Better Downward Compatibility
This expectation of increased downward compatibility may be increasing for all segments of the market, warned Rodolfo Martinez, the chair of the CIS and Game Simulation Programming programs at DeVry University, in Arlington, Va. He suggested that OS vendors should never drop support for functionality, regardless of a feature or services popularity (or a lack of the same), until an equivalent or better version of that functionality is installed in the customer base."Those vendors that drop OS functionality of older versionsApple includedwill see their products reputation severely damaged in light of what Unix has accomplished on this matter. There are Unix scripts designed in the 1980s still providing value-added transformations to their customers," Martinez said.He noted that computers increasingly do more than support various functions in an enterprise. Rather, computers now have become the main value-add for many companies and industries, transforming raw data into finished products. "Consequently, customers that depend on computers to generate their products would perceive very negatively a new version of the OS when it discontinues a capability critical for these value-added functions," Martinez said. Still, I asked Martinez if there wasnt a big difference between the expectations for compatibility between mainframe customers and those using a general-purpose computing platform such as Vista? Martinez responded that previously such downward compatibility wasnt "part of the deal," or at least vendors and developers didnt perceive this goal as such at the time. But times have changed, both for users and developers, he suggested. "However, from the last few years on, customers refusal to upgrade may be a symptom that in their minds they are making it part of the deal. It will be wise for vendors to pay attention," he concluded. So, the din of resistance to Vista upgrading isnt the result of some amorphous fear of change on the part of Windows users. Rather, its from the calculation of potential harm to ones data, workflow, productivity and business. Even if that "business" is small. Or even if the user is a consumer. Add to this resistance, the actual cost of the Vista upgrade, the cost of any needed hardware updates and the time that will be spent (lost) performing the update. Finally, as Martinez points out, an increasing portion of the user base now considers at least some part of the update experience as an unnecessary ordeal, if not all of it. Software updates, which were considered a mark of progress for a platform, have now become a burden and a "bad thing." The other day, I upgraded to Quicken 2007 for the Mac. It uses a new file format incompatible with my older version. While I went ahead and clicked the Accept button for the new licensing agreement, I admit that my stomach gave a warning twitch. Deep down in my unconscious, I was unhappy about this update, even though I knew its all for the best. Or so I hope. Can we continue to have progress in the PC industry and yet provide a better range of downward compatibility? Some with experience in the mainframe market say yes. Were all working through the current answer: No. What do you think? Are software updates becoming too much of a burden? Or should downward compatibility move higher on the list of customer concerns for vendors? Let us know here. David Morgenstern brings to eWEEK a long and varied career in the computer industry. Known for his coverage of microprocessor-based and high-performance storage, this award-winning editor has directed publications in the professional content creation and digital asset management areas. As a marketing manager, hes worked for monitor and digital video startups. Some may remember him "in the days" as the editor of Ziff Davis MacWEEK. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.