We all seem obsessed with having the latest and greatest technology. Some people buy every new and upgraded smartphone or iPad that comes out, even if they don’t need the upgrade. It’s become a given – of course we’ll upgrade to the latest operating system and any other software that’s offered to us. Why wouldn’t we?
In reality, there are lots of good reasons to be skeptical of operating system upgrades. Ask anyone who installed Microsoft’s Windows ME over their Windows 98 systems and was unable to use Windows ME’s shiny new features because their computer started blue-screening all the time (this happened to me!), This is an example of why upgrading for the sake of upgrading isn’t a good idea.
This doesn’t apply to security updates such as the ones available via Windows Update, of course. You should always install security updates as soon as possible.
New versions of operating systems and other software may remove features you depend on in your current operating system. One of the most recent and significant examples was Apple’s iOS 6. iOS 6 removed Google Maps, which many users depended on, and introduced Apple’s “most powerful mapping service ever,” which offered much less coverage throughout most of the world and no public transit directions.
iOS users who upgraded immediately and found Apple Maps wasn’t good enough were left scrambling for a decent mapping app, with James temporarily switching to an Android phone just so he could use Google Maps.
iOS users who hung back and stuck with iOS 5 because it suited their needs could continue using Google Maps. Google eventually released a Google Maps app for iOS 6. At this point, iOS users could upgrade to the latest version without ever losing access to Google Maps.
When upgrading, be sure you’re not giving up a feature you depend on – there’s no point in getting a shiny new OS that doesn’t do what you need it to do. You may want to wait until the new operating system suits you, as people held onto iOS 5 until Google Maps was ready.
If you love Windows Media Center and upgrade to the standard edition of Windows 8, you’ll have to upgrade to the Pro version and then buy the Windows Media Center software separately, which will cost you over $100 in total to keep using the feature you depend on. If you use Windows XP Mode on Windows 7 Pro, you’ll have to migrate to another virtual machine solution on Windows 8. New operating systems don’t just add features, they also take them away.
Upgrading to the latest version of Windows can be rather pricy. Buying an upgrade edition of Windows 8 will currently cost you $120. Windows 8 may be faster to boot and a bit snappier than the previous versions of Windows, but if you’re upgrading just for that speed improvement, you’d be a lot better off using that $120 for a hardware upgrade – a solid-state drive or some more RAM will offer more speed improvements.
This doesn’t apply to all operating systems, as some upgrades are available for free, but the cost of upgrading should be taken into account. You’ll probably get the new operating system when you buy a new computer anyway, so why shell out additional money for an expensive software upgrade now?
This also applies to other software, like Microsoft Office. We’ve advised you not to buy Office 2013 if you already have Office 2010. It isn’t a big enough upgrade, and you can do most things on Office 2010. In truth, many home users would be fine with the ten-year-old Office 2003, cloud-based Google Docs, or free LibreOffice. The upgrade probably isn’t worth the price.
Some new operating systems are half-baked. Witness Microsoft’s Windows ME, notorious for its blue-screens, bugs, and crashes. Also consider Windows Vista, which was unstable in its initial release. Vista may have been unstable because hardware manufacturers hadn’t yet polished their hardware drivers to a stable enough state, but that’s all the more reason to hang back and wait until the new OS stabilizes.
Businesses often wait for the first service pack to fix problems before upgrading to a new version of Windows, and you may want to do so, too. Windows 8 doesn’t appear as unstable as past releases of Windows, but you should bear in mind that new operating systems can be less stable than old ones and act accordingly when the next buggy operating system is inevitably released.
Performance is becoming less of a concern, as new Windows versions are lighter and better-performing than previous ones. However, devices that could run the previous versions of software may not have the hardware to run the most recent versions at a reasonable enough speed.
For example, many Windows XP systems could never have been upgraded to the heavier Windows Vista without dramatic performance decreases. Users of old iPhones often claim new versions of Apple’s iOS makes the older iPhone hardware progressively slower, even as they add new features.
Some software won’t work on new operating systems. In iPhone land, a jailbreak was unavailable for iOS 6 for quite a while. If you depended on jailbreak software, you should have waited until a jailbreak for iOS 6 was ready before upgrading from iOS 5. This cycle will likely repeat itself with iOS 7.
On Windows, some businesses may have business-critical software that doesn’t work on new versions of Windows. Businesses with large computer deployments generally test their software to make sure it runs properly on new versions of Windows before upgrading, and you should exercise similar caution with your important software.
New operating systems may be incompatible with hardware you still use. For example, Windows 8 includes a revamped printing system that requires printer-driver upgrades. Your existing printer may not work properly on Windows 8. Is it really worth upgrading if you have to throw out a perfectly good printer and buy a new one? You’ll likely have to upgrade eventually as you buy new hardware, but it may be time to buy a new printer by then, anyway.
Your Current OS is Supported
In the case of Windows, Microsoft supports old versions of Windows for quite a long time. Windows XP is still currently “supported” — it will receive security updates from Microsoft until April 8, 2014. Windows 7 will be supported with security updates until 2020.
When it comes to Windows, there’s no need to rush along to the latest version when Microsoft supports each version of Windows with security fixes for a decade.
Businesses will run into training costs if they attempt to upgrade to a new operating system. Windows 7, which wasn’t hugely different from Windows XP, still required businesses to train their employees in the way it worked. Windows 8 has a radically different interface and will require businesses to train their employees about its new “Modern” interface and lack of a Start menu.
You’re probably not in charge of a business network, but you’ll have to train yourself (and possibly your family members) in the way a new operating system works if you upgrade to it. If you’re a tech geek, this may sound like fun, but if you’re just trying to get work done on your computer, this may just waste your time.
You May Still Want to Upgrade
We’re not advising you never to upgrade your operating system. Instead, we’re trying to get you to slow down and examine operating system upgrades rationally. Is there a significant benefit to upgrading? What are the downsides? What will it cost you, in addition to the time needed to perform the upgrade and set up your system again? Can you use all your software after you’re done, or will you need to hunt down replacements? What about your hardware? Is the new operating system worth the upgrade, or is it missing critical features, unstable, or slow?
Exercise some thought and you won’t end up with an unstable computer, a smartphone that can’t use Google Maps, or a desktop computer with a “touch-first” interface designed for tablets that you don’t want.
Thanks to our readers for their interesting discussion over at MakeUseOf Answers, which inspired this article. Feel free to chime in in the comments with your own opinions!
Image Credit: David Pursehouse on Flickr