I am a sucker for all things new. In fact I will just come right out and say it. "Hi, I'm Mike and I'm a New-a-holic." I love new cars, rugs, gadgets, PCs, you name it! I love it! Something about the never-before-seen, "better than last year's" does something inside me. Perhaps I'm just well-programmed, but in any case, there is often a hidden cost of upgrading when it comes to computers and software, one you may not have thought about.
What sort of hidden costs?
In a nutshell, the major hidden cost of upgrading is compatibility with older hardware and software. It depends upon how much of an upgrade you are performing, and how long it's since you last upgraded, but generally upgrading breaks things and forces you to cough up a little, or sometimes a lot, of extra time, cash and frustration you hadn 't planned on, making the upgrade a questionable activity at best. How so?
Hidden Time Considerations
When it comes to hardware upgrades, if you're still lucky enough for the new hardware to even work on your older system, the hidden costs can come in the form of a lot of extra time you had not planned on in order to make the new hardware work properly, such as upgrading drivers or even hours of Googling finding the right workaround for your specific situation.
This happened to me recently when I decided to change my Windows XP 64-bit computer back to Windows XP, for compatibility reasons. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this mean that the 4GB of RAM I had installed would not all be used, since Windows XP does not use above 3GB as a rule.
Similarly, if you upgrade programs like Microsoft Office, all computers must also be upgraded or files are not interchangeable with the old version. Of course, you can always install a special compatibility pack from Microsoft on the older systems to make them read the new version, or down-save the file from the new version to the old version, but this qualifies, again, as a hidden cost to upgrading.
Hidden Monetary Considerations
While this sort of thing can be aggravating, it's not nearly as frustrating as having to cough up a lot of extra dough just to go through with an upgrade. For instance, if you upgrade QuickBooks Pro to a newer version, then any other systems on your network that use QuickBooks must also be upgraded or files will not be able to be changed. What started out as a few hundred dollars suddenly becomes a few thousand.
Hidden Support Considerations
Do not forget about support issues when you upgrade. If you decide just to upgrade a few systems, then you have a mixed environment which is much more difficult to troubleshoot and maintain for your IT folks, and much more confusing and frustrating for your users. One user will say, "Just go up to the Office Button and click Word Options." The other will say, "What's an Office Button?" This generates a call to support and costs, you got it, more money and time.
What prompted this article is Microsoft is coming out with the latest version of Windows, called Windows 7 soon, and will also be upgrading its Office Suite to boot. Many of you will be contemplating whether or not to make the leap.
The most basic question is simply, do I need the new functionality, and is it worth potentially having to force everyone else to upgrade as well, considering all the hidden time, money, and support considerations?
No, I'm not suggesting we halt all progress and stick with MS-DOS. I do not think any 12-Step program can break my, or our collective, penchant for all things new. However, temper your enthusiasm with a keen look at the hidden costs. Sometimes, if it is not broken, do not "fix" it.
Until next time, we'll solve our problems Bit by Bit.