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You guessed right. AE projects are not backward compatible.
Sort of sucks huh? I ran into this problem with premiere, once you open a cs3 project in cs4 it becomes a cs4 project and usually has some issues which is a big problem if you have an old project that you don't wan't to have to fix and don't have the version you made it in. Really anoying to have to re-edit 30min of video. Why don't they make some sort of converter? I myself just can't believe the code changes that much between versions that they can't be reverse compatiable with each other? If you open an older project in a newer version make sure you save as and change the name so you still have the origional.
After Effects doesn't update your CS3 project into CS4, when opened, you have to save your project as it's a new "untitled" project.
Thats a feature many people request, you can add your voice with the feature request form available online.
How about working in between platforms. I am jumping from a Mac to XP, but my my .aep can only work going from windows to mac not mac to windows. Is there any way around this
After Effect project are cross compatible, you should be able to work on Mac and Windows without any problem.
Do you have an error message ?
You must be a magician - it now works fine, i think it maybe have been something to do with me trying to work with very large files across a network
Yes sometime big network files can mess things a little bit.
I can suggest you to put all your files on an external HDD, and move the HDD along with the project from PC to Mac. Or, if it's smaller project, maybe a "collect file" can help in case of problems like you encountered.
Happy it worked for you !