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Tricky Timing Is Key To Software Upgrades

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THE upgrade announcement was upbeat. So I dialed the toll-free number and let it ring 10 times.

Second thoughts began crowding in:

``This is going to cost $50.''

``The current version works fine.''

I hung up without ordering.

Computer technology moves so fast we can get carried away sometimes. If it's not new and improved, we don't want it anymore. It's at that point that we need to escape the upgrade hype and get a new perspective. Charles Gahr, an experienced computer user who doesn't jump at every new upgrade, writes: ``I try to leapfrog most updates by several years, then update only when major changes come about. I feel that even a home user needs some sort of loosely defined update practice.''

My upgrade strategy is similar: only do it when it really helps.

Sometimes that turns me into what Larry Lunetta, a vice president at Caere Corporation, calls a visionary. When the new version of the Ecco personal information manager comes out, I'll upgrade immediately, no questions asked. I use the program so heavily that new features will undoubtedly help. I'll be more cautious with the Paradox database program. It gets less use, so I'll snap up a new version maybe two months after it comes out. Sometimes the very first releases of a major upgrade have bugs that get fixed after several weeks.

Most of the rest of my system is what Mr. Lunetta would call a laggard. The Crosstalk communications program is a version behind the latest release. So is the Quattro spreadsheet program. I'm two versions behind on WordPerfect. And I still use Lotus Agenda, which hasn't been updated in years.

When I do upgrade either software or hardware, I aim high - just behind the cutting edge. That's straightforward. Many Macintosh owners won't buy a new Power Macintosh model tomorrow. But if they need more performance, they'd be silly not to get one. The tricky part is the timing.

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