Using older hardware, software on newer machines

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Syd Bolton, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:36 PM ET

With official support of Windows XP now gone from the halls of Microsoft, many users are flocking to get new machines running newer versions of Windows only to get home and find many of the beloved peripherals (and programs) they are used to using no longer work.

Microsoft used to be really good about "backwards compatibility", a term used to describe a feature of newer software that remained compatible with previous versions. It allows users to keep using the software and peripherals (like scanners, printers, cameras, etc.) working on new versions of the operating system. This trend has been around since the early days of DOS and has continued for the decades since.

Video game console makers have often looked at backwards compatibility. The PlayStation 2 was backwards compatible with the original PlayStation, and the PlayStation 3 (initially) was actually backwards compatible with both the PlayStation 2 and the original PlayStation. Microsoft's Xbox 360 offers partial backwards compatibility with the original Xbox. But, at the moment, backwards compatibility (of any sort) is missing from the Xbox One. Sony's PlayStation 4 also stands alone in its software library.

I believe that manufacturers are dumping backwards compatibility for a number of reasons. The first is cost. It costs money to maintain and release drivers and software for older items as newer ones become available. Also, many companies get paid licensing fees on new products so they would rather you buy something new than try to get something old working again.

Second, there was a real lack of content and programs in the early days of DOS. Relatively speaking, the software landscape was like a barren desert compared to the lush and luxurious environment we live in today. New software comes out faster for new machines and therefore the situation of a user being left with nothing new to use or do is unlikely. The market is just different.

While manufacturers struggle with the dilemma of "we have always done it this way", the real confusion lies with the consumer. After spending a lot of money on a new computer, you are unlikely to come home and be happy about a scanner or printer not working. So here are a couple of tips to help you out.

When you have a new computer, you are going to need to re-install the drivers for your supported devices, such as a printer. Do not use the CD that came with the printer! Instead, go directly to the website for the manufacturer and look for a subsection called "support" or "drivers". There is likely a more up-to-date driver for your printer there.

If your printer is so old that it uses a parallel port to connect to your computer you will likely discover your new computer has ditched the parallel port in favour of USB. No fear, there are parallel to USB adapters available that work quite well.  This one is only $10. Just make sure you can still get a driver.

If your scanner is no longer supported by the manufacturer, it's likely you can keep using it by running a program called VueScan. It supports more than 2,400 scanners and you can try it out for free to see if yours is one of them. Once you know it does, you will have to purchase it, (presently $40) but that is quite a bit cheaper than a new scanner.

When it comes to software and games, there are plenty of choices to get things running on your newer version of Windows. This For Dummies article gives you a step-by-step guide on getting those older programs to work and if you are really living in the past give DosBox a try. This software is a real treat and works with almost everything from the DOS era.

While it's true that progress is great, it doesn't mean we have to completely leave the past behind. Even if you get just a little more life out of your existing software and hardware, it's definitely a win-win. Either way it's going to be new adventure.

Syd Bolton is the curator of the Personal Computer Museum and the manager of Information Technology at ACIC/Methapharm. You can reach him via e-mail at sbolton@bfree.on.ca or on Twitter @sydbolton.


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