Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Computer Updates Redux

November 2004

By Mike Gould

I talked about computer updates back in 2001, but the issue came up again twice last week, so here's another attempt to get you to update your computer systems in a more timely manner. This time I tackle it from my own perspective: the difficulties I run into when trying to get new stuff to talk to old stuff, and vice versa. And in the computer world, "old" means anything older that 5 years (some would say 3 years). So, check the freshness date on the back of your computer and follow along:

The Case of the Missing Maintenance
I have been pestering a certain graphic designer to update her 5-year-old Mac G3 for a number of years. (Yeah, yeah, another Mac thang - but the following also could also pertain to certain old PCs running Windows 98 and other such geriatric gizmos.) With the advent of the gorgeous new iMac G5 (think: iPod on steroids tilted sideways, with a killer 17" screen…) she finally decided to grab the reins and invest in a new workhorse. The problem: getting her old computer to talk to the new one to transfer her data.

A bit of background: the operating system (OS) is the piece of software that sits between your computer's hardware and its software. It handles communications with the outside world: printers, modems, cable modems, etc., and it directs the flow of ones and zeroes as they wend their mysterious ways hither and yon within and without that metal box under your monitor there.

Periodically, the major vendors (Apple and Microsoft) bestow upon us new versions of OSes, and things get interesting in the support arena. Examples of this are Windows 2000, Windows XP, OS 9 and OS X (OS Ten, for those of you not hip to Roman numerals). Whenever one of these is released (or, in the case of Windows, escapes) the wise computer user will grimace, sigh deeply, buy the new OS, wait a month or so for the bugs to be identified and fixed, and then install this updated mojo. (Or hire me, or somebody like me, to come over and make sure it is done right).

You often have to update other software or random bits of hardware at the same time - the Heartbreak of Cascading Upgrades™. (See my article about this at: http://www.mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.46.shtml). But the point is you want to be doing this on a regular basis, because if you don't, you will be doing it all at once, usually at a time not of your choosing and with even more ensuing chaos than usual. The thing to do is to budget a certain amount of dollars every year for periodic updates and maintenance. This is a necessary cost of doing business and neglecting this will cost you money in the long run. It's also a general rule in the computer arena, and I don't make the rules, so don't get mad at me.

Gould's First Law of Special Relativity
I don't design this stuff, I just try to make it work.

Where was I? Oh yes, the graphic designer with the 5-year-old Mac. Wonderful and gracious in all other aspects, she had been neglecting her updates and was creeping along in OS 8, a system not known for its, um, technical vivacity. A year or so ago I updated her to 8.5, figuring that would do what she needed at the moment (install a new graphics pad, or something), and gave her the stern lecture paraphrased above. She promised to start preparing for an upgrade, and finally got serious last week, contacting me to ease the transition.

Our hope was that we could find a wire that would connect her old and new computer and transfer her data that way - in other words, make old stuff talk to new stuff. Alas, it was not to be. To cut short an otherwise fascinating (to me, anyway) discourse on the shortcomings of various wiring protocols (ethernet, firewire, USB, shoelaces…) and the dangers of FirmWare updates (don't ask), it was not to be. System 8 doesn't know from X and wasn't gonna talk no way. Oh, and her 10-year-old LaserWriter wasn't going to play with the new computer either, so there was the added expense of a new printer. (Conflict with PostScript1 vs PostScript2 support, for the typographically curious out there.)

Zip A Dee Data
Fortunately, she makes regular backups to Zip disks; her data and various projects get copied to Zip and are neatly put away. Therefore we can load her stuff into her new computer one disk at a time via a borrowed (from me) USB Zip drive. Tedious, but it will work. Now if she had been doing regular updates, we could have taken her to OS 9 back when I still remembered all the ins and outs of that, and we could have done the wire thang. And replaced her printer with something a bit more modern that would have served her a bit better these past several years.

(Digression: Zips are fairly obsolete at this point; all the action is in optical media: CD ROMs and DVDs. These are considered much more reliable and time-proof. If you have a vast array of Zip disks, I recommend transferring them to CD or DVD- you can put 7 Zips' worth of data onto one CD and, um, I forget how many onto a DVD. Lots. But don't throw out our Zips in case CDs show some horrible flaw in the future.)

Now I can't be too critical of her attitude; if it ain't broke, don't fix it. She managed to crank out her designs with old, old stuff for many a year. But if she had done incremental updates, the cost would have been spread over those years and she would have had the benefit of faster software and hardware, and a nicer printer in the meantime.

Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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