Software maintenance – are you feeling locked-in?

In the early days of shrink-wrapped PC software, I used to buy a software title and not expect to pay anything more for that software until I decided to upgrade it. I might upgrade when the publisher released a new title, or I might skip a release -- it was up to me to decide.

Software Update
Image via Wikipedia

Pretty soon, though, software companies discovered that it was expensive to staff a help desk to support customers, and then they started to discover that it was painful to have customers working with software that was several versions out-of-date. The solution: software subscriptions and maintenance plans.  Enterprise software companies had already been doing this for years; it lets the software company generate revenue from support areas, and smooths their revenue stream (so it's not clustered around new releases).

Although enterprise customers had been paying maintenance for years, consumers have been wary of subscriptions.  They want to know what they're getting for their money, and they want to be able to decide when to upgrade.

In a recent blog entry (Software maintenance pricing - Fair or out of control?), Scott Lowe shows that this sentiment affects the enterprise customer, too.  Especially in these times of constrained budgets, enterprises aren't too excited about big increases in software maintenance prices without a whole lot of additional perceived value.

What's the difference between maintenance and a subscription plan?
Although these terms are frequently used interchangeably, maintenance typically entitles you to bug-fix releases only, while a subscription plan should provide feature releases, too. In either case, make sure you read and understand the license agreement so you're not surprised later.

If you're a software developer, you need to understand that you can't get away with milking your existing customers just because they decided to buy your software years ago.  This should go without saying, but if you sell subscription-based support, make sure you provide upgrades that are worth the cost your customers are paying.  In a recent Joel on Software thread, a developer sounded off against Lowe's article, but he completely missed Lowe's point:  the prices of software maintenance are going up, but value isn't.

If you're a customer, you hope your vendors are committed to providing value for your support dollars, but this won't always be true.  If you've ever felt locked into a vendor, you know this is no fun at all.  When you're faced with a vendor who's got you over a barrel, you can feel like your organization is being held for ransom, and you're powerless to extract yourself.

As a manager or an architect, part of your job is to manage vendor risk. I've got some thoughts on this, and I'll share them in another post.

Let me know what you're thinking - what are you doing to manage vendor lock-in in your organization?

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Reboot needed – really??

Microsoft, o que vem por aí?
Image by Daniel F. Pigatto via Flickr

It just happened to me again.  I came into work and was greeted by the cold, grey screen that told me my PC had rebooted.  Windows Update had struck again.

I've got a PC that hosts my development environment in a VM, so every time this happens, not only do I need to restart my VM (which takes, I then need to wait for my VM to install the same damned update, and then reboot itself (which takes  This process alone typically eats a good hour or so.

Last night, though, I was running SQL scripts -- one in my VM, and another on another PC in my cube that I use just for SQL Server.  These were long-running scripts to do data migration to support testing and bug fix verifications that really need to be done asap.  Both machines were dispatched by Windows Update in the middle of the scripts, and both scripts had to be restarted.

This time, I'm losing an entire day because of Windows Update.

I've only got one question: Why the hell does Windows need to reboot every single time it installs any kind of update?

I've used Ubuntu for months on end, and I've seen it install all sorts of updates; rarely did one require a reboot.

Windows Update 649mb!
Image by Tom Raftery via Flickr

In terms of operating system enhancements, there's nothing I've wanted this badly since plug & play.  I'm really trying to understand how the Windows product planners keep missing this.   I'm picturing the product planning meeting: all the great minds gathered around the conference room table, and a list of enhancements up on the board.  Somewhere up there, between WinFS and Internet Explorer 14 (the one that finally supports all the W3C standards), there's my bullet point:  Windows Updates without reboots.

"Nope.  Gonna have to pass on that this time.  We need another new 3-D task switcher, so 'Updates without reboots' is just going to have to push to the next release."


I don't have the foggiest idea how many engineers are on the Windows team, but it's difficult to imagine that there isn't a spare rocket scientist somewhere who could banish this problem to the scrap heap of forgotten PC memories, right there next to QEMM where it belongs.

Back in the 90's, I used to work with a guy who started running one of the early Linux distros, and he'd brag that his Linux box had been up for six months straight, or something like that.  That's fifteen years ago, folks.

Is it possible that Microsoft hasn't fixed this problem because it realizes that Windows still needs to be rebooted every once in a while even after all these years of trying to get it right?

Wouldn't that be sad?

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