You can’t milk that cash cow for ever…

Nice article on TheReg regarding Microsoft (and other vendors) finally realising that the continual addition of new features to exising products, and the coercion of users to pay upgrade/maintenance fees won’t necessarily go on for ever…
Advice from Microsoft on designing useful and uncomplicated software? Now, there’s a novel idea.

Turns out, though, Microsoft Research principal researcher Bill Buxton – a trained musician with extensive experience outside of Microsoft who joined relatively recently – might be on to something, and Microsoft might be listening.

First piece of advice: break fee of the hamster wheel-like upgrade cycle of adding more features to old products – it makes software expensive and complicated, while most users stopped upgrading several versions back as what they’ve got is already “good enough.”

“You can’t milk that cow for ever,” Buxton told The Register. So there you go.

First piece of advice: break fee of the hamster wheel-like upgrade cycle of adding more features to old products – it makes software expensive and complicated, while most users stopped upgrading several versions back as what they’ve got is already “good enough.”

“You can’t milk that cow for ever,” Buxton told The Register. So there you go.

In particular, the article references the very common situation I come across with Oracle RDBMS versions – most customers I know are are still on 8.1.7, several years after 9 and 10 were released:

Next, the mind wanders to California and BEA Systems, which is pushing version 10.3 of its application server while many customers I’ve met are on version 8.0. Oracle, meanwhile, is ramping up for the 11g release of its tools, middleware and application server. Will this madness never stop?

Certainly from my own PoV, I wouldn’t be paying for any MS or Oracle product right now for my business. XP and Office 2003 are doing just fine on the desktop – we have Vista and 2007 on a number of new PCs, and the users are not enjoying the experience. If we go anywhere, it will be to greater use of Mac OS X and iWork or Lotus Symphony. For Database use, MySQL does enough for our needs…

So, what does this mean for IBM/Lotus?

Most feedback we get from customers (and IBM) suggests that customers have upgraded to ND7 faster than any release in the past, which seems to buck this trend. However, given the fundamental change involved in the Notes8 client’s move to the Eclipse-framework, ND8 takeup may be considerably slower. Lotus’ other long-running products, Sametime and QuickPlace/Quickr, have also enjoyed major new versions in the past year which seem to have been successful in gaining traction with customers.

Whether these products will continue to keep users feeling that there is enough in the new versions to justify the work and costs involved in upgrading only time will tell…

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!