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Can’t we all just get along?

February 13, 2012

OK, this is about software, not politics or social relations.

My question is why can some software products be made relatively version/platform insensitive and others fail for the slightest variation?

IBM’s Lotus Notes/Domino is one of the best. Classic applications will run on virtually any version of the software and on any operating system.

Microsoft Windows is, perhaps surprisingly, also very good. Most modern applications will run on anything from Windows 2000 to Windows 7 — although for some reason printer drivers are still version specific.

Other products from IBM Collaboration Solutions and from Microsoft are very version specific — look at Sametime and Quickr from IBM or Exchange from Microsoft.

And many Linux programs are extremely version specific — running on only a specific point release of certain distributions.

Mac OSX apps seem to fall in the middle ground; most are OK across a range of OS releases but some fail every time Apple changes something in the back end.

I’m sure there are good reasons for these things that developers understand. But as an administrator and end user I want everything to “just work”.

Is it too much to ask that our application can just get along?


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  1. Anonymous permalink

    The economics of cross-platform support are a big problem. When a company like IBM commits to supporting a particular piece of software on a particular platform with a particular OS version, they are making a big commitment to customers. They are making a really big commitment of resources to developing, testing and providing technical support for that platform for a long time. The product cannot go out the door for a particular platform and OS without it being tested from install through every last feature, and modified as needed to fix any platform and version-specific issues, and without the support organization committing to retain the hardware and human resources for handling any support calls that come in specifically for that platform and OS. If you presume a commitment to support 3 major versions of software in the field, perhaps 4 service packs for each major version, 5 platforms — with 32 and 64 bit variations for some of them so call it 7 instead of 5, and 2 or 3 major OS versions and up to 4 service packs for each one, that works out to several hundred combinations to support. And don’t forget about testing and supporting interoperability for networks that could contain any combination of the supported combinations — way too much to even think about comprehensive testing, but they still have to commit to supporting them all and dealing with any problems as they are detected in the field. And unfortunately, automated testing doesn’t reduce this problem all that much, because no single automation framework is going to work across all the target environments, so you end up writing and customizing test automation scripts for all the environments.


  2. David Schaffer permalink

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I appreciate the burden on the application publishers which you spell out. I think the primary burden must be on the platform publishers to maintain backwards compatibility. And the app publishers also need to use common sense — don’t test for a particular version of a scripting language, for example, if any version will actually work.


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