Upgrade or Die!


There are many common terms that have different meanings when put into the context of computers.  To most people, “monitor” means to keep an eye on something, but to us IT Guys, its a display device.  “Legacy” is another one of those terms; in the computer world, it is a nice way of saying “obsolete.”  I learned this at a previous support job where the company pushed and pushed for its customers to upgrade (and spend more money on) the Latest and Greatest version of their software, but there were plenty of hangers-on that were content to use older versions.  That’s the way it was, it worked, and they liked it.

Eventually, a new service pack or new version of Windows would come along that would completely break the software, and there wasn’t much else we could tell those guys besides “well, you need to upgrade.”  The customers would get mad and stomp their feet and demand that we fix it right away, but 95% of the time, that wasn’t going to happen.  If the customer didn’t upgrade, they were out of luck.  On a certain level, I can understand the desire to not change something that works (heck, I still use Microsoft Money 2000 and WinAmp 2.9), but at the same time, nearly all computer software will eventually go off into the night of obsolescence because eventually the developer will decide that it isn’t worth the expense of continuing development and support.

One common customer response I would hear (and still do) to this situation was that we were awful people that wanted them to spend more money.  To that, I say: I’m sorry, but this is a BUSINESS, it exists to create a product, provide a service, and make money.  If we don’t make money by releasing new products and lose money by devoting too many resources to old software, we go out of business and all lose our jobs.  Yeah, it royally sucks for users (I myself had a printer that was ‘orphaned’ when Windows Vista came around) but it is a necessary part of the software “circle of life.”

At least that’s how it should work, but instead, many companies insist on continuing to support outdated software, and continue to sell it in many cases.  The end result is that tech support gets driven bonkers trying to support the old stuff on top of all the new stuff that comes out and it can get overwhelming.  It also results in poorer customer service because techs have to take extra customer time to dig into knowledgebases and ask senior techs about programs that were written for Windows 95.

This is one of the few things I love about Apple.  Instead of letting software linger around and stink up the place like old cheese, they have the cojones to tell their customers that the bar is closing, its lights out, so go to the newer nicer bar down the street or go home.  They did it when they nuked support for ‘classic’ Mac applications in Leopard, and again by no longer supporting PowerPC applications in Lion.  In both cases they waited until four years until after the product was discontinued before pulling the plug and did not hesitate to do so.

In the short term, yes, some customers will be upset and some will go to competitors, but in the long-term, the company can continue to move forward as opposed to having the dead weight of zombie software hanging around their necks like an albatross.  I guess we can put this in the “painfully obvious observation that senior management never gets” file.  I can’t wait to see what happens when Windows XP support goes away in 2014…or maybe I can.


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