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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, because somewhere along the line certain new technologies may not be compatible with their older versions because it has been deemed that version obsolete or to cut costs by limiting the backward compatibility. Indeed a significant portions of early electronic archives (70s through early 90s) are now or almost became inaccessible because the hardware or file format became too outdated.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"


Anime

  • Cowboy Bebop: Spike and Jet hunt through esoteric tech shops, black markets and ancient ruins, to chase down a working Betamax, which is so scarce even avid collectors don't have 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.
    • 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. Even in 1998 when the anime was made, DVDs had already become mainstream, and VHS video recorders were still commonplace to find. Betamax has been pretty much impossible to find since the early 90's.

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.

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.

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.
    • Not to mention, built on an entirely 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.

Video Games

  • A good reason why backwards compatibility may be hard to come by 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.
  • 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.
    • It is worth noting that, through the use of a GBA Gameshark, one can in fact play Gameboy games on a DS. Basically, the GBA Gameshark emulates the input system of a GBA cartridge, which was designed to be compatible with a socket that also accepted Game Boy Games. It doesn't read the Gameboy game as a Gameboy game, but a GBA game. If you're confused, don't worry. Just get a GBA Gameshark, plug it in to your DS, and use it to play Pokemon Blue.
    • 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.
    • The Wii, however, is not only capable of using a lot of the Game Cube's games, but can even utilize some of the Game Cube's peripherals (like the microphone and the GBA-Game Cube link cable). However, support for [GameCube] peripherals and games were dropped entirely from a new "Family Pack" model introduced in late-2011.
      • The inbuilt Virtual Console seems to be an inversion as it runs a lot of classic games, even those from Sega, the old-era rival of Nintendo. Unfortunately, the only way to do this is to re-buy a (often slightly tweaked) digital version game direct from Nintendo. Your old carts and CDs will not work with the current hardware.
      • The Wii U will retain backwards compatibility with Wii games and controllers, but is losing the ability to play Game Cube titles. Virtual Console fodder to come, perhaps?
  • On the Sony side of things, the Play Station 2 avoids this, as it has actual hardware capable of running PS1 games inside.
    • ...for the most part. Gradius Gaiden, for instance, has a stage that runs just fine on a PS1, but will slow down more than an average round of Esp Galuda on a PS2.
    • While the PlayStation 3 can run Play Station 2 games, it does it by software emulation, as the Cell processor is completely different from the chip set used by the Play Station 2. There was some uproar when back in 2007, rumors abounded that certain future models of the PlayStation 3 may lose this software emulation function.
      • Certain future models, you say? Oh, my!
      • The first year models for the North American, Asian and Japanese markets have hardware-based BC. The 80 GB models that came out later had software emulation for the Emotion Engine, while the Graphics Synthesizer was run on a chip. The 40 GB models and later 80 GB models dropped all BC, but there are rumors of full software emulation on all models for firmware version 3.0.
      • Frustratingly, the European PlayStation 3's were made with a different hardware set, and don't have any real emulation function at all.
      • The PlayStation 3 can run PS 1 games across all models, though.
      • Too expensive, you say? Be Careful What You Wish For...
  • Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 can run most of its predecessor's games,[1] 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).
  • 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.
  • 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...)

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.
      • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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, both of which have Xbox 360 versions that are 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Real Life

  • 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 Laser Disc, 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.
  • 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 (Key SIGN, formerly Auto SIGN) 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 Auto SIGN diagrams may be compatible with the newer 2011 versions, but Your Mileage May Vary on this.
  • This has been a significant problem for the US military as the 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 can get lost, maps that don't match, weapons and navigation systems that can't talk to each other, it 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.
  • 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
    • 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.
    • And what about Jaz and Zip Disks? (Okay, so Jaz never caught on in the first place.)
    • Any storage systems that use SCSI (anything pre-SAS, but mostly SCSI II) are interesting for one kind of people anymore, and that's the electronic musician who prefers 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 3½" 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.
    • 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 which support all those special formats are either made for the sheer number of supported standards only ("Supports 60+ memory card formats!") or going extinct in favor of USB devices which only accept SD and MMC anymore.
  • Windows XP often flat-out won't run games (or, indeed, other programs) from 2000 or older. Vista is even worse at it.
    • This mainly applies to DOS games - some of them 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, DOS Box 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.
    • 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.
  • Mocked (sort of) in this piece of Dinosaur Comics Reader Art.
  • Macs since 2005 are no longer compatible with pre-OSX software; it's also now getting to the point where a lot of software is only compatible with these Macs, leaving older ones out of the loop. Damn you, Apple!
    • To make matters worse, the latest version of Mac OS X, Lion, dropped Rosetta (which lets you run Power PC applications on an Intel Mac).
  • 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 the kernel itself which is not available anymore.
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).

Notes

  1. reason being because unlike Sony and Nintendo, Microsoft couldn't put the predecessor console's hardware inside the 360 due to licensing issues
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