Why try new software?

I’ve been thinking on why people need to upgrade or change to new pieces of software. It’s just a cobbling together of some thoughts and offers no conclusions.

People never upgrade or change their software just because. There is always a good reason though we may not acknowledge it or quantify it: the UI maybe easier to use, its faster etc. When we try to explain it, we often say ‘it’s better’ but that really is not a very useful statement.

For the most part I find that it is because of forced upgrades . This could be due to security bugs, degrading performance, lack of conformance with new standards and protocols etc. I regularly upgrade any internet software I use for these reasons. Same with upgrading or trying new OSes.

Then you start getting into the subjective territory: non-critical but needed improvements. New features, more flexible or powerful UI, fixing a non-critical bug, better support for my personal mode of work, political or other bias (i.e. an open-source alternative exists) etc. Outside of forced upgrades, this is probably the main reason why I would try new software or upgrade existing pieces. It’s also why I keep my eye open on open-source projects so I can move away from being dependant on several large corporations. Of course non-critical improvements can be come needed with the right amount of ‘marketing’ be it word of mouth, reviews, etc.

The last reason I can think of for upgrading then is avant garde, wanting to be on the bleeding edge. Not so much for me I guess. If stuff works, I’ll keep using it until I’m forced to upgrade or I need or like some sort of non-critical improvement. It’s probably why I still use Winamp. I’m never forced to upgrade it but when I do upgrade it, it supports formats I’ll probably never use. Though it’s probably the reason why I tried Google Talk and played around with Gaim after that.

There are reasons, of course, not to try new software. The main one for me is that what you have works perfectly with the way you work. New software requires effort be installation, relearning methods, importing etc and the perceived pay-off is not worth the perceived effort i.e. the improvement doesn’t sound that useful. Of course this can be changed. It is only perception.

Another reason is bias. You don’t like the company behind it, you swore you’d never use product XYZ, the evangelism of its supporters annoy you, etc. I’m as guilty of this as everyone else.

And the last is fear: fear of being ‘locked in’, of known security issues, price and any other numerous ‘risks’ you can think of.

I don’t believe software is ‘just better’. There is always a good reason. That’s pretty much my conclusion.

For example I used RealPlayer for while because it had one feature I needed, that was that it could download to NetMD (i.e. I could dump the buggy Sony software and DRM it was bundled with). I couldn’t be bothered using any of the other features because existing software that I had worked fine, in fact, my current software supported my way of listening to music much better than RealPlayer did. For example the smaller size of Winamp and minimising to a little icky icon in windows is infinitely more useful to me than a big screen-sized app with web pages and album art and artists profiles. I just want to play my music, in the background, in random. The ‘media database’ feature, even in Winamp, annoys me. I just turn it off.

Anyway this are just some thoughts and meaningless in their worth.

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