In Praise of Older Software

SAN FRANCISCO (03/30/2000) - My job requires me to be familiar with the latest software; I even keep a separate computer to test new programs. But on my main computer--the one I use to write articles, read e-mail, and track expenses--I run Quicken 98, Office 97, Sidekick 95, and America Online Inc. 4.0. And that's all running on the original (pre-SE) version of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 98.

Nine times out of ten, there's no compelling reason to upgrade. Whatever wonderful new features version x.0 offers must be weighed against all of the flaws that new software inevitably contains.

Performance Hits

It's a good thing that computers keep getting faster, because programs keep getting slower. In 15 years of covering the industry, I have never seen an exception to the rule that the new version will be slower than the old one.

(Mind you, I've heard countless software vendors promise that their forthcoming upgrade would be an exception, but it never is.)Want a concrete example? Try booting the original Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE.

I did clean, new installs of each on the same Celeron-466. With the original version, the computer took 45 seconds to go from the moment I pressed the On button until the password prompt came up. Windows SE? Two minutes and 20 seconds--more than three times as long.

Hog-Like Behavior

Install a Windows program and your computer will never be the same. Every installation routine alters Windows to the point where other programs may stop working. And new programs usually alter your system more than old ones.

Consider AOL 5.0. Reports of its problems have been legion, including an installation that fiddles with your network settings, possibly wiping out your other network connections. And getting rid of the program can involve reformatting your hard drive. (See "America Online 5.0: Handle With Care" link at right.)Steep Learning CurvesJust because you've mastered a program doesn't mean you won't have to master it all over again. There's no guarantee that the new version will behave like the old one, or that it will even be as easy once you've mastered it.

For instance, Microsoft Word power-users went through shock when they switched from Office 95 to Office 97. Why? Because Word 97 replaced Word 95's intuitive macro language, Word Basic, with the entirely different and much more difficult Visual Basic for Applications. Word 2000, in turn, brought a number of other new puzzles.

And that's not all. New versions sometimes lack features found in the old one.

And, of course, there are always bugs. True, there were bugs in the old version, but since it was smaller, there weren't as many. Besides, you at least knew what the bugs were.

The latest version is likely to be buggy, slow, difficult to learn, and prone to taking over your computer. And one more thing: You're expected to pay money for it.

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