Computers past their prime are often retired for a variety of reasons. Even though all computers can be fixed, sometimes perfectly good, functional computers are declared obsolete by their makers. For example, Microsoft waves its wand and announces your computer is “not compatible” with its latest version of Windows, and will no longer be “supported.”
Imagine visiting your favorite local tire shop to get new tires for your car. After examining the situation, the salesperson says, “Gee, your car uses 15-inch tires, and we don’t support 15-inch tires, any more. Everything has gone to 15 and one-half inch tires. 15 and one-half inch tires won’t fit on your wheels, so you are going to need new wheels that can fit the new tires.” Reluctantly, you agree to purchase new wheels, too.
After examining your car even further, the salesperson brings more grim news. “Your car’s wheel spindles and axles are incompatible with the new 15 and one-half inch wheels; they won’t fit. So, you need new wheel spindles and axles, too.” After an awkward, uncomfortable moment staring at each other, you say, “So, I probably need to…,” and they say, “Buy a new car.”
Because Microsoft is still the biggest computer gorilla in the room, when they declare a particular computer type as obsolete, hardware manufacturers like Dell, HP, Asus, Lenovo, Acer, Sony and Toshiba also jump on the obsolescence bandwagon and stop “supporting” models that Microsoft abandons. Suddenly, you are left wondering what to do with a computer you paid a lot of money for, not that many years ago.
What does it mean, though, when companies say a computer is “not compatible” or is “no longer supported?” I.T. guys like me usually ask, “Not compatible with what? No longer supported? Why not?”
Usually, with technology, and computers in particular, support issues cause incompatibility. It’s almost never a situation of something not being capable of working; instead, it’s that manufacturers have deliberately decided to stop caring about a certain piece of technology, and to stop caring if that technology remains viable and “compatible” with other technologies in the future. They don’t say they’ve “stopped caring,” though; they say they’ve stopped “supporting.”
With computers, it’s almost always in the software. Companies decide they simply are not going to write any more computer code (software) that will make their products continue to be usable. The hardware is fine, but companies refuse to write any more software to keep it going. That’s what makes formerly good computers “unsupported” and “incompatible.”
Most computer users, incapable of reprogramming their devices, have no choice but to move on and get a new machine. Others, though, are not content to accept such nonsense, and will seek out ways to keep their computers going, in spite of what the big computer manufacturers say. They learn to repurpose software from other devices to keep things going. Often, screen display and networking software called “drivers” is all they need to bypass declarations of obsolescence, allowing them to run new, safer versions of Microsoft Windows, like Windows 10.
One thing I like to do is take “obsolete” Windows computers and keep them going by installing an alternate operating system called Linux. Hardware abandoned by Microsoft and other big manufacturers usually works fine with Linux. There are many different types of Linux freely available, which are compatible with almost every type of computer hardware out there. I then take these computers and donate them to a group called Bridges, which gives them to school kids. There’s almost nothing you can do on a Windows computer that you can’t do on a Linux machine, and most school kids could care less whether they are using genuine Microsoft Windows, or not.
Apple frequently throws perfectly good iMacs and MacBooks under the bus, as well. Mountains of wonderful Apple machines have been declared “obsolete,” and, therefore, unfit to run newer, “supported” versions of Apple’s OS X and MacOS operating system software. Fortunately, talented hard-core Mac fans and independent programmers have written special software packages allowing new Apple operating systems to install and run on older machines. There are also versions of Linux that are quite happy running on older Apple computers.
Making older computers work into the future is not for everyone, though. It takes some skill and know-how to pull it off, along with a good dose of patience. Still, I’m glad it’s even possible, and I’m sure the landfills are happy about it, too.