Why new software isn’t always better software

By: John McGarvey

Date: 29 September 2014

iPhone screenApple released iOS 8 recently. Demand for this new version of its mobile operating system was so high that UK internet traffic surged as people rushed to download it.

Yet shortly after it became available, a number of tech pundits cautioned owners of older iPhones against upgrading.

Specifically, people who own the iPhone 4S were warned that the new operating system could cause everything to slow down.

Don't be an early upgrader

This high-profile upgrade perfectly illustrates a question that's faced businesses time and time again: should we upgrade our software now, or should we wait?

Software companies rely on big releases to give them a revenue boost. That's why Microsoft throws the full force of its marketing machine behind each new version of its Windows and Office packages.

It's nothing new - when Windows XP came out in 2002, they even got Madonna involved. But if the history of software upgrades teaches us anything, it should be that it's usually best to wait.

People don't like change

There are lots of reasons to hold off installing a new version of software your business depends on:

  • People don't like change. Software companies often move things round when they release a new version of an old package. Even if this change is obviously for the better, it can infuriate your staff if they're used to the old way of doing things. Just look at the reaction when Microsoft introduced its Ribbon interface with Office 2007.
     
  • New software often has bugs. It's impossible to create a complex piece of software with no bugs. And often, major new releases are when serious bugs emerge. Give it a few months and you'll find the software's much more stable. Take Windows Vista, which was so full of bugs on release that its reputation never really recovered.
     
  • Your current package has life left in it. Although a newer version might be available, most software companies will continue to provide support and updates for older versions of software. For example, although Windows XP was released in 2002, Microsoft only stopped supporting it this year.

So, even if you're dazzled by the promised benefits of a new piece of software, it's nearly always worth stopping to think before you plunge in and upgrade.

That's just as true if you're paying a monthly subscription for software that includes access to upgrades. In the short term, it might still be better to stick with the old version.

(It's worth noting we're referring to major, paid-for upgrades here, rather than the free security updates and patches that software companies release much more frequently. You should install these promptly to protect your data.)

What to think about

Before you upgrade any software, stop and think carefully. Here are five key things to get your head round before you upgrade everyone in your company:

  1. What are the reviews like? Search online to find out what experts think of the new software. Check review websites and comments on sites like Amazon, too. These are a great way to find out how real people are finding the software in the real world.
  2. How urgent is the upgrade? Find out when support will end for the software you currently use. Although there's usually a decent buffer, some software will require you to upgrade sooner. For instance, you might have to upgrade your payroll software to access the latest tax tables.
  3. What are the benefits of upgrading? Occasionally, upgrading software can transform your business. For instance, companies are increasingly building online features into traditional software, making it easier to share data. If the benefits are clear, it might be worth upgrading earlier.
  4. Can you test it first? Rather than inflicting the new version on all your staff at once, you can roll it out to a few people and see how they find it. This will also help you identify any issues that are specific to your company.
  5. What does your IT supplier say? Forget asking the software company. They'll tell you to upgrade. But if you work with a good IT supplier, they can help you understand the likely benefits - and potential risks - of upgrading. With their help, things will go more smoothly.

Finally, don't assume that blindly upgrading is the best option for your business. Recent years have seen the software landscape change dramatically.

Cloud computing services are capturing an increasing slice of the software market. In some sectors, these innovative services are a great alternative to traditional desktop software.

If you think you're due an upgrade, it's the right time to investigate the alternatives and see if there's anything better out there.

Image: Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

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