Friday, October 30, 2009

I think he is actually leitwortstiling "frig"

The experience T-Rex is talking about is one that many of us are familiar with. Because it is much easier for a company to deliver software updates directly to consumers, it makes it easier for people to install bug fixes and the like. That sounds like a good thing, right? When they fix a bug, they can make it so that you don't have to experience that bug anymore.

This also means that when they add a new feature, they can also release that in an update. And if they have a completely new version, they can bother you about upgrading. Hey, I know that you upgraded to iTunes 8 just this year, but we've already made iTunes 9! It has some new friggin' features! You should upgrade! (Admittedly, I upgraded last night, and I like some of the new interface features.)

I'm sure I don't have to tell you, a savvy computer user, that the sheer amount of "software updates" that are available is daunting and tedious. It is not just about getting the nag screen. For me, it is also the fact that these updates frequently require me to restart my computer to install them.  They are pretty much the only reason I reboot my computer, because it works just fine having ten tabs open in Firefox, running anywhere from six to eight applications in the background. Rebooting means saving all that unsaved work in my five TextEdit documents, and making sure that Firefox remembers what tabs I have open for when I reopen it. Rebooting is a chore and I don't want to do it if I don't have to.

But software has always followed a model of planned obsolescence. If you just add some new features to your software, not everyone is going to upgrade. If you also change the way the interface works, people might upgrade if it seems like an improvement, but they might eventually upgrade just because everyone else has it and they don't.

But if you change the way the software looks, you don't need to do a goddamn thing to get people to upgrade, as long as you stop selling the old version. Because the new version looks new, and the old version looks old. You don't want software that looks old, do you? Software that looks like something your grandma would use?

I read an article recently on why Windows Vista didn't sell very well. As Tycho of Penny Arcade put it, "Vista turned a good machine, one capable of running all the latest software, into a reeking shitbox," and such a problem is difficult for any piece of software to overcome But there was the additional reason that you couldn't convince anyone that they needed it, because they kind of didn't. Windows XP allowed people to do pretty much everything they already wanted to do with their computers. (In some cases, Windows 98 did that as well.) Upgrading often means that things that worked before don't work anymore, and usually also means upgrading your hardware in addition to the OS. For a release like Windows 95, it was worth all those headaches, and I think anyone who used Windows 3.1 would agree with me. Since then, people have pretty much only upgraded their OS when they bought a new computer, and in the 80s and 90s, it was pretty important to buy a new computer every couple of years, because of how quickly hardware was advancing, with software advancing to take advantage of the new hardware.
But the rate of such changes that are relevant to average people has plummeted in the last decade. Graphical interfaces, multitasking, SimCity, porn, email, shopping, and dating sold a lot more new computers than nearly anything we’ve come up with since 2000 except malware. (I honestly believe that malware carried computer sales for most of the last decade. That only worked because we’ve taught people, with a combination of misinformation and omission, two great lies: that computers slow down over time, and that the only way to fix a malware infestation is to buy a new computer.)
What I can perceive about the Windows 7 upgrade is that it is all the new features of Vista (and more), but without all the bullshit. As a Mac user, though, I am not paying much attention to it. An update for OS X was recently released, called Snow Leopard. Its pros are that it is only $30 and it takes advantage of current hardware to drastically accelerate computer performance. The cons: many people find it to be fairly buggy, particularly with Adobe CS4 applications. That is somewhat damning, as upgrades go, but I'll probably upgrade once they have the bugs worked out, because it seems like it might actually be a useful upgrade.

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