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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger




Debunking The Myth Of "Dead" Software
August 17th, 1999

One thing that bothers me a lot on the Internet - and computing in general - is how people consider software dead for just any reason. It seems almost anyone is able to declare that an application is no good anymore for any motive. I think we have to end this trend and here is why.

In the last few years I have noticed the damage a simple rumor or bad report can do. Think about DR-DOS. Some accused Microsoft of spreading false compatibility issues about it to ensure it would never compete with MS-DOS. Microsoft's hardball tactics worked.

The best example I could come up with, though, is a recent case on the Macintosh platform. Claris Emailer. Anybody who read me at MacSoldiers before I came to The Mac Observer knows what I am about to say. Rumors about its death and false reports coming from Apple representatives (who strangely never named themselves) did great damage to this program's prestige.

The first outrageous myth is whether an application is under development or not. The minute people hear that their favorite software will not get an update for an undetermined period, they assume its dead. They take for granted that the next system update will beat it to pieces and they make their heads hurt trying to find out what other software to adopt before it is too late.

What a load of manure! When did this become a valuable argument? When Symantec hesitated to update Norton Utilities after Apple's Mac OS 8.1 release (remember the HFS+ compatibility issue), a big bunch of users thought that Norton was just a dead corpse and that they had to buy TechTool Pro. A few months of patience showed me right and Symantec pulled Norton Utilities 4.0 out in 1998. This year at Macworld NY, they caught us by surprise and announced Norton Utilities 5 for September. Is Norton Utilities dead? No. Does it run well on many people's Macs? Yes. Do not reply that it messed up your Mac for nothing. Both Norton and TechTool caused problems in various circumstances, so this is a non-issue.

The Emailer case is a bit different. Rumors stated it would "break" under Mac OS 8.5 and strangely, it still runs here under Mac OS 8.6. It works as well for me as it did when I installed version 2.0 on my Mac in November 1997. This is despite the fact that its last update took place on January 22, 1998. I could go on with other examples, but you get the point.

The second aspect of the question is about what you hear. I mentioned earlier that rumors and "reports" are dangerous. When you read something - especially compatibility issues - you have to be careful about it and find out how truthful it is yourself.

If anybody says there is a huge conflict when you run your favorite e-mail application after installing the latest Mac OS update, make sure to reproduce the bug yourself! Word of mouth and gossip are extremely powerful. What you hear or what you read is not always the truth just because somebody pretends it is. This is why software developers always try to reproduce a bug before they believe a report. If they succeed, then they tackle the problem.

This habit to declare software dead for any reason makes me wonder whom it serves. If people give up on what they use now because they hear it is dead meat; does it serve the developer who welcomes them? Does the Mac user really benefit from using the latest version of a product replacing his former choice? Does that person win in features and reliability? Not all the time. To encourage switching makes them a part of the pitiful upgrade frenzy that goes on all the time. This serves software makers more than anyone.

I have a few old applications on my hard disk. ResEdit 2.1.3, StuffIt Lite 3.6 and JPEG View 3.3.1. They are all dated 1994 in the Get Info dialog box and they still work very well. Weird -- is it? No. Software is like music. As long as you can use it, it is alive. Just avoid following other people like a sheep. In short, do not emulate PC habits on your Mac!

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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