CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Upgrading? Consider needs first

Originally published 6/9/97

Cathi Schuler

"Bigger! Better! Faster! New! Buy now!"
Such is the continual hype from the computer industry as it hawks its ever-changing wares at a speed with which the human condition can't possibly keep pace. Are you finally approaching a comfort level with Office 95 products Word and Excel? Pity. Office 97 is now the rage and clearly better, according to marketing claims.

How 'bout that big jump from your faithful friend WordPerfect 5.1 to Corel WordPerfect 7? It was quite a leap, I realize, but version 8 is just around the corner. And just when think you've finally mastered the intricacies of Windows 95, Microsoft will beckon you to Memphis, code name for its Win95 successor. Promises of faster Internet connectivity mean purchasing new X2 modems after you just bought the 33.6K models.

The endless parade of upgrades represents substantial investment and expenditures in many respects. The first is the expense of the actual upgrade product. It's true that upgrade software, for example, is discounted from the original price, but for a large business with multiple workstations, this still represents a significant expense.

Legally, a license must be purchased for each and every workstation running a software application. Additionally, you're only entitled to the discounted upgrade price for each original program license you own.

Responsible information-services managers must ensure compliance with software licensing regulations to avoid hefty fines -- up to $10,000 per instance of unlicensed software running on company machines.

Also to be considered when evaluating product upgrades are the human learning curve and training time. Countless productivity dollars are lost as employees spend weeks and months endeavoring to understand all the features and nuances of a new computer product.

Clearly, there are many business scenarios in which the long-term benefits of upgrading software and system hardware vastly outweigh the short-term migration pains, but frequently it's simply not necessary to keep up with every product incarnation that rolls off the assembly line.

Let's use the Microsoft Office product Word as an example. The upgrade from Word 6.0 to Word 7.0 represented significant changes in this program, foremost of which were the 32-bit code enhancements designed for the Windows 95 operating system. This upgrade is a must for any business trying to stay current and competitive in today's marketplace. The upgrade from Word 7.0 to Word 97, however, I would characterize as optional.

This upgrade of the popular word-processing application, released in January, is definitely sleek and loaded with bells and whistles, but it's totally comparable to its Office 95 predecessor when it comes to the basics of getting the job done. If you're involved in the design or maintenance of HTML documents for World Wide Web use, however, migration to Word 97 deserves serious consideration. This is the most compelling reason make the switch since HTML features are seamlessly integrated into all components of Office 97.

As for upgrading that modem for faster speed, I readily admit that I bought into all the marketing hype hook, line and sinker. I spent two harried weeks trying to upgrade and configure my relatively new US Robotics 33.6K modem to the X2, 56.6K variety, according to all the USR instructions. I finally gave up in tears.

Not to be outdone, however, I marched out and purchased and brand new USR X2 modem, and it works well most of the time, but I've yet to connect at anything close to 56.6K. Speeds of 33K to 44K are the average bill of fare, and Web pages seem to load as well as they did with my old 28.8 modem. I did notice a marked improvement in the speed of file transfers, however, while uploading and downloading files from server sites.

This is a burgeoning technology, but it still lacks perfection and grace. Standards have yet to be established, and for this reason, you must ensure that your Internet-services provider uses the same brand X2 modems, or your connection will be only as good as 28.8K. Not all phone lines support X2, and older analog lines may not be capable of maximum throughput.

If you're still connecting at 14.4K, an upgrade to 28.8 or 33.6 is a must, but upgrades beyond that may be disappointing, for now.

To upgrade or not to upgrade is both a personal and business decision. Diligent product research and a careful separation of wants and needs will help add clarity to the process.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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