Software upgrades have all the grace of dancing elephants

Long-time readers will recall my opinion of software upgrades: Most are useless. A few
have really good tools. The rest contribute little except thrilling new ways to corrupt
data and waste time on help lines.


But I'm schizophrenic about upgrades. It's been several years since I found a really
useful one that would speed or improve my basic working systems. Nevertheless, I make a
lot of upgrades to test systems to keep up with the times.


Could future upgrades get easier? A Santa Monica, Calif., company called CyberMedia
Inc. claims to have taken a step along that road with its Oil Change software for
Microsoft Windows, due out this fall. It's called Oil Change because it's supposed to keep
upgraders from getting their hands dirty.


The software compiles a database of your current Windows applications, then contacts a
registry of new releases and offers to download the latest ones for you--an intriguing
concept.


One upgrade that's going to be surprisingly time-consuming is the move from Windows NT
3.51 to 4.0 You say you already have NT-compatible software installed on your Windows 95
systems, so the upgrade to 4.0 should be fast and easy? Think again.


Nobody bothered to warn you that NT applications will need some code installed that's
different from their Win95 versions. If you have Microsoft's Systems Management Server,
the problem will be lessened, because SMS automatically installs software across the
network. But if you've upgraded a couple hundred PCs to Win95 expecting a painless
migration to NT 4.0 later, you'll probably have to reinstall most or all of your
applications. Hold onto those original disks.


This isn't a bug or anything. It's related to the Win95 and NT applications registry
that replaced those cryptic .INI files. The fix is straightforward: Just reinstall all
your programs--one more example of how upgrades aren't as simple as everybody expects.


Remember Cairo? That was the code name for a full NT implementation with such useful
items as a global directory service and an object file system. It's understandable if
you've forgotten about Cairo. After all, Microsoft announced those features in 1993. But
just recently, chairman Bill Gates said early 1998 would be a solid target date for the
next major NT upgrade, the one that will implement most of Cairo. Hope you weren't holding
your breath.


Last year I recommended that users wait for the first big upgrade of Win95 before
jumping on the bugwagon--oops, the bandwagon. About the same time, I seem to remember
Microsoft announcing there would be no major upgrade for quite a while, presumably because
it wasn't needed. Was I wrong about waiting for an upgrade?


Check out the Microsoft Service Pack, on line in many places and on CD-ROM with Win95
drivers. Do these corrections to Win95 qualify as an important upgrade? Maybe not; 13M
isn't very big these days. To find the latest on Win95, visit http:// www.microsoft.com/kb/softlib /and at
the Explore prompt, type Windows 95.


I stopped running IBM's OS/2 when I finally decided that, superior or not, it was a
dead-end operating environment. (I'd given up on Apple Computer Inc. operating systems
much earlier.) But many of you have stuck with Big Blue's OS, and you should know that
Lotus Development's SmartSuite will see a complete IBM overhaul, though not exactly at
warp speed--the complete package won't be ready until the end of next year. However, 1996
will bring new versions of Word Pro and Freelance Graphics.


Merlin, the forthcoming version of OS/2 Warp, will support Sun Microsystems' Java,
indicating that IBM sees the Internet and intranets as a final frontier where it just
might be able to outrace the Windows juggernaut.


That won't happen, but IBM's effort is good news for federal power users of OS/2,
originally conceived as the ultimate in a communications-friendly operating system.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.


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