When the Latest Isn't the Greatest

Are you the kind of person who has to have the latest versions of hardware and software? Do you stand in line to buy a new gadget as soon as it’s released? If so, don’t bother to read on; for the rest of us, it’s worth considering if and when to move to a new version.

I generally wait to see how a new product is received before upgrading. I’ve been holding off on moving to Mac OS X 10.6.4 (s aapl), for example, because it’s reported to break some software that I depend on. But for some reason, I decided to upgrade to iOS 4, the latest version of the operating system for my iPod touch, the first day it was available. Unfortunately for those of us who use Exchange (s msft) to sync our mail, calendars, and contacts with Google Apps (s goog), the upgrade required the re-syncing of this data, which in turn slowed Google’s servers to a crawl. It took almost 24 hours before I again had a usable device.

During that time, I got to thinking about the questions I should have asked myself before starting the update. Here’s what I came up with; please add your thoughts in the comments.

  • Do you need the new features of the update? If it fixes security issues, then probably yes. If not, then you should consider whether the update will actually improve your workflow. For example, one of iOS4’s new features is the ability to create “folders,” or groups of applications, on the home screen. Is this important to you, even given its limitations? Another feature is multitasking, which has gotten mixed reviews, at best.
  • What will the update cost? Of course, some new hardware and software isn’t free, but even if the manufacturer isn’t charging, what is the value of the time and effort it will take you to move to the new version? I suspect that evaluations of this question are why many companies are still using Windows XP and IE 6.
  • Are there technical issues in the new version that may cause problems? This is where blogs and discussion forums can be lifesavers. If I had waited only a couple of hours before starting my iOS 4 upgrade, I would have found several posts and threads describing the exact issues I encountered, and would have known to wait until they were resolved.
  • What are the consequences if something goes wrong? How easily can I revert to a previous version? Can I afford down time? Luckily, I wasn’t going anywhere the other day, but if I had been, it would have been very inconvenient not to have access to my email, calendars, and (especially) to my contacts.

How do you decide when to upgrade?

Image by Flickr user .schill, licensed under CC

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