manufacturer chooses a different hardware platform each generation and can't find a way to recycle the old hardware (if they can still use it). Software emulation could make up for it, but this gets harder to implement as features get more rich. As for the reason why they choose different hardware, they feel that certain parts fit the needs of their console better than others in terms of performance and cost.
    • Another issue that isn't brought up as much is that even if software could run on the system as-is, it could react badly with either the current OS/firmware, or the hardware itself. Engineering costs to ensure that all titles work on it outweighs its benefits, especially for a dwindling user base. Not to mention, since profits generally come from software sales, they're not going to make much money off of supporting backwards compatibility, if any money comes through, since the games were most likely already purchased for the previous hardware.

Nintendo Consoles
  • Unfortunately for owners of the DS, the different chipset in use means that their old Game Boy titles won't work with their new systems. Game Boy Advance cartridges, however, will still work with the DS "Phat" and DS Lite models.
    • This also applies to Pokémon, where the fundamental differences ultimately made it impossible to transfer your critters from Gold/Silver/Crystal to the Advance Generation (Generation III), making it much harder to successfully catch them all. Thankfully, Nintendo avoided such a problem with the fourth generation of Pokémon, as owners of the first-wave DS and DS Lites can migrate their parties from the Game Boy Advance games into the Sinnoh-based games and the Johto-based remakes.
      • Unfortunately, the DSi sacrificed its Game Boy Advance port for more gadgets, so DSi-using Trainers will need an older-model system on hand for all of their migration needs.
      • Though Game Freak mostly took care of this with both Pokémon Platinum and Pokemon Heart Gold And Soul Silver, which have the Pokémon only available in Generation III.
      • Finally averted to a degree between the DS games and the 3DS games via cloud service. However, the jump to and from generations must happen with Black/White and X/Y.
    • The Wii, however, is not only capable of using a lot of the GameCube's games, but can even utilize some of the GameCube's peripherals (like the microphone and the GBA-GameCube link cable). However, support for [GameCube] peripherals and games were dropped entirely from a new "Family Pack" model introduced in late-2011.

Sony Consoles

Microsoft Consoles
  • Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 can run most of its predecessor's games,note  but Microsoft has long since ceased backwards compatibility updates, and has discontinued Xbox Live support for those games.
    • Although, some aren't going to be compatible (the original Chronicles of Riddick game, to prepare for the enhanced remake and most likely Steel Battalion, because of the controller issues).
  • The Xbox One will not be backwards compatible with the Xbox 360, as it utilizes a different kind of hardware architecture (x86-64) than the Xbox 360 (Power PC).
    • It is also not going to be compatible with games for the original Xbox. The hilarity is, however, the Xbox One's architecture is actually an improved version of the original Xbox's and should be able to run the games natively the same way 64-bit Windows could run 32-bit software.
    • After being crucified for everything else wrong with the system, Microsoft said that backwards compatibility will be possible "eventually".

Online Services
  • MMOs that rely on company-owned servers, eg for online Copy Protection, are often doomed. When the company decides the game is no longer worth running, they'll pull the plug, and rarely does the server-side software get released to anyone else. You better hope enthusiasts managed to reverse-engineer the tech and make their own, or that game's gone for good.
    • City of Heroes and City of Villains are victims of this. NC Soft just decided to pull the plug on the games, and even the team in charge of the games, Paragon Studios, weren't notified until the last minute. However, it's getting a fan remake.
    • Disney's MMOs- Toontown Online and Pirates of the Caribbean Online- both shut down on September 19, 2013. Disney's excuse was that the quest-driven MMOs weren't profitable for the company anymore. While the server side of the games isn't released for obvious reasons, a group of fans are taking to writing their own server for the former. The latter remains Lost Forever for now.
    • Same with online play in other game genres, for example, as mentioned above, Microsoft has pulled the plug on all original Xbox online gameplay.
      • With the difference that Xbox Live isn't actually a game server, and keeping it running shouldn't cost Microsoft any more money.
