Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Obsolete Software

Software doesn't "wear out" over time.  So why do they keep making us buy new versions?

I called Quickbooks the other day, to see about setting up a merchant account with them.  They asked what version of Quickbooks I was using and I checked - it was Quickbooks Pro 2002.   The salesman on the phone suppressed a chuckle.

He probably would laugh even harder if I told him the only reason I went to 2002 was that my Accountant could no longer import my 1997 version of Quickbooks into her computer, as the file formats were incompatible.

The program was not cheap - about $250 at the time, as I recall.  But it works well and does everything I want it to.  Why mess with success?

Similarly, after hanging on to WordPerfect 5.1 until the bitter end, I was drawn, kicking and screaming into the world of Windows and Microsoft Word.   It is not a bad program, but tries to do everything from typesetting a book to printing a Christmas Card.   It took a long time to learn the program, and I am still using the Word 2000 (Office 2000) version of it, despite Microsoft's best efforts to screw things up.

Good software does what you need it to do, and doesn't "wear out" like a car.  And that is the problem for software developers.   How can you run a company and make payroll once everyone who wants your program has bought it?  And the answer, of course, is to offer an upgrade.  Problem is, not everyone wants an upgrade.   So the next answer is to force them to upgrade.
Windows XP was a pretty stable platform, compared to other versions of Windows.   And when they came out with Windows Vista, well, not many people wanted to switch.   Today a lot of computers are still running XP and probably will for many years.   So Microsoft has stopped support of XP and no further upgrades or patches will be available.  Trying to get a computer to run XP is problematic these days.

A neighbor bought a laptop at a garage sale, for $5.  It ran XP - slowly.   I was trying to see if it would stream Netflix and YouTube, and I had to upgrade silverlight and flash player.   The bad news was, it had service pack 1 on it, not service pack 2.   And Microsoft didn't offer support anymore, at least not directly.  I finally found Service Pack 2 on a "developer's" page and loaded it.   It wasn't easy to get the old machine to work in a modern environment, even though back in the day, it was perfectly suited for the same tasks.   And yes, when all was said and done, it streamed Netflix and YouTube just fine.  Getting a wireless card to work for it and getting XP to network with the router - another story.  I had forgotten how awkward networking was, back in the day.

Many other developers are moving to online "cloud" solutions.  Quickbooks wants me to sign up for an online service for $13.95 a month (!!!) forever.  This is obviously a better business model for Quickbooks, but not necessarily for me.   Turbotax went to this model, but Turbotax is the kind of software that has to be upgraded annually anyway, due to changes in the tax laws.

I can appreciate the software developer's conundrum.   You want to keep your job.  You just wrote the most perfect piece of software.  It sells like hotcakes.   But then the market saturates and no more sales are forthcoming.   What do you do?  Lay everyone off and close the business?   No, you have to keep developing and selling new products, and finding a way to convince people to shell out more and more money for upgrades or new versions of the same product.  Obsolescence is one way to do this.

Another way is bugs, viruses, and security breaches.   So long as your operating system or software is under attack from "hackers" you can send out patches and fixes and upgrades to your users, as Windows does, right now, for free.   Why do they do this for free?    Many commercial software providers charge a service for this.   Windows does it, I think, to keep their market share and also to keep their software in  sensitive places like government installations.   If you don't patch, you get a bad reputation and people will think about other, proprietary software, or even (God forbid!) Linux.

But maybe in the future, such patches and upgrades will be charged for as part of a "service package" and a monthly service charge.

So what's the problem in all of this?   Many folks would look at the cost of Quickbooks online and say, "Well, $13.95, that's just a trip to Starbucks!" and maybe for a business of 50 people, that is a pretty incidental cost.   But for a solo operation, it is a lot of money just to balance the checkbook and send out invoices - particularly when the existing program does this, for free.

It is called subscription fatigue - tiny little monthly costs that add up and can sink the individual or small business, if they are not kept in check.

I've tried some of the newer versions of software.  The new Microsoft WORD is so confusing that I can't find anything I used to be able to find easily.   It took years to learn the old WORD - do I really want to spend years learning the new one?    OpenOffice, on the other hand, was very easy to use and was familiar to any WORD 2000 user.   Funny how that works.

