It’s the best of times and the worst of times whenever Microsoft releases a new operating system (OS). Both business and consumer users are filled with excitement to try out the latest and greatest technology from Redmond, Wash.
All too often, however, the thrill of purchasing a new OS is tempered by the awful realization that key software is not compatible with the upgraded OS. Potential incompatibility is one reason it can take business users up to 18 months to migrate to a new OS.
“Application compatibility is always a concern when there is a release of new software,” Al Gillen, vice president of system software at IDC, told TechNewsWorld.
Does Not Compute
Since all software is unique and interacts differently with the operating system, it is up to software developers to test their applications and notify customers of problems. These notices most often inform users of one of two difficulties.
The first is a minor compatibility issue. The program will run, but some functionality may be impaired. In this case, the software maker will also provide information about a workaround or fix to solve the problem.
In other cases, a message that the software is completely incompatible generally results in users having to purchase brand new software that is compatible.
Users of Intuit’s QuickBooks line of accounting software received the bad news just days after the official release of Windows Vista. Citing the “significant changes” Microsoft made in how its software runs, Intuit informed customers that only software such as QuickBooks 2007, built to run on Vista, would work properly. Users of QuickBooks 2006 and older versions developed prior to Vista would be “adversely affected” and some features including QuickBooks Payroll Service would not function at all, the company said.
QuickBooks Easy Estimate and services such as QuickBooks Standard, Enhanced and Assisted Payroll, Remote Access powered by WebEx, Payroll Premier Payroll PC Access and QuickPayroll are also not compatible with Vista, according to the company. However, the company has provided instructions for those intrepid users determined to try and make it work.
“If you decide to use QuickBooks 2006 or a prior version on a Windows Vista computer, you must be set up as a Windows Administrator and use QuickBooks in Windows XP-Compatibility Mode to help reduce the possibility of problems,” Intuit declared. “Even then, some features such as QuickBooks Payroll, QuickBooks Timer and Shipping Manger will not work.”
Software that could experience problems: older software, including games, built to run on older versions of Windows such as 98, ME or 95; custom designed programs; Virtual Private Network (VPN) or remote access applications; PDA and smartphone syncing software; plug-ins and custom applets for Windows; security software with firewalls and antivirus, or antispyware applications, particularly those used within a corporate network; and retail point of sale applications.
Fatal Exception Error
The central problem users typically confront when dealing with incompatibility issues is not in using the application itself, Gillen said, but in how the software installs. In past versions of the Windows OS, such as Windows 95, 98 and Millennium, software packages overwrote DLLs (Dynamic Link Libraries) or installed in the wrong directories.
In preparation for Vista, Microsoft attempted to correct the situation by working on compatibility issues with the independent software vendors (ISV) in its Readiness Labs and MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network). The Works with Windows Vista and Certified for Windows Vista logo programs were developed to provide resources and information for users, according to the company.
“Microsoft has been trying to change the behavior of the ISVs to install their software properly and put it into the correct directories. In some cases, if the ISVs have not corrected the way they install their applications, they could potentially have compatibility problems with Vista,” Gillen explained.
“I don’t expect that will be the rule, but there will be plenty of exceptions to the rule. There usually are with a new release,” he added.
Microsoft to the Rescue
As Vista was being developed, teams using automation tested more than 1,900 applications from over 150 ISVs against daily builds, according to Microsoft. That, the company said, has increased the compatibility in Windows Vista as OS developers were able to correct problems as they occurred rather than waiting until later in the development process.
Microsoft’s diligence has paid off for some. Vista is very good with compatibility, Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner, told TechNewsWorld.
“There are a few applications that just stopped cold. But as we went through the beta and now with the production product, none of the applications I use on a daily basis have any real issue with Vista,” he claimed.
Some applications can still run into problems as a result of the OS’ increased security. Microsoft’s decision to begin enforcing longstanding product information and user-settings rules to ensure long-term compatibility has also increased the chance that certain software will not run properly.
“There could be applications that get caught on some of those things,” Kleynhans said.
Aware that users could still experience compatibility issues when upgrading to a new OS, Microsoft included features such as the Program Compatibility Assistant to help Vista users gauge whether their older software will function properly. The program will automatically make recommended compatibility changes.
Enterprises can use the Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0 (MACT), a lifecycle management tool, to pinpoint any compatibility problems. The software will identify application compatibility issues for a Windows Vista deployment within a business’ current environment. In addition, Microsoft has also developed an Online Compatibility Exchange businesses can access using a feature within the MACT program. The program provides access to the test results from Microsoft, ISVs and IT professionals.
The More Things Change …
It’s is hard to believe that any modern software would “run into a show-stopper problem,” according to Kleynhans, because most of the basics of the OS have been available to ISVs for several years. “Vista didn’t come as a surprise to anybody. It has been bubbling on the stove for a long time,” he noted.
However, there may be cases in which the software worked during the beta phase but surprisingly failed compatibility tests when the final code came out, he acknowledged.
“Most of the software developers I’ve talked to have not had many issues,” Kleynhans stated. “And the issues they have had, they were expecting.”
It is typical for large third-party vendors to make their software forward-compatible for new versions of an operating system. For something like QuickBooks, that is popular during tax time, one would think they would support Vista, Laura Didio, a Yankee Group research fellow, told TechNewsWorld.
“I’m not understanding that,” she said.
Sometimes, not supporting a new OS in older versions of software is the way some vendors get users to upgrade, Didio suggested. Some software makers do not have access to the same resources available to Microsoft, Oracle and others. Those companies need to “feed the revenue monster,” Didio explained. Others, she added, are just slow to let users know about options regarding compatibility.
“The way they do that is by getting users to upgrade,” she continued. “By saying it isn’t compatible, it’s like a forced march.”
Didio recommends that users complain to their software company.
“Users have the option of complaining and hope that there is enough of a backlash from other users that it will force the vendor to [address the problem],” she concluded.