Upgrading Software

What gives with upgrading software? I’ve been using computers for quite a few years now, and while the abilities of software continues to expand, the amount of money we have to layout for fixes/new features is rising at an astounding rate.

My big gripe is with Adobe Photoshop. I purchased Photoshop 7 the other year. PS is not a cheap program ($650 to non educational users). There was one update to 7.0.1 in August of 2002. There have been some minor plugin updates to the program, but the meat of the program was not touched for more than a year. Then version CS came out. Thats it. To upgrade would cost me $169. This is a professional program made by a company that is apparently intent on selling a product and getting you to pay $170 every year to stay current, with no hope of minor feature additions with out paying. CS has been on the market for over a year with out any updates. I suppose that means that CS 2 will be out soon. Adobe Illustrator is the same way.

Lets take a look at Apple. They do it right and they do it wrong. Final Cut Pro seems to get it right.

Version 4 came out and had some amazing new features. There were some bugs. Versions 4.0.1 and 4.0.2 came out a couple of months later and fixed some bugs and added some performance. v4.1 came out and added some new features, followed by v4.1.1 that fixed some bugs. A year after v4 was orginally released, v4.5 HD was made available for free and gave a whole slew of new features, one of which was support for HD video. At no point during this process did the end user have to spend a dime on his software other than the original cost it took to get into version 4 of the software.

I bought Final Cut Express about a year and a half ago when I got my new computer. I got version 1. I dutifully updated to version 1.0.1 that fixed some bugs. That was it, even though FCE 1.0.1 had some serious bugs that were acknowledged by Apple. It was on the market for 11 months with no bug fixes, only to be superseded by FCE 2. In the three months following this release, v2.0.2 and v2.0.3 came out and fixed some bugs. I’ve not used v2.x at all, so I don’t know if there are any more outstanding bugs in it, but v3 was just announced, so v2.x can be considered as dead.

BareBones gets it right. Sure, some complain that the software is over priced. BBEdit is expensive for what is ultimately a text editor, and who would pay the price of Mailsmith when there are so many free email programs around? Almost every update, even a little bitty x.0.1 update has bug fixes and (minor) feature addtions. There are frequently large updates that that add/fix a whole bunch at once, not the BBEdit software is buggy to begin with; it is in fact quite the opposite. You get a lot for your money here. Never mind that you can get a special competitive updgrade price on most of their software, usually using a free program as the one you are updgrading from. This means that BareBones software is cheaper than it looks at first glance.

On to their “consumer” version of BBEdit, TextWrangler. Originally it was a cheaper feature limited version of BBEdit. Well, version 2 came out the other week. It is free, not to upgrade, but the whole dang program. Free to all, free as in beer. One might think that this is a slap in the face to existing owners. Well, BareBones gave full credit for the original price of TextWrangler to all owners of the software. I’d like to see some other software companies do that for software they’ve EOL‘d.

These programs aren’t cheap to upgrade. $100 for FCE, $300 for FCP. I think the FCP is worth the steep entry/upgrade prices, because at least you know that you will end up with a relatively bug free piece of software. I’d rather pay $300 every 2 years and get working software (with more capabilities) than $100 every 6 months, only to put up with feature crippled, buggy software.

I think if companies want to do the “feature limited” cheap version of a professional program, than that program should at least be bug free, and not end up costing more to upgrade than the pro version.

If the company is not offering a pro/consumer distinction in its software, then maybe they shouldn’t be cranking out a new version each year just to get some more cash. Maybe they should be trying to add some bug fixes and minor feature additions in between major versions to make the consumer feel like he/she is getting something for their $100 that they dutifully pay each year.

At least this is better than the yearly subscription model of Eudora, a program that used to be very dear to me. Or maybe it’s not. At least they are up front about the yearly nature of the “deal.”