How using decadeold software puts us all at risk ...............................................................
Something has been bothering me lately: the lazy expectation of people for ongoing updates for their chosen platform. This wasn’t a problem in the old days when there were structural, architectural reasons why you had to move forward, when there were natural breakpoints in the flow of hardware and thus the OS and apps that ran on top.
A good example of this was the move from 16-bit to 32-bit. If you didn’t have a 386 or later CPU, then you couldn’t run the latest OS code. It created a natural fire break that helped flush the old 286 world out of the system.
In contrast, little really changed with the move to 64-bit on desktops. Worse still, Moore’s law has applied with a vengeance, and I would argue that desktop hardware exceeded our capabilities to consume the available resources well over a decade ago. Since then, everything has been about power reduction, reducing the heat output of the device to try to become ever greener.
In the mobile phone world, it has been much easier, if only because people have a naturally human tendency to drop the item, whether it be onto concrete or down the toilet, and hence the churn has been higher. This has allowed a much more aggressive rate of forward momentum, despite Google’s seemingly endless desire to ship old versions of Android.
On iOS, we’ve seen an aggressive push to 64-bit for OS and apps, and this 64-bit-only mantra is about to arrive on the Mac desktop too, orphaning a lot of historical code.
So what rights do we have to continue to get support, and how should we pay for it? Obviously, there is no such thing as a free lunch – you buy your car, but you don’t expect to get free servicing for it, together with parts, for eternity. Those vendors that oer such deals are simply fiddling the cashflow figures to make their product attractive to the marketplace. No manufacturer claims that a car has no ongoing servicing requirement – unless, of course, your name is Tesla.
That’s why Microsoft is in such a tricky position. It sold a licence for Windows, but there was no timeout on the licence. It was forever, in eect. Getting a customer to decide it’s time to move on isn’t easy. This is especially true when the customer has no real issues with the product. For example, how many people are still perfectly chued with that copy of Oce 2003 they bought half a lifetime ago?
Microsoft’s preferred solution is to move them to a rolling licence: you can pay a few pennies under eight quid per month and get the whole of the Oce suite, along with Oce 365 online services, for your household, including Mac and mobile, too. Keep paying the money and you’ll stay up to date.
Businesses have been locked into this through corporate licensing for a long time, so maybe it really is time to clarify what “buying a licence” really means. Even back in 2003 you never bought the product, just a licence to use it.
So here is my radical plan. Samsung was brave enough to brick its phones that had a tendency to ignite, probably because the lawyers insisted that it did so. It’s now time for software vendors to aggressively look at the rental and upgrade process. If it’s just a licence to use, then put a time lock on that licence and make the software stop working after a reasonable period.
This isn’t me arguing for software makers to take their customers for a ride. I’m talking years, not months, before the software ceases operating. There must be lots of warnings about how an app has been superseded, and how it will shut down to a readonly version. This element is crucial: I have long suggested that any proper backup program should have an unlimited use “recovery mode” available for free download from the vendor’s website in perpetuity. In the same way, we should still be able to open .doc files in 2050.
I know this proposal won’t sit well with many us. But Microsoft and the rest must be brave enough to set fire to old platforms and old software. We can’t have hundreds of thousands of people using vulnerable software for years, simply because they can’t be bothered to upgrade.
Consequently, we have to accept that good citizenship of the internet means ensuring our devices are kept fully up to date, both the operating system and applications. Or that we’re out on our own. It’s not hard to make that choice, but it really is about time that we faced it head-on.
“If it’s just a licence to use, put a time lock on it and make the software stop working after a reasonable period”