Select Page

Upgrading is a good thing, right? Who among us wouldn’t, if we could afford it, always fly first class instead of cattle – er, economy – class? Who doesn’t prefer the deluxe suite to the standard hotel room? Who wouldn’t want to wear the latest fashions instead of last year’s? Oh. Hmm. So maybe upgrading isn’t always a good thing, after all.

When it comes to software, upgrades are a little like death and taxes; they’re inevitable. Sooner or later, no matter how fond you are of that old MS-DOS program, eventually you’re probably going to get tired of trying to make it work on evolving operating systems, or you’ll be seduced by the plethora of features offered by modern programs, and you’ll upgrade. Still holding on to Windows 98? A recent survey of our readers showed that a surprising number of you are. But sooner or later, that old computer will crump, and when you buy a new one, it’ll come loaded with XP or Vista or What Lies Beyond, and you’ll be … upgraded.

Personally, I embrace most new technology and consequently, I usually upgrade to new operating systems and applications before they even become commercially available. I’ve been running Vista as a secondary OS for well over a year and as my primary OS for many months. I run the Office 2007 beta on both main desktop systems and my laptop.

I guess when it comes to software, I’m like those folks who revel in new romances. I’m happiest when I’m “getting to know” a new version of Windows or a favorite productivity program. I delight in discovering cool new features (and writing about them). I even like finding the bugs, omitted features and other problems in new software, if for no other reason than to figure out workarounds that I can report to others.

But I know I’m not typical, and most folks just want their computers to work. You want to be able to read and send email, surf the web, create documents and spreadsheets and slideshows as quickly and easily as possible. And therein lies the trouble with upgrades: even when the new version is better, it usually involves some degree of learning curve, and that’s something that many of us don’t have time for or don’t want to bother with.

Lots of you subscribe to the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” philosophy, which in this context means if your current software works, there’s no reason to upgrade. And if you do upgrade – either because you have no choice because you’re using a company computer, or because you really need one particular feature in the new version – you want to be able to keep things as much like the old version as possible. The first thing that many users of a new operating system do is go through and switch everything to the Windows classic view, so their XP or Vista computer will look like Windows NT/2000. And the most frequent complaint I’ve heard about Office 2007 is that Microsoft “forces the new interface on you” – that there’s no way to turn off the ribbon feature and go back to the old, familiar menu format.

Human beings, in general, tend to react negatively to change. Never mind that the ribbon interface lets you do a lot of things faster; it’s different and, like the husband who hates it when his wife rearranges the furniture, some of you don’t want to spend even five minutes learning where things are now. Even those in the industry aren’t immune. Mary Jo Foley, editor of Microsoft Watch, proudly touts her “dinosaur” status in her June column for Redmond Magazine. You can read it here.

Of course, if you don’t like the ribbon, you can just keep on using Office 2003. If you upgrade to Office 2007 and don’t like it, you have only yourself (or perhaps your boss) to blame. But what about when upgrades become mandatory? We’ve talked before about Microsoft’s policy of discontinuing support for older versions of software, which has the effect of forcing you to upgrade to a newer version if you want to be able to get security fixes or help with technical problems. But you can still choose to keep the old versions and “go it alone” if you choose.

That may not always be the case. We reported a couple of weeks ago that Microsoft plans to distribute IE 7 as a high priority update via Automatic Updates, which means if you have auto update enabled, you’ll get it whether you want it or not.

The rationale behind this “update mandate” policy is, of course, security. The new version of IE contains numerous security improvements that will make the browsing experience safer. However, at least in the beta, IE 7 also has some problems (at least on the XP version) with rendering some pages correctly or even accessing them at all. Some people are likely to squawk loudly when you find that they’ve been involuntarily upgraded, even if it is “for their own good.”

What do you think?

Do you rush to be the first on your block to try out the latest and greatest new software versions or will they take away your MS-DOS and WordPerfect v. 4 only when they pry them from your cold, dead hands?

Or do you fall someplace in between? Should new versions of an application always allow you to “fall back” to the old look and way of doing things, or should choosing to upgrade mean you’re willing to accept boldly going where you’ve never gone before?

What about mandatory updates? Should Microsoft “push” new versions of their free apps, such as IE, on you through auto update, or should you have to explicitly download and install them (even if they add security)?

Tell us your opinions.

Deb Shinder