      • Money wasn't the issue. The Xbox 360's version of Xbox Live was limited by the capabilities of the original Xbox to support online play for both games. The options came down to a) forever limit Xbox Live based on a console that went out of production 4 years ago and sold half as many units as the current version b) create separate Xbox Live services for Xbox and Xbox 360, ignoring the fact that it has been 2 years since anyone has made an Xbox game (which makes spending money on creating a separate Xbox Live service for the discontinued console silly) or c) drop support for a discontinued console to allow the Xbox 360 version of Xbox Live to be updated beyond the almost decade old original console. Considering the two most popular original Xbox Live games were Star Wars Battlefront and Halo 2, the latter of which has an Xbox 360 sequel that is cheap, it isn't a shock they went with the last option.
    • Similarly, with DRM-encrypted music, also used by Microsoft, if the DRM server goes down, the tunes are Lost Forever. Also, many iTunes songs were delisted before Apple switched to all DRM-free, so you can't upgrade them and they may never be available again. If for whatever reason, Apple decides to shutdown the DRM server, you're fucked. Unless, of course, you hack the DRM system and decrypt your music files.
    • And now Gamespy, which hosts the servers for Nintendo's WFC services for the Nintendo DS, DS Lite, and DSi, has terminated the WFC services with effect from May 20, 2014. You will no longer be able to enjoy online gaming on said consoles, especially on first party titles. Meaning:
  • Gabe Newell of Valve has sworn that if they ever shut down Steam, they would release a patch beforehand that removed the internet connection requirement to play games bought through Steam.
    • However, some games still come with their own DRM. They obviously can't remove that.
  • In 2014, Microsoft decided to shut down its Games For Windows Live service. While this was decidedly a good thing because how of how terrible the service was, it meant that if the game used it for DRM services, you won't be able to play it. Thankfully, many of those titles that used it that were available on Steam are switching to using Steam instead. But those that weren't released on Steam or the publisher just doesn't care, those games are forever unplayable.

Others
  • The Sega console line of the early Nineties were known for excellent backward compatibility (especially compared to chief rival Nintendo): the Master System's cartridges could not only be used on the Game Gear with an adapter (not surprising as the Game Gear was essentially a portable Master System) but also on the Mega Drive with a second adapter that duplicated some of the Master System's hardware (This was partly because the Mega Drive had the same Zilog Z-80 processor that was in its 8-bit siblings). Unfortunately, incompatibility set in with future Sega consoles (oddly, given that the Mega CD and Sega Saturn used the same storage medium, the CD, and the Dreamcast, while using GD-ROMS, could read CDs...)
    • The biggest possibility here is Executive Meddling. Bernie Stolar was CEO at the time of the Saturn and Dreamcast, and given his hatred for 2D games and games that are not sports oriented, he could've shot down the idea. Indeed, the Sega Saturn shared the twin SH2 of the 32X and the Motorola 68k of the original Mega Drive, and even had a cartridge slot for saving games and memory expansion, all it needed was a converter adapter that has a megadrive cartridge slot on the top, and a Z80, Yamaha OPL3, a Texas Instruments PSG, and translator BIOS inside- similar to the solution used by Megadrives to run Master System games. The Sega engineers could've been looking at backwards compatibility at one point. The Dreamcast, on the other hand, was completely new hardware (the SH4 may not be backwards compatible with the SH2 found in the Saturn and Megadrive consoles).
  • Arcade games using the Seibu Kaihatsu COP uses an encryption chip so obscure that it has not be completely defeated, not even Seibu Kaihatsu themselves. This is the reason why quite a few games, like Raiden II, remain undefeated. While a lot of the graphics encryption for a lot of COP based games have been defeated, it's been discovered that the game's rules were also encrypted, and that those encryption methods are compounded with more encryption. Thankfully some games have many ports/remakes/etc. that it doesn't really matter.

In-Universe
  • In Mega Man ZX, Aile and Vent have no problems using the 20XX Energy Tanks from the Classic series, while in the Battle Network series, Lan and MegaMan.EXE have no problem exploring ancient parts of the Internet. The Ruby-Spears incarnation of Mega Man X also had no problems using Weapon Copy on Robot Masters from a hundred years in his past.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Many old websites will now have dead plugins as browsers have moved on to better software than what was once used in the early days of the WWW.