Of course, getting older programs to work can be problematic.   With VISTA, we had to run "legacy" programs in "Windows 95 mode" to get them to work, and often the help screens would be disabled.  Windows 7 seems to handle them better.  Windows 8 or 10?   Beats me.  I plan on staying with 7 for a good long time.

But eventually, computers wear out, and maybe someday I'll have a newer computer with a newer O/S that won't recognize my older programs.   At that point, I will be forced (again, kicking and screaming) to be brought into a new age.   I am hoping, at least, that my current software will carry my forward into retirement, at least.

If you have older software, and it works fine for you, why bother upgrading?   Spending $250 a year just to have new software is wasteful.   Not only that, think of the man-hours wasted installing new software and learning how to us it!   It is far cheaper to flog the older product and keep using it, so long as it is useful.

And to all you software developers out there, well, I'm sorry.   But frankly, you guys screw up a wet dream so often, it is really hard to feel too sorry for you!



  1. Obsolete software can often be purchased cheaply online. Just be sure it is legit and comes with all the authorization codes....

  2. Stability in software design is also sometimes very desirable, as it allows people to design to a standard. One reason a lot of ATMs use Windows XP is that it is a known quantity and isn't changing. Similarly, most servers run UNIX as the design is largely frozen.

    Software that is constantly upgrading or changing file formats is not as useful for the core functions of most systems, as useless format changes cause ripple effects across the system, as suddenly, existing links and patches no longer work.

    Sometimes, it is best to design something, make it work, and then leave it alone. Standardized systems allow people to design products to those systems. Systems that change formats ever five years eventually frustrate developers and consumers alike.

    Such will be the downfall of Apple.

  3. A young software developer writes:

    "You should STFU and just upgrade to the newest software version! I mean, seriously, dude, it doesn't cost that much!"

    "And the idea that Microsoft stopped support for XP as some sort of conspiracy is just stupid!"

    This is hard to parse. The writer has a "job" and goes off to work every day and thinks he is "rich" because he has a big salary. But he has nothing in the bank, and it ain't hard to figure out why.

    If I bought every upgrade to Quickbooks over the years (and I bought three as it was) I would have had to spend at least $2000 just on that one program - with little or nothing in return in terms of added productivity.

    Ditto for "upgrades" to Windows. Upgrading to VISTA would have cost about $2000 to buy legitimate copies for all of my computers. Somehow I think it was a smarter move to switch to Windows 7 Ultimate and skip VISTA entirely.

    And so on down the line. Would I have been better off throwing another $2000 at Word over the last 15 years?

    As for XP, isn't it weird that we could surf the net and play movies and music with that O/S for years and now it is too slow to do anything?

    Any why do 90% of all the ATMs in the world still use it?

    And yes, Microsoft discontinued support for XP to force people to migrate to newer versions. And I suspect this termination of support cycle will get shorter and shorter in the future. We will be forced to buy new software, new machines, again and again, for no reason other than the manufacturers want us to.

    The reader works at a job and thinks he is rich because he has a nice salary and lots of toys he buys with it. Saving for the future, having real wealth - that is something else.

    I am retired and a millionaire. I didn't get here by upgrading software every year or buying the latest cell phone every year.

    You can't spend your way to wealth. You may THINK you are wealthy by having the latest things. But within a year or two, they are worth nearly nothing. You can't "invest" in rapidly depreciating technology like computers, cell phones, and software.

    On the other hand, "obsolete" software, like UNIX, is still going strong, and cheap as dirt.

    There is a lesson right there. Bleeding edge technology is of no advantage to the average consumer.


  4. And of course, this does not even factor in the lost time and lost wages spent installing new versions of software and learning how to use them.

    Bleeding edge technology is also a waste of manpower.


Sorry, Comments have been disabled due to the large amount of SPAM and TROLLING as well as GROOMING comments. Thanks for reading, though.

NOTE: Blogger says below that "only members may comment" - however comments have been disabled and I have no idea how to make someone a "member". Sorry!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.