W2K: Here we go again
by Douglas E. Welch
January 14, 2000
© 2000, Douglas E. Welch
Here we go again. Another Windows upgrade. I know I am not alone
among the computer professionals who dread each coming update
of Windows, both major and minor. Simply said, we all like new features better performance and
bug fixes, but the onerous task of bringing an entire company
or a diverse set of clients to the current version of Windows
is a Herculean task, if not more of a job for Sisyphus. We are
forever rolling the upgrade rock up the mountain only to have
it roll to the bottom of the hill where we start all over again.
In an era when our computer knowledge is quickly outdated, Microsoft
tends to lead in the pack in knowledge obsolescence. Each upgrade
of Windows or Office requires us to through away 80% of what we
have learned; troubleshooting procedures, work-arounds, specialized
templates; and replace it with something new every 3 months or
so. Procedures that worked well now fail since they "fixed" the
error for which you already developed a work-around.
Can technology move too quickly? I think it can. Computer careerists
are being asked to process more information than ever before.
You invest time and energy in acquiring skills that are too soon
obsolete, replaced with an entirely different set of Tech Notes,
ReadMe files and Errata sheets. Sometime, somewhere, there will
be a breaking point where the speed of innovation out-weighs the
ability of computer professionals to keep up.
Witness the increasing levels of specialization in careers today.
Ten years ago, you were a computer support person or a programmer/analyst.
Today you are TCP/IP Network Specialists, MS Certified Engineers,
device driver programmers or database designers. In an effort
to cope with the increased information flow we have tried to "close
the spigot" ever tighter. Of course, this can put you in a uncomfortable
position if and when your specialized knowledge is no longer in
demand. Witness the dearth of COBOL programming jobs until Y2K
concerns resurrected the market.
They don't make it easy
Of course, Microsoft could make major Windows upgrades easier
for us all. Instead of providing methods for a slow roll-out of
updates, their systems almost require a mass upgrade. Otherwise,
we are faced with a host of cross-version incompatibilities and
features that won't function at all in a mixed environment. When
you factor in the smattering of Macintosh computers and the growing
number of Linux/Unix-based systems, a single upgrade from Microsoft
can cause a tsunami of problems throughout your company.
While there are a variety of groups dedicated to gathering high-tech
workers into associations in order to gain some sort of persuasive
power. Unfortunately, there is no single entity with the membership,
and therefore the power, to force software manufacturers, especially
Microsoft, to change their ways or even consider the needs of
those of us who must implement what they create. Until that happens,
we all will be at the mercy of software manufacturers every time
they decide to "innovate" on our behalf.
Conflict of Interest
The major reason for all our problems related to software upgrades
is a fundamental conflict of interest within software manufacturers.
While they profess that updates and new versions are created to
help computer users, in reality, manufacturers must update their
product regularly in order to ensure a revenue stream.
As with any company, Microsoft's first responsibility is to their
stockholders, not computer users or you, the technology worker.
Software releases are timed to have the most monetary effect,
not make your life any easier. Until technology workers can exert
some pressure, by showing their importance to the bottom line
of software manufacturers, we are all destined to suffer the steamroller
of software updates that always threatens to knock us flat.
What can you do?
So what can we do? The most important step is to evaluate each
software release for the benefits to you and your users. If an
upgrade shows itself to be more trouble than it is worth you may
have to buck the trend and forgo installing it. I, for one, tend
to avoid initial releases (so-called x.0 releases) of any software
or update. As you probably know it takes most manufacturers a
few versions to get the kinks worked out of their software. Sometimes
this means that you will have to buck both management and users,
but if you have done your research you should be able to show
them your reasoning and, more importantly, how it effects the
bottom line of your company. Always back things up with numbers.
Management outside of the computer departments doesn't often respond
to purely technical reasons.
While there is no perfect answer to the problems caused by software
upgrades we need to be aware of them. In today's world, anything
you can do to reduce the disruption to yourself and your users
will pay for itself.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at email@example.com