The Minimum Systems Requirements Scam

the upgrade cycle

the upgrade cycle

The technology industry is not short of scams and the media don’t shy away from reporting them. Newspapers, blog sites, Facebook all warn us of Nigerian 419s, phishing attempts or cold calls with fake investments.

But there’s one scam ubiquitous in the technology industry which we all accept with glum resignation. Let’s call it the Minimum System Requirements Scam. Moore’s law has given us faster and faster processors for years and with faster computers the maker of Operating System (OS), such as Windows and Apple OS, have loaded more functionality into their offerings. The paradigm seems to be that if the hardware can handle more load then the OS should that load. Each time we give up on our old hardware and fall for the industry line that we need more power the OS vendor steps in and steals most of that power.

Now don’t get me wrong. Software has come a long way since MS DOS but the scam is not in creating bigger software for more powerful computers. The scam is that the vendors lie about the Minimum System Requirements for their software.

My iPhone 4 worked fine with IOS 6 which it came with it. Stupidly I upgraded it to IOS7 and it now runs like a pig. My Macbook pro, with 4 gig of ram and a 2.5 GHz processor, ran fine with Snow Leopard. It ran a bit slower with Lion but what really screwed it was Mavericks. Think that’s reasonable? In 1992 my Amiga 4000 had a 25 MHz processor and 1 meg of RAM and multi-tasked better than ANYTHING on the market today. When your Windows PC or Mac are just sitting there stuck and there’s loads of free RAM, the processor is not overloaded and the disk is not thrashing you have to wonder about the quality of the code. I’ve just upgraded by iPad and it’s slow. Apple would never release a new product as sluggish as this but that’s OK because they already have my money. You have to wonder whether the vendors are deliberately slowing things down to force an upgrade.

None of these upgrades should have been a problem because the hardware in question conformed to Apple’s Minimum System Requirements. I have no experience of Google Android and Chromebook but Microsoft are equally guilty.

Of course I didn’t have to upgrade so why did I? The two drivers for upgrading are the same as those for investing: Greed and fear. Fear in the form of the vendors ceasing to supply security patches for older OS versions and greed in the form of new applications requiring the services only present in a more recent OS.

There is some legitimacy in both these factors but only some. In the old days an OS was released with outrageous security flaws. In fact they were not secure at all but that was OK because we didn’t use them for anything serious. As computing has become ubiquitous the vendors have given more thought to security but vulnerabilities are still regularly discovered and part of the reason for this is that new OSs still contain a lot of old code.

Applications requiring services from a newer OS is also legitimate though one does have to wonder how long this farce can go on. The OS must one day mature. For what other product do we accept that it will just stop working? How would it be if your TV just got slower and slower and one day you tried to watch Family Guy and a message came up saying that this program was not compatible with your current OS? In fact microprocessors are in everything these days and Smart TVs are basically big tablet computers. Will the manufacturers continue this deception with the software in our cars? You break but, sorry you need more RAM, so the breaks don’t come on in time.

Security and advanced services will continue to drive the upgrade cycle for a while yet but vendors would do us all a favor and enhance their reputation by being honest about Minimum System Requirements. If an iPhone 5S is not going to cut it for the latest OS then bloody well say so.

Longer term the whole paradigm will probably change. Hardware such as tablets and handsets are getting cheaper and cheaper and these days no one writes code with any of the core functionality on the user side. New entrants to the OS market such Alibaba have a chance to start from scratch. They could develop a mature and stable architecture with tightly written code. The future is probably disposable handsets with all the data and functionality in the cloud.

Then all I’ll have to gripe about is the monthly bill.

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