I Hate Change or: the Dangers of Getting Attached to Applications and Operating Systems

Change can be difficult. When you’ve invested time and energy in learning something new, especially something as complicated as an operating system (e.g. Windows 98, Windows XP, Mac OS 9), it can be quite frustrating to be told that you should upgrade to something new. Waiting a little while to perform upgrades is actually a good idea. As any early adopter of Windows Vista can tell you, making the switch from Windows XP was extremely painful because there were many kinks to work out of Vista. However, with a few years under its belt, Vista is, arguably, a more secure operating system.

Of course, many users still prefer Windows XP, which is okay, but users need to stay extra vigilant. Hanging on to an older application or operating is fine until the developer stops supporting it and providing updates. This is the case with operating systems such as Windows 98 and Mac OS 9. When, this happens it is important to upgrade! This means switching to any new version of an application or operating system. For example, an upgrade from Windows 2000 could be any version of Windows XP or any version of Windows Vista. An upgrade for Adobe Acrobat Reader would be from Version 8 to Version 9. Upgrades often add new features to software

Updates are different from upgrades in that they work to fix existing problems in software. They are important because they help keep your application or operating system secure. When you apply updates to Windows or Mac OS X, you are improving the security and stability of your computer. Here are some advantages of performing updates:

  1. Bug Fixes: No one is perfect. When a programmer develops an application and distributes it to users, there are often “bugs” waiting to be found. Bugs are simply unexpected situations that cause programs to crash or malfunction. Programs are not smart. They do what they are programmed to do and handle situations that they are programmed to handle. Programmers try to think about all the sorts of things that could go wrong when an application is running in the real world by giving users error messages or warnings. (e.g. If a program asks a user for a date in the format MM/DD/YYYY and the user types in YYYY/MM/DD, the program will ask the user to type the information in correctly.) However, sometimes there are problems which programmers don’t consider. When an application runs into these situations, it could crash, malfunction (i.e. appear to be working correctly, but really processing information incorrectly. This is especially dangerous because users don’t know that something has gone wrong!) Updates often fix these “bugs.”
  2. Security: Bugs can leave your operating system or application open to attack. A bug can be exploited by a virus or an attacker to do bad things to your files or even turn your computer into a zombie computer! Zombie computers can be used to attack other computers, send out spam messages, and even delete or ransom your files.
  3. Improvements: Many developers like getting user input. When they come out with a new version or update for a program, they often add new features which will make the program more useful or usable.

The main reasons to perform upgrades are:

  1. To take advantage of new features. Upgrades often change how existing features work or offer new features altogether.
  2. Your current application / operating system is no longer supported. When your program or operating system is no longer supported by the developer, they will no longer patch the program to ensure that it remains secure. When this happens, it’s important to take the step to upgrade to a supported version of the application or operating system.

The moral of the story is: keep yourself up-to-date to keep yourself sane and your computer secure. OIT Software Support suggests that you use a program called Secunia PSI if you run Windows. Secunia PSI will scan all the programs on your computer and will tell you which ones are out-of-date. It will then show you what to do to update them.

As always, if you have any questions, please call OIT Help Services at 413.545.9400.