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What Computer Compatibility Means and its Importance

Compatibility and incompatibility are terms we often hear, related to computers. But what do these terms really mean, and why is compatibility important?

There are several kinds of compatibility, which basically means that they are designed to work with the other components of the system. Hardware, including peripherals like the mouse, keyboard, speakers, monitor, printer, and scanner, as will as interior hardware components like disk drive, audio and video cards, wireless cards, and modems must be compatible. Software must also be compatible, especially with the operating system that is being used. For instance, software designed for use on a Macintosh will rarely be compatible to a system using Windows or Linux (there are exceptions to this, but they are usually listed in the compatibility list from the manufacturer.) Sometimes applications that are compatible with a certain version of the operating system, may be incompatible with another version. For instance, there are many programs that worked well on Windows XP, that do not work on Windows Vista. Normally in this instance, the manufacturer produces a “patch”, or download, that will make the program compatible, though it may take some time to create the patch.

Incompatibility can range from relatively minor, such as an insignificant portion of a program not working, to major, including non-functioning devices. Software that isn’t compatible will often result in frustrating errors. Much harder to troubleshoot, incompatibility will sometimes cause errors that wouldn’t at first glance have anything to do with the two conflicting components. An example would be if you bought a keyboard, plug it in, and it works fine, but a few days later you discover that your speakers don’t work. Since the keyboard wouldn’t appear to have much to do with the speakers, figuring out that there is actually a conflict between the keyboard and the audio card might be difficult.

The number one advice I can give people regarding compatibility is to first know your system. Know what operating system you have, including version. Know how much RAM you have. (To find this out, hold down the Windows key and press the Pause/Break key.) Know how much hard drive space you have. (Click on the My Computer icon and right click the C drive and select Properties, if they aren’t already displayed.) Then, before you purchase any hardware or software for the computer, be sure to check the compatibility list. If you don’t have enough RAM, or your operating system is not specifically listed, do not purchase the software or hardware without checking the manufacturers website for updated compatibility information. This will save you from a huge amount of headaches down the road, and make life just a little easier for you.