2 min read

New, but not necessarily improved

The IT industry thrives on bringing out new products, but some of them are duds

New things can be a lot of fun for everyone.

Users enjoy the novelty of interesting toys, and vendors and resellers develop nice new revenue streams as they cater to the whims of their customers. The less-than-fun part is when the “new and improved” products, well, aren’t. When an upgrade downgrades functionality, it leaves customers puzzled and unhappy

Or sometimes even customers who are dead in the water, such as the poor souls who discovered that the upgrade to McAfee’s VirusScan 8.5i disabled their Lotus Notes. This, admittedly, is a monster bug, not a feature, and has both IBM and McAfee scrambling, but other vendors have made deliberate changes that efficiently torpedo third- party software.

We only need consider the number of things that don’t work under Internet Explorer 7 (little things, like Citrix) to see how people can be “improved” into oblivion. If Microsoft hadn’t provided a way to prevent the forced upgrade to IE 7 in corporations, there probably would have been lawsuits!

Lawsuits have been the cause of some irritating “upgrades”, too. During Palm and Xerox’s (now settled) squabble over Graffiti, a second handwriting product called Graffiti 2 was introduced that didn’t offend the lawyers, but confused and annoyed original Graffiti users. It’s just different enough to wreak total havoc for the Graffiti wizards who could once enter text at lightning speed.

You’ve got to wonder what dictionary some of these folks were using when they got their definition of “improved.” Or maybe the word didn’t enter the equation – the operative term was “new”, and therefore, in theory at least, a generator of fresh revenue – or perhaps a solution to an expensive problem.

Sometimes, however, technology changes do people in because vendors, for whatever reasons, don’t keep up. As serial ports have disappeared from computers, for example, one would think that people who sell products that connect to that port might rethink their strategy and change to USB. Yet virtually every recent review of Cisco equipment I’ve done has concluded with the observation that the company really needs to change its console cables to USB, since laptops with nine-pin ports are an endangered species.

There may be good technical reasons for maintaining the nine-pin interface (or Cisco Systems may just have had a surfeit of pretty blue serial cables), but it’s making it more difficult to do direct console connections.

Thankfully, the equipment can usually be managed over the network.

All this only goes to show that improvement is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder in question has to be the poor soul who actually has to use the product. New isn’t necessarily better, but maintaining the status quo isn’t always the right answer, either.

The trick is to enhance the product without improving people into oblivion!