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OS Versions

What do we mean by having Operating system Versions. The most familiar version comes from the world of Microsoft Windows users, who are very familiar with the way Windows 3.11 was abandoned for the incompatible Windows 95, which was abandoned for the Windows XP family of operating systems.

The basic idea behind having distinct operating system versions is to make software support contracts easier to quantify and sell. Additionally it is used to give the marketing department reasons for getting you to update to the next version.

It is an obvious policy to come out of purely commercial software publishing, and initially seems to make sense, but it has a number of implicit assumptions in it which have some costly consequences.

One assumption involved is that it is always better to optimise for more sales with the highest profit margin, but this is not obviously true in the software industry. Producing a new piece of software has an initial cost and a maintenance cost, and the more people who are paying for support, the less each has to pay for each fixed bug.

Another assumption is that of course people will upgrade when you tell them to. Except this one is demonstrably false. What actually happens is that different major groups of users transit from one version to another at different times, and during the overlap, you have to put money into supporting both, and often into fixing the same bug twice.

Often this delay has very good reasons. For example when Microsoft Vista came out, because they broke a lot of the old audio drivers, a lot of people could not move to the new version without radically updating the hardware (not counting the additional resources of memory and CPU speed needed to run it at all).

Another reason is because they have a particular application which has not yet been made compatible with the new OS version, and for which there is no valid alternative. We know of people in the electronics industry who still have dos/Win3.11 machines in use because there still is not an eprom programming hardware/software combination which is is good and as flexible as the old ones.

Often the upgrade path is rather severe. For the user, it makes sense to have the data stored separately, and to be able to dual boot the old version with the new version. In practise, you find that intentionally or not, manufacturers make this as hard as possible.

This can be for a number of reasons, not all of which are malicious. File formats could have changed, making the old and new versions incompatible.