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Forced software upgrades can add up for Vista users

A lot of legacy programs may not get free compatibility

By Eric Lai
March 4, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Windows users contemplating the cost of upgrading to Vista may need a fatter wallet than they thought.

Besides shelling out for faster hardware, users should expect to pay for Vista upgrades for many of their favorite Windows software.

Rather than releasing free patches to update existing versions, leading vendors such as Adobe Systems Inc., Symantec Corp. and Intuit Inc. are choosing to add Vista compatibility only to new releases or still-in-development future products. Most of these new versions will add significant features along with Vista compatibility. And, vendors will argue, if Vista compatibility is a new feature, what's unfair about packaging a new feature only in new versions of their software, rather than going back and patching aging versions nearing the end of their product life cycle?

Still, many customers who are happy with their existing software may look askance at what they consider less-than-subtle attempts to coerce them to upgrade. And that, according to analysts, could rebound on Microsoft as well as Windows software vendors by prompting users to hold off Vista upgrades or consider switching to another operating system altogether.

Technical shift from XP to Vista seen as 'incremental'

How software vendors handle transitions for operating systems has long been a delicate, high-stakes issue. Move to a new platform too slowly, and you risk ending up like Lotus Software's 1-2-3, the dominant spreadsheet on DOS in the late 1980s that lost its lead to Microsoft Excel in part because it was belatedly ported to Windows.

But abandon an older platform too quickly, and you risk alienating loyal, long-term users.

Microsoft claims that there are already "thousands of applications" compatible with Vista, according to a spokeswoman. She acknowledged, however, that few have been formally tested.

Some outside experts agree, pointing out that in the grand scheme of Windows' evolution, the shift from XP to Vista is relatively minor. "Going from Windows 95 and 98 to Windows 2000 and XP was a revolutionary shift. The move from XP and Vista is more incremental," said Scott Matsumoto, a principal consultant at software consulting firm Cigital Inc. In general, porting software from XP to Vista will require developers to "make lots of little changes," rather than massive rewrites, he said.

That's unlikely to be the view shared by vendors actually bearing the cost of developing, testing and supporting their software on different platforms.

Most affected: security and multimedia software

Enhancements to Vista's security and installation process are causing extra work for security and disk utility vendors. Meanwhile, a new graphics infrastructure such as the DirectX 10 API and Windows Presentation Foundation are creating headaches for game and multimedia vendors.

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