IDG logo

Advertise with InfoWorld

SiteMap News Test Center Opinions Forums Careers Stock Quote Subject Indexes About Us Search Subscribe Home [Window Manager]

February 19, 1996

Upgrading can be painful, but relief is on the way

Software seems to grow ever more complex, especially Windows software. New versions of software provide us with new features but also give us new files and drivers to load and keep updated. As software developers receive feedback from users after a software publisher has released a new product, the bugs and anomalies that slipped through the beta-testing phase are suddenly recognized and minor maintenance releases are prepared. This creates a new round of upgrades, which must also be tested and then installed over the earlier version of the software.

Corporations find this kind of rapid update cycle a challenge. In a giant company, with thousands of configurations of computers in hundreds of branch offices or subsidiaries, the upgrade process is full of stumbling blocks.

When you consider testing the new version for compatibility with older software, developing new procedures to install the new version, planning staff training on any new or improved features, and then actually installing the new software, the whole process can take as long as 12 months before every workstation in the corporation has been completely upgraded.

Even for those companies that are (wisely) using more efficient install techniques -- such as installation of software across a network instead of directly from floppy disks or CD-ROMs -- the upgrade process still requires much the same testing and training.

The constant evolution of software versions also causes headaches for software publishers. As if it weren't hard enough just to write the stuff, software companies also have to deal with the distribution and marketing of the new versions through wholesale dealers, retail stores, and other channels.

One of the problems facing software publishers is that dealers and retailers have great leeway to simply send back any software boxes they don't want or need anymore. A publisher announcing a new version takes a major risk that stores nationwide will return quantities of the "now-obsolete" software, threatening financial ruin in some cases.

This winds up being a problem for software consumers and corporate buyers alike. Software publishers don't like to publicize the existence of minor revisions. These revisions are often slip-streamed into the channel in boxes that bear little or no indication that, for example, Version 2.0 is now Version 2.0a. But the new "a" improvements might be just the thing a Windows user or corporate software buyer needs at that moment. Without checking constantly, software users won't know when some vital feature of their software would benefit from a quick upgrade.

A solution to this problem may be upon us. The new availability of telecommunications choices and the explosion of PC users with modems are creating a market for a new way to upgrade software.

I call this method "self-healing software." This kind of software upgrades itself by periodically calling a central phone number -- using the PC's modem -- and automatically downloading and installing any new software components that may have become available since the last product upgrade.

Microsoft Corp.'s Microsoft Network is supposed to do something such as this for Windows 95. But self-healing software doesn't rely on a proprietary network. Instead, it works with any modem to dial a BBS based at headquarters or a World Wide Web site (for those products mainly used by people with Internet connections).

Next week, I'll look at some Windows products that are starting to use self-healing methods of software upgrading.

Brian Livingston is the coauthor of the new Windows 95 Secrets and author of three other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

Missed a column? Go back for more.

Copyright © 1996 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


Copyright © 2002. InfoWorld Media Group, Inc. is a member of complies with the ASME guidelines with IDG extensions For New media.