Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Upgrading Application Software: Problems and Perspectives

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Upgrading Application Software: Problems and Perspectives

Article excerpt

Whether or not to update an old version of an application program is a perplexing issue in most libraries. The author counsels librarians responsible for making such judgments to avoid impetuous conclusions and examine every aspect of the problem using ten guidelines which will yield the information needed to form a sound resolution. The author then examines the Internet, client/server LAN architecture, developments in contemporary stand-alone systems, and graphic user interfaces to determine their impact on the upgrading process.

The Problem

I was once asked by a colleague from another university to attend an upcoming meeting of his school's academic computing committee. When I requested an explanation for this unexpected invitation, Bill replied, "Jim, we need your input into a topic which is troubling us. Six months ago, we upgraded the spreadsheet we support in academic computing. Within the last three weeks, the software manufacturer released a new version of our spreadsheet for general use. Do you think we should upgrade again? If you think an upgrade is advisable, should we do it now or later? Would you be willing to share your thoughts on this matter with the other members of my group?"

This committee confronted one of the most perplexing dilemmas facing all who use computers: when is it appropriate to upgrade application programs? Are there any guidelines to help solve this problem?

Two Traditional Viewpoints On Upgrading Software

Most people are aware of only two schools of thought on this perplexing issue. Adherents of the first group try to remain as current as is possible with the latest developments in software technology. They purchase upgrades of software packages whenever available. This can become rather costly, both in terms of money and the psychological well-being of staff members, but those who subscribe to this outlook believe such expenses are justified by having access to the most up-to-date version of their software.

The other perspective is more cautious in its approach. Its disciples raise such issues as the following: if a ten-year-old software package is still functional, why replace it? After all, it will take time to learn a new software package, time which may be more profitably spent in productive work. Moreover, new software is expensive, and not just in terms of the software alone. A new program may require additional hardware to perform properly. As long as it is possible to even marginally utilize aging software, it is in the best interests of the organization to do so, regardless of how the old software performs compared to newer packages.

Both viewpoints are presented here in an extreme manner, but this was done to illustrate the basic tenets of each outlook. The first group is prepared to upgrade at any moment, while the latter only reluctantly acknowledges the need to replace existing software packages. Neither perspective is judicious for the professional librarian.

The Third Viewpoint

In contrast to these philosophies, a third position exists, one which demands more analysis than the mechanical reactions already mentioned. This perspective argues that librarians (and all computer users) should evaluate their current application software in light of both their needs and the present state of development of hardware and software to determine for themselves if an upgrade is appropriate. By holding fast to this viewpoint, librarians will not impulsively purchase every new upgrade of each software package used by the library (thereby saving their institution money and their staff anxiety), nor will they be content with utilizing aging software when its practical life is over. Instead, librarians will make informed judgments which can serve as the basis for action.

Seasoned library and computer managers realize that upgrading to a new version of an application can give their staff members an enormous amount of stress. …

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