Just in case you haven’t noticed, I’ll tell you now that before long you’re going to face a series of upgrades, especially if you’re a Windows user. Mac users will too, just not on the same schedule.
Sometime during this year you’ll have the opportunity to upgrade from Windows XP or Windows 2000 (hopefully your computers are not running anything else) to Windows Vista, the next incarnation of Microsoft’s ubiquitous operating system. And during roughly the same period, you’ll see Microsoft Office 12 come your way regardless of what operating system you’re running on, including the Mac OS.
To be fair, honest, and straightforward about it, I simply hate upgrades. My advice is to find your 10-foot pole quickly and use it to fend them off, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. My reasons are more numerous and complex than there is room for here, but I can summarize a few, to give you some food for thought.
Operating System Upgrades
Operating system upgrades are a particularly heinous breed, because your machines are not equipped for upgrades. When you bought your PCs they came with some version of Windows and were configured specifically for that operating system, including processor, memory size, disk size and disk types, and even peripheral configurations.
Pushing a new, more demanding operating system onto those systems will almost certainly cause heartaches. The first one will come from the empty spot in your wallet, especially if you commit to upgrading several machines at your company. But leaving that aside, you or someone who does your IT work will have to deal with the installation miseries, and they’re almost always big ones.
That’s because every PC in your company is different. Despite your best efforts at standardization, every employee has a slightly different software suite on his or her machine, and a slightly different hardware suite as well. They will almost never all work just right or just alike when the machines are upgraded. Well, some of them will, after a bunch of tinkering on someone’s part, and sometimes without any tinkering at all. But then you’re left with performance problems, because it’s almost never the case that an upgraded machine has sufficient processor power, memory, or disk capacity to cope with its new operating system.
Believe it or not, applications upgrades are often trickier than operating systems upgrades, for a couple of reasons. First, no two of your people have the same applications configurations, and they very often have different versions of the same applications. That has a couple of implications.
First, they will need different upgrades, because different versions of the same product need to be upgraded differently. Second, your employees uses may be different, and may not all work after the upgrade. Third, the new versions may have bugs that the old ones did not have. And fourth, interactions between various applications may no longer work smoothly, or work at all.
A couple of good examples come from my own experience and from the experience of others.
- When PayCycle customers tried to upgrade from Quicken 2004 to Quicken 2005, they could no longer download their payroll transactions from PayCycle to Quicken. That was because Intuit had abandoned the QFS file transfer format, and apparently the company has no plans to reinstate it.
- Quicken 2005 lost track of my own online payments, and Intuit tech support could not figure out how to get it to remember them. Their recommendation was to revert to Quicken 2004.
- Outlook 2003 disabled my Sony Clie’s ability to communicate with Outlook. It took a serious effort at reverse-kludging (not the same as reverse engineering) to fix the problem.
- Symantec’s Norton Antivirus 2005 disabled my Netgear MP101 digital music player’s ability to find its disk database on my server, and also disables the ability of installation programs, such as Hewlett-Packard’s multifunction printer programs, to communicate with the computers on a network. I was finally put in touch with a senior tech at Symantec who advised that I disable the product’s worm protection, which he said is safe to do because the product’s AutoProtect feature provides more than adequate protection.
I could go on, but I’m sure you could as well. If there is a bottom line here, it is that if your users don’t absolutely need to use features in a new version of a product, don’t upgrade it. There will be times when they will have to, and there will be times when you will be compelled to upgrade because the version your users are using is no longer going to be supported.
When it comes to operating systems, if you or your employees are compelled to try out the latest and greatest, bite the proverbial bullet and buy new computers to do that with. You’ll probably wind up with new versions of many applications as well, all installed for you, running smoothly, and running compatibly.
And when it comes to applications, unless you’re really compelled to upgrade, just don’t do it.
John Dickinson is editor of SmartCompany.com, a Ziff-Davis Media web site.