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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.

Knowledge Obsolescence

In an era when our computer knowledge is quickly outdated, Microsoft tends to lead in the pack in knowledge obsolescence.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:

He can reached via email at

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