Monday, August 17, 2009

When to Upgrade?

I’m not one of those people who likes to throw good stuff away.

I typically keep my cars at least 10 years, my digital camera’s picture counter just rolled over 10,000 and my 4-year-old son is driving his big sister’s electric powered Barbie Jeep.

Part of this longevity comes from my parents’ insistence that I take care of the things so they’ll last a long time. Another part of this comes from my not wanting to spend money unnecessarily.

Luckily, in my business, I have an opportunity to try many of the new technologies without actually having to buy them.

But what happens when a new technology comes along that I really want? And what do I say when people ask me about when they should upgrade their technology? They’re tough questions. In a business, companies will typically lease equipment. When the lease is up, they can either buy out the lease or return the equipment and start a new lease with new equipment. Other than with automobiles, most individuals don’t lease things.

For most home users, a computer will work far longer than any extended warranty. There are two categories of problems people ask me about regarding their computers.

First, it’s too slow or crashes. This is a function of having loaded a lot of software over the years, typically Web downloads that are needed for video, audio, or whatever. In most instances, these downloads are needed for a specific use, but are rarely, if ever, used again. Since they reside on the computer, they can use extra processor cycles and cause confl icts with other pieces of software.

The easiest solution to this dilemma is to back up your data files, then wipe the hard drive and re-install the necessary pieces of software, typically the operating system (Windows or Macintosh) and applications such as Microsoft Office. I know for me, this is a full weekend of work to perform, so it’s not something I take on lightly. In most cases, this will free up 20 to 30 percent of a hard drive’s space, eliminate most software conflicts and speed up the computer by at least 25 percent.

Second, there’s some new software that people want to run that’s incompatible with their current computer.

For example, if someone wants to run the new Windows 7 operating system, there are certain minimum specifi - cations (CPU and memory) that are needed for it to run satisfactorily. If a computer is below those specifi cations, sometimes the software won’t load or, if it does, the performance will be disappointing. In this case, one needs to decide whether the upgrade is worth buying a whole new computer or not. Cell phones are another challenge.

These days, not a month rolls by without a new shiny phone hitting the market, sometimes it seems like there are dozens of new models — BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, or something else. You may ask yourself, do I need another computer that runs applications or am I just looking for something that makes telephone calls?

Most important to me is the monthly cost of having all these extra services. It’s not unusual for a monthly service plan that includes phone, Internet and texting to cost $100 per phone.

It’s clear to me that with the monthly cost of cell phones rising, that’s leading to more and more homes going without a traditional land line.

When it comes to cell phones, I split my loyalties between my business and personal use. I’m far more interested in a full plan for business-related use than I am for personal use, but that can mean I carry two cell phones. Ugh! And, of course, I can’t forget the time I sent my cell phone through the washing machine. That required a replacement.

My digital cameras are the final challenge. Until recently, I’ve had to maintain two cameras: one for still photos and a second one for video. Both performed their jobs admirably and neither did what the other did. This has been a real pain to carry and manage two cameras.

Now, though, with the advent of the still cameras that shoot “High Defi nition” video, I see that digital photography is pretty close to reaching the proverbial tipping point when an upgrade is desirable.

To me, I upgrade my equipment only when it’s preventing me from doing something I fi nd compelling. That point will be different for each person, but I’ve learned that the longer I wait, the happier I am with the upgrade.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 5 August 2009.
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1 comment:

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