Upgrades earn marks

As we get into the thick of the federal buying season, software upgrade
questions are everywhere. Some users are dealing with Microsoft Windows 98 and new (to
them) applications. Many administrators will soon be dealing with Novell NetWare 5.0. Next
year will bring another round of office suites.


On Page 20 of our July 13 issue, we ran a sample from a barrage of letters on Power
User John McCormick’s column about Corel WordPerfect 8 and its purported flaws
caused, he said, by feature bloat and inattention to longtime users. Our curmudgeonly
McCormick even rhapsodized about the speed and ease of WordPerfect 4.2, which prompted
some yelling at us to start reporting on things readers care about.


But so many other readers chimed in to agree with McCormick that it was clear to me
we’d hit a real nerve. In many federal offices, we learned, old versions of favorite
products persist for years after their purported obsolescence. Why? They work and are
familiar, like that duct-taped recliner Frasier’s dad uses in the TV sitcom.


I still use an MS-DOS word processor because I’m comfortable with it and because,
unlike Microsoft Word in Office 97, it runs fast, even under Win95, on my 200-MHz
Hewlett-Packard Co. Vectra VL PC and my aging 133-MHz Dell Computer Corp. Dimension XPS.


It’s easy to bash upgrades. Yet in truth, many of them are unwelcome only because
people haven’t yet mastered the new features. Not to contradict my own columnist, who
has dealt with computers since I was in grade school worrying about nuclear fallout, I
still want to put in at least one good word for upgrades. They can be helpful.


As one example, GCN recently upgraded to Novell’s GroupWise 5.2 groupware. At
first I hated it because, among other things, it anticipates a recipient’s e-mail
address as you type it.


Gradually, though, I’ve come to realize it learns your frequent
correspondents’ addresses and therefore saves time. And it lets you type
someone’s name if you can’t remember the e-mail convention. Going with its flow,
you can work faster.


True, GroupWise—and every other application—has more bells and whistles than
any person will ever be aware of, let alone use. These functions consume disk space and
often cause instability. In many instances, though, the short-term hassle of upgrades can
be worth it.


Thomas R. Temin
Editor
editor@gcn.com

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