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By Dan Moren

By Request: Battery backups and obsolete tech

Reader K.E. asks “are Battery Backups needed any more, or more generally what legacy tech do we no longer need?”

Great question and, as you might suspect, one whose answer lies on a spectrum. As far as battery backups go, I personally have never bothered with an Uniterruptible Power Supply (UPS), though I always find myself tempted to pick one up when I see them on sale. The idea behind a UPS is that, should your power go out, you’ll have enough time to save your work and safely shut down your computer.

Several technological developments have meant there’s less need for this kind of device than there used to be. For one, a lot of people—perhaps the majority—use laptop computers that have their own built-in batteries, which means that a UPS is only a benefit when power goes out and your laptop is out of charge. (The same goes for iOS devices, which spend the majority of their time on battery power already.)

For another, macOS and many of the apps we use on it have gotten much better at auto-saving work as well as recovering data when they are shut down abruptly. That’s not to say that data loss is a thing of the past, but that the way we used to think about it—”Oh no, the power died and I forgot to save my work!”—is probably not the way most data is lost anymore. (You still want a good surge protector to avoid frying your hardware in case of a power spike, but a UPS isn’t a must-have outside of, say, a business that depends on its computers staying up.)

That’s not to say that a UPS doesn’t still have its benefits. If you have a desktop computer, it may still be handy to be able to shut it down safely when the power goes out. More and more, too, I hear of people hooking their cable modems and routers up to a UPS, so that they can maintain an Internet connection when the power goes out. (Unfortunately for me, my modem and router are in different rooms which makes that kind of a tricky proposition.)

As to the larger question of device obsolescene, well, there are obviously a ton of things that we don’t use anymore, as the large drawer of old cables in my office can testify to. One thing that I found myself thinking about a few weeks ago as I swapped around some AA rechargeable batteries is how most of the new tech from Apple has obviated the need for third-party batteries. If you get a new keyboard, mouse, or trackpad from Apple, they all have built-in rechargeable batteries. One of my Xbox controllers has a rechargeable battery pack; even the ersatz Super Nintendo controller I bought to use with my Mac mini game emulator has a battery in it. Sure, there are still plenty of other household gadgets that want AA batteries, but way fewer than there used to be.

One other thing that came up recently was that I traded in a multifunction printer for a straight up black-and-white laser printer. I thought the lack of a scanner would actually be a significant blow, but it turns out that scanning apps using an iOS device’s camera have actually become pretty sophisticated and handle most of what I need. More than anything, I miss the MFP’s copier capability, but only on the increasingly rare occasions that I need to duplicate a physical document.

I’m sure there are other pieces of equipment that used to be considered de rigueur but are now old hat, so chime in, readers: what have you seen falling by the wayside?

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Nova Incident, comes out in July and is available to pre-order now, so do it!]

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