Sunday, May 23, 2010

Great technology obsolescence

One of the greatest tragedies of new technology is the ever growing problem of legacy technology.  Software, hardware, middleware, operating systems… you name it.  Especially as it relates to computer technology. 

Unfortunately, the continual push to better/newer technology is that the old technology slowly slips into oblivion.  Take Apple computer for instance… OS X is a fantastic advancement beyond OS 9.  But, what if I’m happy with OS 9?  What about an iPod, can you still use that generation 1 iPod with your fancy new Apple MacBook Pro?  NO CAN DO!

This week, the challenge is Windows Server 2003.  It’s old hat now.  The new technology is Server 2008 R2.  W2K3 is so old now that it will enter extended support by Microsoft on July 17, 2010.  That lack of support by Microsoft also means that any new hardware that comes out after that date will not likely be supported by any vendor. 

But forget about support in a few months.  There are problems with driver support even now.  Broadcom, a network technology vendor for many companies in the server hardware business, is now only providing a packaged driver setup for their hardware.  It seems, even their technology has outgrown Windows Server 2003. 

Don’t get me wrong, the problem I referring to here can be dealt with.  Though it’s not simple, easy or fun, the problem can be solved.  That said, it serves my point well.  You can keep it alive for a while longer, but the returns are ever diminishing because of vanishing vendor support. It gets progressively more difficult to do simple tasks.

I believe that this is one reason that businesses have so much angst over technology.  Vendors have taught them well that if they commit to a given technology, that there is no guarantee how long that technology will be around to depend on.

I’ll give you another great example of technology rot: Television.  Have you been to the electronics store lately?  Did you see even one CRT television anywhere in the store?  Not likely.  Everything is flat.  Everything is HD.  If you’re at all like me, you probably have 10+ year old television that your still making work because, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.  It’s not your fault that the TV stations don’t broadcast in the format the TV came out of the box with.  It’s not your fault that someone came along and decided that they were too good for a square size program. 

Eventually, we all give into the new technology, not necessarily because it’s better, but sometimes mostly because the old version was made obsolete by something newer or fancier, but not necessarily better.

I see it from the vendor side too.  I develop software.  I know what it means to release a new version that fixes everything about the old version that you just hated or tweaks that one little thing that didn’t quite work right.  As a provider of anything, you strive to make your product better every time you release it.  As you improve your product, your' expertise moves to the new product and away from the old because that is where you now spend all your time. 

So, what’s the answer to the problem?  I do know that some companies are better at it than others (this takes the Windows vs Apple argument to a whole new level).  My goal is to design everything I build to work with new features as much as possible while preserving what’s old. I don’t always succeed, but at least I’ve thought about it and worked hard to keep things working for everyone for as long as possible.