Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 155 / AUGUST 1993 / PAGE 54

Upgrade update. (deciding whether or not to purchase software upgrades) (Introdos) (Column)
by Tony Roberts

Have you upgraded to DOS 6 yet? Do you have the latest and greatest version of your word-processing program? How about the newest installment of your checkbook manager, the one with charts and graphs?

My mailbox--and I'll bet yours, too--is often chock-full of upgrade notices for the software I own, and for some programs I don't own. All this mail has me wondering how important it is to keep up with the versions, software's version of suburbia's keeping up with the Joneses.

The answer is not a simple one: It depends on how you use your computer and how you work.

For starters, let's take a look at DOS 6. This is an interesting, but not a revolutionary, upgrade. In my case, it adds nothing to my system that is not being accomplished by some other commercial or shareware program.

Do I need DOS 6? No.

Do I have DOS 6? You bet. After all, this is a DOS column. Its author ought to be in touch with the latest DOS product whether he needs it or not.

Upgrade Rule #1: If your livelihood depends on the software, upgrade.

Another issue to consider is support. Do you, or those who work for you, need help using your software? Do you rely on the software manufacturer's support staff to help solve technical problems as well as to give you guidance when you don't feel like reading the manual? If so, it's probably a good idea to stay current for that product; as each day passes, the support staff will become less and less familiar with the foibles of past versions.

Upgrade Rule #2: Stay current if you want handholding.

When deciding whether to upgrade, you also must consider whether you're a loner or you share your work with others. In the desktop publishing business, for example, publication files often are worked on by two or three people. Then the files are handed over to a service bureau for output. In a case like this, it makes sense to make sure everyone is upgraded to the same software level.

Upgrade Rule #3: Stay compatible with associates, vendors, and suppliers.

Many software companies seem to have embraced the idea of annual upgrades. I'm willing to bet that I'll see an upgrade notice for my checkbook/financial manager software this October. The program's been upgraded each of the last three autumns; why should 1993 be any different?

Looking back at my records, I see I've paid more for upgrades than for the original version of that program. But that's OK; the upgrades I've purchased have added important functions, made the program easier to use, and saved me time. I'm happy with what I've paid for.

I did bypass last year's invitation to upgrade,. however. The improvements in that upgrade centered on the program's new abilities to create charts and graphs pertaining to my financial situation. I didn't see how those multicolor graphics would make me richer or better organized financially, so I skipped the upgrade and saved a few bucks--a clear plus for my financial status.

Upgrade Rule #4: Don't be swayed by the fancy brochures; it's up to you to decide whether new features are valuable to you.

Finally, be aware that computer and software technology is a rapidly advancing field. No program invented to will be worth much in five years. If you're buying software that's central to your business, plan to make regular upgrades to stay on the cutting edge. If you're a hobbyist, it probably won't hurt you to be a generation or two behind.

Upgrade Rule #5: Software upgrades are a cost of doing business--budget for them.

Now that we've looked at whether to upgrade the software you have, what about upgrading the software you don't have? This phenomenon has become known as the competitive upgrade, and for software addicts, it's one of the best deals around.

Let's say you own Brand X word-processing program, which normally lists for $495. The maker of Brand Y word processor wants you to convert to his program, so he offers you a competitive upgrade for the price of $99. What a deal! You get a brand-new $495 program for $99!

If you like to acquire new software, keep your eyes open for the competitive upgrade deals, and when the program you're yearning for goes on sale, snap it up.

But competitive upgrades are a little unfair, and that may contribute to their undoing. Let's say you don't own a word-processing program. How does it make you feel to pay full price, when everyone around you buys a copy for 80 percent off ?

I find it hard to buy under those conditions. I'll stay on the sideline until the price comes down for everybody. Software companies are discovering that lower software prices translate into increased sales. Perhaps before long, the competitive upgrade prices will become the suggested retail prices.

Then the manufacturers will have thousands of new potential upgrade customers.