    • Shockwave, replaced by Flash and, in some places, Java.
      • and after Java was quickly discovered to be a memory hog and full of exploits, many are also jumping ship to Flash or HTML 5.
      • Flash itself is slowly being replaced by newer systems, although none has been dominant enough to supplant it.
      • HTML 5 standards are set to replace Flash for multimedia based applications... which is most of the reason why Flash is used. It's gaining ground, especially with big-wigs dropping Flash support.
    • This is strangely averted by Wikipedia, in that a really old laptop that was using a serial port to run an ancient telephony modem (wherein you had to use an actual phone receiver in conjunction with the trunk-sized modem) with a monochrome browser-like client was able to load their English front page, albeit in a vastly-simplified form. There was a whole video showing it in action on Youtube.
    • Wikipedia's aversion is mostly a side-effect of it being designed to be usable by the blind. Anything more complicated than plain text with a bit of HTML tends to give text-to-speech software fits, so the weird Flash-powered plugins and other embellishments that also wreak havoc on older browsers are verboten. Many web designers use Lynx to test accessibility; if you can use a site with that and not tear your hair out, it'll work with a screen reader.
  • The story of John Titor, supposedly a time traveller from the 2030s who appeared on Art Bell's forum in 2000, revolved around this — in the post-nuclear-war future he came from, the Year 2038 problem had yet to be solved, and he had been dispatched to a time before the war in order to acquire an IBM 5100 for use in developing a fix.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park has the episode where Cartman froze himself to avoid waiting for a Nintendo Wii. When he is thawed out (500 years later), he discovers that future displays aren't compatible with those of his time.
  • In Beast Wars, the Maximals, the descendants of the Autobots, can't use their ancestors' hardware in conjunction with that of Maximal technology.
    • Somewhat justified in that both pieces of technology they're attempting to use in conjunction are cobbled-together, oft-patched desperation-grade junk in the first place. And, y'know, the fact that the Autobot tech they're trying to use is in excess of three million years older then their Maximal tech.
    • Also built on a different scale...
    • Even the smarter Maximals can't figure out how the Ark was made in the first place.
    Optimus Primal: "Die-cast molding. It's a lost art..."
  • Subverted in Danny Phantom. Apparently technology in the future (or at least Skul Tech) is still eligible for Tucker's PDA to hack through. Lampshaded when Tucker declares his hacking skills are just that awesome or just very, very sad.
  • Averted in the Mega Man episode "Mega X", where the eponymous future robot scans and copies the weapon of Snakeman, an older robot. He can actually improve on the originals, too, as a single shot utterly destroys Wily's weapon. Wholly justified, as X is based on Rock's design and has a modernized version of the Weapon Copy system, so he can copy anything Rock can.

    Real Life - Computers 
  • Buy a new computer? Make sure all of your peripherals have drivers that are compatible with the computer's OS, or be willing to upgrade them as well. Some printers, scanners, etc. from as recently as two years ago do not have drivers that are usable by 64-bit processors (which eliminates the 64-bit versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7).
    • Subverted by Linux, where support for older hardware persists far longer than Windows support. Your Guest95 program for ZIP drives might no longer work on even WinXP, but you can get Linux to recognize that drive, assuming you still have an LPT or SCSI port, that is.note 
    • Windows 7 and beyond has compatibility for a lot of older, USB based hardware, at least those made from well-known manufacturers. It's almost to a point where the CD that comes with the peripheral contains just a PDF of the user manual and a link to the manufacturer's website.
    • Windows NT based OSes are also driver compatible between major versions. Windows 2000 drivers work just fine in Windows XP (both are NT 5). Windows Vista drivers work just fine in Windows 8 (Vista to 8 is NT 6). And it works the other way, usually. Though jumping major version numbers may or may not work.
  • And of course, computer expansion cards at an electronic level. Have an old AdLib or 16-bit SoundBlaster card you'd like to stick to on your new PC? Chances are, you can't because they used an old pinout called ISA (Industrial Standard Architecture) which has been largely depreciated since the late '90s and has not been found on almost all motherboards made after 2002note . Same goes for AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) which has been displaced by PCI-Express since 2007 and cannot be found on most motherboards since 2010. And oh, God help you if you have a very old MCA (Micro-Channel Architecture) card- those were only supported by true IBM PCs for a short time in the late 80s/early 90s...
