How to Know When to Update Your Software

Updating your software is one of the best investments you can make for your small business.

I frequently hear people complaining about the so-called costly updates to the Mac operating system software, the “OS.” Apple has been on a good run, and so there have been fee-based version upgrades about once a year since 2000. By comparison, Windows has not had an upgrade since 2001 (unless you are a business user and have purchased the recently released Vista. Where is the good news in here?

Personally, I’d rather pay the nominal fee and get the terrific upgrade than wait for years and deal with a leaky, low performance OS. The cost of OS upgrades are so small, compared to the other expenses of your business. Each version upgrade for the Mac OS for example, is about $129 or $199 for a pack of 5 (link has expired). This is so cheap! But each new version does so much more, not least of which is add security to your computer. As we all know, the virus writers just love looking for holes. Keeping your OS (and your virus definitions) up to date is essential for a smooth running business.

We use a really simple formula for determining how often to upgrade software: the more you use it, the more valuable it is to you to have the most current version.

h3. How Often to Upgrade?

That naturally means we start with the operating system on your computer. This is the brain that runs the rest of your computer and supervises your other software applications. It can extend or limit your capacity in a web browser, in an email program, and in virtually every other software tool you use. So it goes without saying that if you are on a Mac, and you look under the blue apple logo in the menu, when you click “About this Mac” ideally it will say “Mac OS X Version 10.4.8.” If you are on a PC go to Start > Control Panel and then double-click on System. Ideally it will say Windows XP for Home use o Vista for enterprise business customers.

h3. Web Browser and Email

After the OS, most people use email and a web browser next most frequently. Using Firefox or Safari are great because they update themselves in the background for you and have so many features that are not available in Internet Explorer, even the most recent version 7. (As a sidebar, you might be interested to know that we spend an additional 10% of time when launching a new web site just getting it to work in IE, because this browser does not support web standards.)

Next in line is your email software. If you are on a PC, we recommend the Thunderbird application. It is open-source, free, and frequently updated, It has countless extensions that add functionality to it. If you are on a Mac, you can use Thunderbird, but we are actually switching back to Apple Mail. It has improved dramatically since first released a few years ago and its integration with other applications on your computer is amazing. Check out Hawk Wings blog for more Apple Mail tips.

Caveat: If you have custom applications or doubts about the newest version of a piece of software, it’s a good idea to wait a few weeks or months and read the reports from others before deciding to upgrade.

In my next post I’ll give you some real life examples where having upgraded software pays off for your business, especially if you want to play successfully on the internet.

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