Upgrading for Upgrade's Sake

When is an upgrade not an upgrade? All too frequently, moving to the latest version of a software package can bring as many negative issues as positive. Drew Bird opines.

 By Drew Bird
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No one can say that the life of a techie is not interesting, and if they do, they obviously have not seen the digital countdown clock on Microsoft's XP Web site. Quite why Microsoft consider the release of the next version of Windows worthy of a Y2K style countdown is not clear. What is clear is that once again we are faced with same question that has surfaced many times in the past. What, if anything, is to be gained by upgrading to a new version?

Software companies, not just Microsoft, release new versions and products with what seems like frightening regularity. Since there is no policy that governs what is termed as an upgrade, the amount of new functionality built into a product is at the discretion of the manufacturer, as is the branding of a 'new version'. The release of a new version, whatever the changes, seems to bring with it a mentality that the new upgrade has to be considered as essential at some point. Are these upgrades always needed, or are we being lured into an upgrade for upgrades sake mentality?

One IT manager, who requested to remain anonymous, provides an interesting perspective on the subject 'Each time a new version of a product comes out, our IT director is keen to get started on it as soon as we can. He feels that it presents the right image to customers and shareholders if the IT is cutting edge'. It's certainly an interesting viewpoint, but I am sure that customers of this company would rather see lower prices, and the shareholders more profitability, than a yearly rollout that costs a couple of hundred thousand bucks.

Of that couple of hundred thousand bucks, only a small proportion relates to actual software purchase, which tends to be the first question in the 'shall we, shan't we' upgrade process. However, the cost of purchasing software for upgrades pales in significance when compared with the costs associated with deploying the software. Expensive technical staff spend weeks or even months preparing for and carrying out the deployment of new products. Hardware often needs to be upgraded and in some cases end users need training. The costs can be staggering.

While we are on the subject of end users, it's worth mentioning that the upgrade mentality is not limited to the server room. Just recently a colleague suggested I upgrade to Office XP. Why? because it's new was the answer. Needless to say, I didn't upgrade. I probably use about 10% of the features of my word processor, and I barely use the other tools in my office suite at all. You could give me a 486 with Wordstar on it and I'd still get by.

This article was originally published on Aug 28, 2001
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