  • 3 1/2 inch floppy disks are getting to this state, and 5 1/4 are pretty much already there unless you're an enthusiast.
    • And just forget about 8-inch disks!
  • As well as cassette tape drives, zip drives, and pretty much any other "floppy" magnetic storage medium
    • And what about Jaz and Zip Disks? (Okay, so Jaz never caught on in the first place.)
      • They were quite popular in their time because they were still relatively cheaper than a CD writer drive even though they have only one sixth the storage capacity (a Zip drive as of 1997 costs US$50. A CD writer costs somewhere around US$300 and also required that the owner buy a SCSI card, because even though there were already IDE CD-ROM drives, CD writers still belonged to the domain of the professional and thus only SCSI interface writers were produced). However, by 2003, there are finally IDE CD writers, and they and their media's costs has fallen enough to be affordable and thus displace Zip drives.
    • However, professional tape drives are surprisingly still an aversion, somewhat. Amazingly, in this modern age, many large multinational enterprises still prefer them to removable hard drives or even BD-R (recordable Blu-Ray discs) when it comes to server backups. The fact that they're still being improved upon (with version 6 of the LTO tape cartridge specification coming out as late as December 2012 and another two planned versions in roadmap) shows that there is a serious demand for them. Though they've evolved so much that they don't look anything like the reel-to-reel of the 60s. Much of this can be attributed to the lack reliability on recordable disks, which often use ink that is "burned in". It doesn't help that in 2010 or so, it was discovered that pretty much every CD-R made before 2003 had a shelf life of 10 years because the ink would just rot away.
  • Even standard serial ports are becoming phased out in favor of USB
    • USARTs (what serial ports are based off of, basically) are widely used in embedded devices because they're simple and most embedded devices don't need that much bandwidth. It's not uncommon to find an OMAP processor (the very ones that power your smartphones) to include several USARTs that you could, more or less, plug into a PC serial port with the right connections.
    • Though there are plenty of USB to serial port devices, and USB cables that act like a traditional RS-232 serial port.
    • Businesses complained about the lack of the "standard configuration" of the rear I/O panel, so there are a few modern motherboards out there that have a serial port and a LPT port.
      • Many motherboards still ship with a serial connector on the board. However the needed port is on a bracket that is sold separately. Ditto for parallel ports- there is a connector onboard, but the port and bracket is sold separately.
  • Any storage systems that use SCSI (anything pre-SAS, but mostly SCSI II) are only still interesting to electronic musicians who prefer old-fashioned hardware samplers to running a software sample player on a computer. The same goes for just about all removable storage media that came out between the 3˝" floppy and the CD-RW (ZIP, various MO drives, etc.). It helps a lot that musical instrument manufacturers like Akai or Kurzweil didn't change to USB and Flash memory cards as quickly as computer manufacturers.
    • For the consumers, have an old PATA interface drive? Good luck finding a brand new motherboard that has one of those anymore.
      • Works the opposite way as well. Have a motherboard with a PATA interface and want to put it to good use (so you can free up that one SATA port to put in one more hard drive when all the other ports are fully occupied and there's no more free PCI or PC Ie slots available)? Good luck finding a PATA optical drive. Sure, converters for PATA-to-SATA are still being made, but it's only a matter of time before they vanish, and let's not start on the stupid DRM that may potentially block these devices.
  • Flash memory cards. SecureDigital is pretty much the sole remaining popular standard. CompactFlash is for semi-pro and professional photographers with D-SLRs and certain musicians, and all other formats are either for certain other musicians who still didn't upgrade to the latest music workstations and acquire second-hand memory cards from eBay instead, or defunct altogether. Card readers that support all those special formats are either using the sheer number of supported standards as a selling point ("Supports 60+ memory card formats!"), or going extinct in favor of USB devices which only accept SD and MMC anymore.
  • Averted with Windows XP. With the right amount of programming, you can run anything on it.
