Anti-Upgraders Unite!

Written by Chris Caines

July 13, 2005 | 09:23

Tags: #exchange #exchange-server #microsoft-exchange #microsoft-office #office #upgrade

Companies: #microsoft

Oh dear, Microsoft are at it again.

To be fair, when I refer to 'it' I could be talking about any one of the plethora of 'its' Microsoft have been pulling since their inception. This time, it's Microsoft's insistence that we all upgrade as soon as possible to the latest and greatest versions of their software: see in particular the article at The Register regarding the Microsoft Partner Conference.

Upgrading has always been a particular bone of contention with most users, generally because we seem to be stiffed royally by whoever is offering the upgrade to the current version. In some cases this of course may be worthwhile - there's no doubting that Adobe® Photoshop® (Better get the term right, don't want to get sued by Adobe under their ridiculous Trademark Restrictions) has come on leaps and bounds.

Even a fair amount of version jumps from Microsoft are very much worth upgrading to; Windows itself, aside from soME clangers, has given users consistently useful upgrades along the way. Clearly, many may argue that Windows 2000 is still far superior to Windows XP, however in terms of offering something better suited to the home user, XP certainly fits the bill of being the OS for Joe Public…

(Just such a shame they bothered with a Home and Pro edition. Here's a thought! Instead of a cut-down cheaper version, how about a NOT cut-down, cheaper version, Bill? )

"Clearly, many may argue that Windows 2000 is still far superior to Windows XP, however in terms of offering something better suited to the home user it certainly fits the bill of being the OS for Joe Public."

As we move into the enterprise arena, things do begin to get a little more complicated. Firstly we have Microsoft's licencing policy to get to grips with, something which anyone with a simple knowledge of four-dimensional trigonomics and applied dynamic molecular arithmetic should find easy. Secondly we also have the fact that, due to the former, there is little to no incentive to upgrade.

"Surely", the Marketeers retort, "the feature set in the latest versions makes it worthwhile?" however as someone who has actually worked in (as opposed to sold into) the IT arena for over 10 years, I can say categorically: No.

Microsoft developers and partner consultants are no doubt already spitting poison at me for the lack of understanding I possess about brand new features of each particular upgrade. Unfortunately for them, the issue ninety-percent of the time is about 'a means to an end' and these myriad of new features really do mean little-to-nothing to your average Excel or Microsoft Word user. Every upgrade regurgitates references to 'collaborative working' and 'productivity enhancing features'. In fact, they claim in the above mentioned article:

"The number one competition in the Office business is this perception that old versions of Office or cloned versions of Office are good enough and you don't need the latest software for end users or information workers. We are on a mission to show people the work place has changed".

I say that's utterly wrong in every respect - the workplace, at least at a technological level since the delivery of productivity suites, has changed very little; largely because it's barely had time to adapt to the last set of software changes.

It is a classic case of trying to make the users fit the software instead of vice versa.
It may not have escaped notice that these comments are coming from the very companies who a) do not have to pay full price for this software, b) have the technological skill set throughout the company to learn and embrace every new productivity enhancing feature they build into the latest version and c) are trying to sell you the damn thing in the first place.

Have they actually gone into your average administrative department and seen what they're using Microsoft Office for? The majority of users are the classic Outlook = Email, Excel = Spreadsheets, Word = Documents and Access = The guy who kind of knows it enough to do a proprietary database for checking who likes Tea and Who likes coffee.

"I do not see companies falling to pieces because their Reading Pane isn't on the right hand side of their Inbox instead of below it."

Granted, every user sits there and whines about how much better it would be if something could do this and it'd be easier if it did that. Unfortunately these desired features aren't features being offered by ANY version of Office, but things which are specific to the company in question - and no amount of coercing or long-winded Office training courses are going to shoehorn the user into the restrictive functionality of the latest version.

Given that everything is being built around Visual Basic... er, I mean .net, sure we can customise it to our hearts content so that if the user wants a button which correlates their accounts for them and plays "Eye of the Tiger" every time they complete a days work, fine; unfortunately the highly paid developers will bleat that you need the latest version of everything to run 'because they only code in .net these days' and you're lumbered with a huge consultancy fee as well as the upgrade pricing to get you from Office 97 to Office 12. Take that to a CFO and they'll ask you one thing - "Do we NEED it?" Any IT manager worth his salt is going to say "Of course not". I do not see companies falling to pieces because their Reading Pane isn't on the right hand side of their Inbox instead of below it.

The point Microsoft fail (or refuse) to see, time and time again, is the reason people don't upgrade to the latest and greatest versions of their software is because it's way too expensive for what little functionality you are going to actually use. I look at Exchange 2003 every day and think 'That would be a nice feature to have', then I look at the costs for upgrading the Server licence, upgrading the Server and upgrading all the Exchange 2000 CALs* and think, it just isn't worth it, our money is better spent elsewhere.

* (Client Access Licence: 'only exists on paper' software that graciously allows you to pay money to Microsoft, which gives you the right to connect the client software you've paid for to the server software you've paid for. Think of it as Road Tax, except you also own the road)

I wrote last weeks article on a copy of Office 2003, on a machine with 1.5Gb RAM a 20" TFT monitor and loads of other stuff with which to give everyone E-Envy. I wrote todays in Notepad on an old Celeron 433 laptop with 32Mb RAM and you know what, at no point did I feel the need to use Speech Recognition to collaboratively share a document workspace to functionalise and streamline my team's data flexibility.

I hope they don't feel left out.
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