Planned obsolescence and software go together naturally, due to the rapid advance of technology, and the fact that eventually it becomes impractical for providers to offer continuing support for outdated software. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is happy to upgrade or replace software that has become obsolete.
“Apps? We wrote our own apps. In FORTRAN, on a mainframe. And we liked it!”
In fact, planned obsolescence with software is a problem that will eventually solve itself, through SaaS (Software as a Service). Rather than buying software and installing it on your computer, the software runs in the cloud, where automatic updates keep your SaaS product constantly up to date.
Most people are understanding about software updates, and accept their software will eventually be unusable (at least, if they actually read their licensing agreement). But there have been times in the history of software upgrades where obsolescence has managed to disproportionately annoy users. Here are a few examples.
Hewlett-Packard HP ServiceCenter 1.0.x-5.0.x
HP invested millions of dollars in this product, which became no longer available on New Year’s Day 2009. Product support ended December 31, 2009, and self-help support ended at the end of 2011, leaving enterprise customers with a very expensive unsupported product. (Read HP’s polite “You’re on your own now” letter to its customers.)
Lotus Symphony, Lotus Jazz, Lotus 1-2-3. These names may not ring a bell, unless you were in the workforce during the 1980’s. Microsoft Excel made an inauspicious debut in the late 80’s, and eventually became a juggernaut, partly due to the many technical setbacks Lotus experienced around the same time. Lotus’s programs eventually became part of SmartSuite, which isn’t really supported on anything newer than Windows XP, and it’s only usable there with the help of numerous fixpacks.
PageMaker was the app of choice for many publishing and design professionals, who had been using it for years, learning all its quirks and limitations. When Adobe came out with InDesign, however, PageMaker earned a place at the children’s table by being repackaged for general business customers. It was officially discontinued in 2007, with thousands of screaming users being forced to switch to InDesign.
Netscape Web Browsers
AOL bought Netscape Communications Corporation in 1999, and what was once the leader in web browsers began its slow orbit around the black hole of (unplanned) obsolescence. AOL continued to release security patches for Netscape Navigator until February 2008, at which point active product support ended. The rise of Mozilla Firefox (to which Netscape users were directed) and Google Chrome eventually finished off Netscape browsers.
Each quarter, enterprise software provider BMC announces they’ll be renaming, migrating, or simply discontinuing dozens of products (see example here — at least they’re nice enough to give you the e-mail address of an employee that you can use to complain). BMC even has a section on their website dedicated to “Withdrawn Products,” which ironically is only accessible by customers — the same customers who have paid all that money for software that’s now obsolete.
Quicken Deluxe (Pre-2010)
Longtime users of pre-2010 versions of Quicken Deluxe found that reinstalling the program on new machines resulted in an onslaught of popup warnings that turned any Quicken session into a fiscally-responsible version of Whack-a-Mole. This was many users’ first inkling that their old version of Quicken Deluxe was no longer supported. Many switched to using free online tools like Mint.com, rather than upgrading to Quicken Deluxe 2010.
The good news is that end-of-life phaseouts will themselves be coming to an end, as more software applications are run in the cloud as SaaS products. Particularly helpful are applications that have to stay consistently up to date, like IT service management and IT asset management platforms.