    • Windows in general has great backwards compatibility provided the program only relied on Windows provided libraries. It was found programs that came with Windows 2.0 still work in Windows 7.
    • Some DOS games simply dislike running in Windows' protected memory spaces, while others require DOS components not found in versions of Windows released after ME. Most of this was caused by Microsoft leaving MS-DOS behind when they made the jump to Windows 2000 by using the Windows NT system structure, as all previous versions of Windows have had some reliance on DOS components.
      • Considering that backwards compatibility is one of Microsoft's highest priorities, this just goes to show how difficult it is.
      • Of course, this is also why many DOS software could be run on machines running Windows 95, 98, or ME — they still had MS-DOS embedded in their foundations.
    • To be fair, DOSBox is extremely good for emulating DOS Games… if you can find a floppy drive, of course. It's really the games that worked with Windows 2000 that are the problems.
      • However, the developers of DOSBox has expressed no intentions to emulate a SoundBlaster AWE card due to there being only about two games that really make use of the advanced capabilities— never mind that the card's wavetable MIDI synthesizer, which many games do support, sounds way better than regular SoundBlaster 16 or AdLib.
    • On the topic of synthesizers, these are starting to become uncommon features on computers as modern games move towards sampled music (read: MP3/OGG-Vorbis/AAC) and the CPU chips become powerful enough to be able to decode these formats with little effort. It also offers two side effects- one positive and another negative. The positive? The music is now conformant and sounds the same across all hardware note . The negative? Well, most old games require a synthesizer chip for music, so the absence of one in modern hardware means that said games are unable to play back music.
      • Windows usually provides a generic MIDI software synthesizer, and practically all sound cards have their own.
      • The former is true- Windows ships with a software synthesizer that fully emulates a Roland MT-32. The latter however is becoming false as time moves on- few cards now come with a hardware synthesizer - even Creative's more recent consumer-oriented cards lack them, preferring software-based synthesizers; and they're absent from onboard sound solutions. You'll only find hardware synthesizers on prosumer-oriented cards like the E-MU series now.
    • Windows 7 Pro's XP Mode can work with games that don't do heavy 3D rendering. It was more or less intended for companies to use their office applications.
    • Also, 16-bit applications do not work in 64-bit operating systems (which are becoming more and more common those days, specially with people wanting to use more than 4GB of RAM).
    • Of course, this whole issue is also gradually erasing itself as the increasing power of newer computers makes emulation and/or Virtual Machines trivial.
    • If a pre-Win2000 (especially DOS-based) game had Redbook audio, such as Descent II, it often required an analog audio cable directly connected to the soundcard from the disc drive, as opposed to the digital playback of later Windows versions. Fortunately, the D2X Rebirth sourceport/frontend for Descent II allows the CD music to be played digitally, and Turok 2 has a patch for the same purpose.
    • Much of this could be attributed to the different philosophies of resource management between OS's. Windows NT was designed with multiple users and running in a network in mind, and so had to implement more features for stability and security. Since the consumer version of Windows before XP were DOS based, which allowed programmers to do whatever the hell they wanted, they wrote programs that expected to do things that Windows NT requires permission to do so.
    • The DirectSound 3D API. Good lord. The API was heavily used in many games, including Fallout 3. Microsoft removed said API in Windows 7 and later, causing broken BGM playback that had so many riled up. Third party companies did try to put out fixes for it, with varying levels of success (Creative's ALChemy fix worked like a charm, but unfortunately this requires the gamer to own a Creative X-Fi or newer card, and have that as the active card when the fix is run; Realtek's 3D SoundBack did not work for Fallout 3 at all). Bethesda Softwork's response to the complaints? Silence, which is especially painful since Fallout 3 came out after Windows 7 hit the market!
  • Linux is said to offer great support for older hardware. But beware if you want to compile an old program which requires a version of a library or a (often third party) kernel module which is not available anymore or does not compile due to various header location changes.
