A$$-backwards compatibility

By John Kamerer

       Everyone talks about how we live in an amazing technological age, where our phones act as secretaries, you can hold thousands of books in a tiny piece of plastic, and cloud computing is beginning to make things like flash drives obsolete, but one thing I’ve noticed about our technology that needs to stop is how we keep moving forward without bothering to remember what we’ve already had. Backwards compatibility is usually a big deal for customers after all, would you be so eager to buy that new computer if it couldn’t run most of the programs on your old one? Unfortunately, it seems the industry standard is to offer BC for a time, then gradually phase it out. For example, back when I first upgraded to mac OSX from OS9, I thought it was amazing, but I still found myself booting into OS9 for some programs that simply wouldn’t run on OSX. Later, they phased out that feature. Fast-forward a few years, we now have macs with Intel processors, but no longer support PowerPC applications I have a small stack of rare but expensive mac games collecting dust on my shelf, which I’ll never be able to play again, and after updating to Lion, some of my most-used applications were shut off from me.

It’s not just computers that suffer from the problem either –  perhaps the best example is in the gaming industry. Almost every modern console or handheld begins with backwards compatibility in mind, but typically a year or two later, a new, “slimmer” version comes out that takes up less space and runs better, but axes the BC for “cost cutting” measures, if a reason is given at all. Now, since every console and handheld now has its own hard drive/memory card, internet access, and a store where they can download content, it’s not as bad, since backwards compatibility can be achieved through an all-digital download rather than remembering to put a slot in the console for a now-obsolete storage device, but herein lies the second problem. Copyright issues, or even just the company’s own apathy frequently keep the games people want to see off the digital market. Consider that there were over 2000 games released for the Classic Playstation console, but less than 200 Playstation 1 games available for download on Sony’s Playstation Network. Many of those 200 are released by companies with money to burn and/or a reputation for quality.   Sony, Disney, Square-Enix, etc. But what about the more obscure but still great ones? People have been clamoring for a digital release of a certain game, but it’s company has stated that they legally can’t, because they didn’t anticipate digital distribution when they wrote up the contracts for the voice actors they hired. On the other hand, some companies have the money to burn, and they know it, yet they take their sweet time cranking out releases for reasons unknown. I can understand that throwing over 100 games on the market at once wouldn’t make as much money as releasing one every week, but there comes a point where they’re no longer being conservative, but simply dragging their feet. For the nostalgic gamer, just think of your three options- they could either, a) wait patiently and hope the game they want gets released digitally (typically for $10 or less). b) buy the original game used online, which could be anywhere between $20 to $200 depending on rarity (and none of the profits would go to the game company, might I add), or c) resort to piracy. Funny how the option that would make the game companies the most money isn’t being done.

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