Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Constant Change: The 4-Year Cycle for Software and Hardware: As the Software We Use Gets Phased out, the Hardware We Once Abandoned Is Making a Comeback. (the View from the Top Left Corner)

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Constant Change: The 4-Year Cycle for Software and Hardware: As the Software We Use Gets Phased out, the Hardware We Once Abandoned Is Making a Comeback. (the View from the Top Left Corner)

Article excerpt

It's no secret that all aspects of information technology are changing at a rate that's impossible to keep up with. This is true of both hardware and software. The life cycle of any one element appears to be about 4 years. That's not to say that we don't regularly push these elements beyond this scale, but if we had all the funding necessary and all the procedures in place, we'd be on a never-ending 4-year cycle for nearly everything.

From a software standpoint, excepting "library systems software" as a special case, this cycle is built into support. Windows 95 is no longer supported at all by Microsoft. Support ended in November 2001. Windows 2000 support will end in the summer of 2004. This may seem contradictory, but Microsoft has an odd way of phasing out support. The initial period of 4 years is followed by a more brief "extended" period where they'll still talk about it, but they won't really do much about it. In other words, no service packs will be published and Microsoft and other companies will likely have their attention focused elsewhere. Windows 95 just finished its "extended" period. From now on, no one is going to check to see if new applications are compatible with Windows 95. We cannot expect new video or printer drivers to be created. Windows 95 has entered the Black Hole period of its existence.

New operating systems are issued about every 18 months. You can expect the successor to Windows XP to be available in the summer of 2003. Therefore, at any given time you will be faced with two operating systems that are in the middle of their life cycles. Today, this includes Windows 98 and Windows 2000. You'll also be faced with two more operating systems, Windows 95 on the low side and Windows XP just coming up. Oh, and there is Windows NT 4.0 to worry about as well. They all have their little differences, so you'll just have to keep all five operating systems in your head at one time.

Being always on the cutting edge, 90 percent of our OPACs are running Windows 95 on 166-MHz Pentiums. Oh, they're still adequate for basic Web searching, but they are a pain to keep running. Windows 2000, on the other hand, has some very handy features that help you keep things in order. The "restricted user" option is my favorite. No longer can the little darlings download and install Yahoo! Messenger and MSN games. It just doesn't work anymore. Sorry! Sure there are ways to lock 95 down. I think we've tried them all, but with a constant amount of evil in the world, every little tweak to stop something is followed by breaking something else. With 2000, the problem just goes away.

Dubious Efficiency and Higher Costs for Support

From the operating system perspective there are clear advantages to upgrading. I'd like these changes to take place a little more slowly, myself, but I'm surely taking advantage of the improvements as they come through. From an applications software standpoint, I'm not nearly as sold on constant upgrades. Frankly, I'd be pretty happy with Microsoft Word 6.0. Lots of folks out there are still on Word 97. At a certain point the creeping featuritis we see in software gets a bit absurd. I don't see how placing a leering paperclip at the bottom of the screen helps me get serious work done.

This is especially true in our library systems software. The big push to graphical doesn't strike me as being entirely sensible for all modules. In certain cases it makes a lot of sense. For example, for the online catalog or for cataloging itself. But for circulating a book? Come on, you're just wanding bar codes! Simplicity means easier training, and the fact is, our staff has the current telnet-based system memorized. It's on a Windows 98 machine, to be sure, meaning that if the system fails, you can click on the backup system and have it instantly appear. That's a clear advantage.

I'm much more concerned about the infrastructure behind our library systems. …

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