    • Actually, it was found that a piece of software (a dungeon-type game) that was first ported to Linux when Linux was still in it's infancy still runs on Linux today. So long as you don't attempt to use sound and use ASCII graphics, you're good to go. It's technically the reason that a simple "Hello World" program written in the 1970s will still compile on a modern day C compiler- it uses only the basic unchanging libraries. One kernel maintainer even regularly stresses the importance of maintaining the basic kernel ABI (application binary interface - the machine-level equivalent of the API that is called by the programs during run-time) structure for backwards compatibility, and Linus Torvalds (the head honcho) completely agrees with him.
    • Running old audio software, for example, has grown complicated since OSS was displaced by ALSA, and it seems to be a matter of only a few years until ALSA-based software will be unusable because PulseAudio has become the new standard. And even old hardware support will hit an obstacle when the drivers, hardly or not at all maintained anymore due to their age, become incompatible with newer versions of the kernel or certain libraries.
      • PulseAudio is not a threat to ALSA and never will be. This is because PulseAudio is just a higher level API and a daemon (the Unix equivalent of a Windows service or MS-DOS TSR) that mixes sound from multiple programs and then feed it to ALSA anyway- in other words, just a system-wide mixer for ALSA which has no audio mixing capabilities on its own. ALSA, on the other hand, is a combination of essential drivers and low-level API that PulseAudio depends on. A more realistic comparison would be PulseAudio to the Enlightenment Sound Daemon, the latter which was heavily used in GNOME 1.x but was superseded by PulseAudio in GNOME 2.x and is now largely forgotten, although true to the Linux spirit, PulseAudio has an Enlightenment Sound Daemon compatibility layer- whether the Linux distribution chooses to ship with it or not is another matter...
      • However, the reverse may prove true- word has it that the ALSA Project team is working on implementing driver-level sound stream mixing in the API itself, which will effectively render the dependency on stream mixers obsolete. In layman's terms, this means that PulseAudio and Phonon are the ones that are going to be obsoleted and will probably be the ones excluded from Linux distributions in the future...
    • By the way, the ability to support OSS programs does still exist in ALSA and will do so for the foreseeable future. It's just that some distros like Ubuntu disable it on their stock kernel, reasoning that no one will want to run programs from earlier than the mid-2000s anymore. If you build your own custom kernel, you can re-enable OSS support in ALSA on your own.
    • The same goes for graphics libraries. Since the launch of KDE 4, Qt3 has mostly been phased out and is only kept in repositories for a few older applications. The same might quite likely happen with GTK+ 2 when Gnome 3 starts to spread. However, the switch to GTK+ 3 will most likely take longer since GTK+ 2 is still being used in the MATE and XFCE desktop environments, and effort to move them to GTK+ 3 is happening slower than expected.
      • The same also applies for sound in KDE. Many pre-KDE4 apps use the aRTs API, which has since been superseded by Phonon in KDE 4.x
    • And then there's printing. Many modern distros have switched to the Apple-created CUPS (Common UNIX Printing System) since around 2008. 14 years ago, they still ran on the BSD-Licensed LPR (Line PRinter daemon). Good luck trying to print from an early version of StarOffice, if you managed to get that running. Though to be fair, CUPS does come with a LPR emulator as well for backwards compatibility (like other Linux packages mentioned here). However, again it's up to the distribution creators on whether the distribution will ship with it included and/or enabled.
  • Apple's never particularly cared much for compatibility. Old-school Mac users remember the Mac OS 7 debacle. Macs since 2005 are no longer compatible with pre-OSX software (due to the switch to Intel processors causing the Classic environment to become no longer available); it's also now at the point where a lot of software is only compatible with these Macs, leaving older ones out of the loop. As of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, PowerPC applications are no longer compatible either, due to the dropping of Rosetta.
    • This is not limited to Macs — much kerfuffle came out when Apple announced the iPhone 5 will use a completely different kind of connector port, invalidating all of your accessories. Apple loves the future.
    • In addition to rejecting Blu-ray, Apple appears to be phasing out removable disc drives altogether, for example the current generation iMac and Mac Mini lack internal optical drives. MacBook Pro with Retina Display lacks them as will the 2013 MacPro.

    Real Life - Other 
  • Betamax. AppleTalk. NetBIOS. SNA. DECNET. Good luck to you trying to maintain a system or workflow based on any one of those technologies; no matter how similar they may be to more successful tech, almost no one cares about backwards compatibility.
