Does software date? Of course not, and don't let them tell you differently

How often have you heard stuff like this:

Upgrade to the latest and greatest. What we told you about how productive and how much time you would save about the last version, well, forget that, because this one is going to send you back in time! For only 50% of the retail value you can feel all brand new - with no major difference except a renewed interface that you have to relearn again!

Now I don't want to single out Microsoft here, as they are all as bad as each other, but my case in point does indeed come from the Redmond giant.

I have hung onto my MS Office 2003 for a long time now. It was one of the few pieces of software I actually purchased a long time, only because one of my friends was an MS reseller and we got a good deal. My shiny legal version of Office.

There have been many updates since then, and each one I have shunned away from. The WORD and EXCEL I have is still producing documents equally as good as the day it was first cracked open. Its not showing any signs of wear or tear. That's the beauty of software you see, it just doesn't wear out. It's as fresh as the day it was first produced.

The other week I had this sudden urge to draw some flowcharts. I remembered I had bought Visio5 (before it was acquired by Microsoft) and looked out my stack of old CDs. Sure enough there it was, sitting there quietly in my cupboard just waiting for the day it would be called upon again.

I excitedly popped it into my WindowsXP, and before long it started to complain about incompatable versions and how it might not run. At first blush you would have thought, the time to upgrade to the $249 version had come. But why?

I had purchased a perfectly good piece of software that did the job perfectly 6 years ago, why couldn't it have performed the same job today? Ignoring all the warning signs I pushed on and installed Visio.

Up she came and ran beautifully. I am happily producing flowcharts to my hearts content without costing me any further pennies.

As a software engineer, I understand the need to update and keep a product fresh. We evolve, we develop better techniques for doing things, we improve (well at least we hope we do) processes and make it easier for the end user. The platforms we build upon change and therefore, we can't always assure that the software we are developing today, will run in 1 years time let alone 5 or 10 years down the road. Any one involved with AJAX/DHTML frameworks will know the pain the continuous release cycle brings.

It would appear that if software isn't update for a while it is considered out-of-date and no longer relevant. This is particularly true with open source software. How many times have you looked at the last updated date on a project in say SourceForge and if its more than 6months, you don't download as you fear the original developers have abandoned it.

But have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, its perfect. It is doing the job the original team set out to accomplish. Crazy thinking I know.

This is where I believe the likes of VMWare, XEN, and other virtual machine companies will serve society in far greater ways than we first thought.

Yes they are a cool way to run multiple machines on one, manage resources more effectively and make testing and developing software easier. But they are also providing a much greater role for the wider business community; future proofing our software investment.

No matter what Operating System we are running now or in the future, we will be able to load up our historical OS, install the software we need, and run it inside our shiny new "Windows2020" or "Fedora27" without any part of the software chain complaining.

A few of years ago I didn't first appreciate the significant of virtual computing at the desktop. But in the last 18months, I have been slowly coming around to the real power this technology offers. Software companies are going to have to start rethinking the real value an upgrade offers. As people have shown with MS Vista; its not an automatic instinct to always want to upgrade, if managed wrongly, it can go so horribly wrong.


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