    • Not to mention LaserDisc, rapidly reaching that state for cassette tapes, and if it weren't for audiophiles, the vinyl record would have surely gone that route already.
    • Vinyl records are making a small comeback. You might find one or two at your local big electronics store. New.
      • With the advent of 3D printers, a college student wrote a computer program to turn an MP3 file into a printable record that plays on a standard record player. Quality is low for now, but as printers improve and detail increases, that will get better.
  • The engineering schematics for the space vehicles used in the Apollo project were written in an early CAD/CAM application that ran on computers that no longer function. The US National Archive has all the data preserved, but have no way to read it as modern computers are incompatible with the format they are stored in & the archivists have not been able to get funding to have a conversion program written.
    • This may apply for the 1980s diagrams of British traffic signs, as commercial CAD software (KeySIGN, formerly AutoSIGN) for this wasn't launched until the early 1980s by Pete Harman and Geoff Walker working for Humberside County Council. Prior to then, it's not known what software was used for these. Older KeySIGN/AutoSIGN diagrams may be compatible with the newer 2011 versions.
  • This has been a significant problem for the US military as they try to upgrade their computers yet keep compatibility with tech that may be 60 years old. One case study is the the schematics for the nuclear aircraft carriers, which when read were displaying dotted lines as solid and other such glitches.
    • Military maps are prone to this. The World Geodetic System is the basis for all military maps used by most modern armed forces. The modern US military and most of NATO are on WGS 84. Our allies and some countries use older versions. Units that get lost, maps that don't match, weapons and navigation systems that can't talk to each other, all adds to Jurisdiction Friction.
    • It's not just software and hardware that falls victim to No Backwards Compatibility In The Future; it applies to physical materials too. Case in point, FOGBANK, which was an unbelievably-classified plastic used in Trident missile warheads. FOGBANK production ended in 1989. When the Navy wanted to refurbish its existing warheads, they had to build a brand-new factory to produce FOGBANK again — and discovered that the documented procedures didn't work. It turns out FOGBANK relied on an impurity included in the original batch, and this delayed the refurbishment by nearly ten years.
    • As the page quote implies, old encrypted records may become unrecoverable if the decryption methods for such messages are lost in the deeps of time. Have fun wringing out the alphanumerics of a coded World War 2 message from an obsolete tape, then decrypting it into whatever it originally said.
  • Mocked (sort of) in this piece of Dinosaur Comics Reader Art.
  • Subverted in this Slashdot exchange.
  • In addition to all analog air signals being phased out, many cable stations are no longer watchable on analog TVs either (unless you have a box). Go buy that DTV.
  • Averted at first with the move to portable music players. Many iPod buyers were thrilled that they could convert and download their CD music collection on to their new device. However, with more and more PCs being sold without optical drives, and smartphones and media players becoming increasingly independent from PCs, this is starting to become true.
    • When the Beatles announced in 2010 that their music was finally coming to the iTunes store, the response was a collective "yeah, big deal" because if you were a hardcore Beatles fan you probably would have ripped your CDs onto your iPod already.
  • Some older engines (a few cars, but mainly outboard motors for boats, lawnmower and other small engines) cannot run on gasoline containing ethanol without replacing all non-metal parts in the fuel system.
  • All written languages follow this trope to a degree: ever tried reading Geoffrey Chaucer in spare time, without real training?
  • The one thing that people have managed to not shoot themselves in the foot: electrical connections and batteries. Thanks to international standardizations done sometime after World War II, we pretty much guaranteed a plentiful supply of means to connect our gizmos to power. For example, the only thing you could possibly carry over from the original IBM PC today is its power cord. At the ultimate extreme, you only need to know the power requirements of an electrically powered device (Direct or Alternating current, which electrodes are the positive/negative or live/neutral/earth, the voltage range, current load, and so on) to figure out how to get it working.

Bad FutureWe Will Not Use an Index in the FutureFlying Car
Newspaper DatingTime Travel TropesNo Equal Opportunity Time Travel
Ninja RunAdministrivia/Images Without a SourceNo-Holds-Barred Beatdown

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