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Oh My Tech! Think before upgrading your operating system

Published August 16, 2012 9:43 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For many tech-heads, installing the latest version of an operating system on their desktop computer or laptop is the equivalent of buying a new car.

That feeling of firing up the computer after a fresh install of Windows or Mac OSX is the same as turning the key to start the engine for the first time.

And these operating system upgrades — the software engine that runs the computer — have become really cheap. The latest upgrade of OSX for the Apple Mac, called Mountain Lion, is just 20 bucks, and the Windows 8 upgrade coming out Oct. 26 will be $40.

Techies may have felt the rush I'm talking about when they purchased and installed Mountain Lion when it was released a couple of weeks ago. But there also were a lot of you, I'm sure, who were pulling out your hair in frustration.

That's because installing a new operating system just as it comes out also can be extremely risky, especially for the less tech savvy. You never know if it's going to stop some of your programs dead in their tracks.

So, although you may think it's a good idea to upgrade to the latest OS — especially now that I've made it sound so inviting — here are some important reasons why you should hold off from buying Mountain Lion or any other operating system as soon as they are released. And these reasons are especially true for the upcoming Windows 8 because it will be radically different than the previous Windows 7 or Windows XP.

Compatibility • The biggest issue in upgrading is what it might do to your current programs. The makers of OSX and Windows spend a lot of time coding their OS to make sure they are compatible with older software. But that's never 100 percent certain. Some legacy programs on your computer could become buggy or even stop working altogether when you upgrade.

You can always wait for software patches to fix these compatibility bugs. Then again, there may not be any forthcoming. So, imagine if all of a sudden your favorite word processor or game doesn't work. Is it worth the risk?

The need • Do you really need to upgrade? By now, after months, perhaps years, of tinkering with your computer to make sure it works with every program, why would you want to mess that up?

Certainly, the added features that come with Mountain Lion and the upcoming Windows 8 aren't "gotta-have" additions that will turn your life around. And your current software doesn't require the upgrades.

The time you should seriously consider upgrading the OS is when you get that new piece of software that requires it. We won't be seeing new software like that for probably a year.

Don't be a beta tester • Although Apple and Microsoft work hard to squash all the bugs out of their new operating systems, there will still be glitches. Ultimately, the millions of early adopters who buy the OS before anyone else will encounter these bugs first. Let them.

Wait at least a few months to make sure Apple and Microsoft put out enough patches to ensure their operating systems are more stable than before.

Speed • Each new upgrade to an operating system mostly benefits newer, faster computers because of how quickly computers have advanced since the last version of the OS.

So the danger is that a newer version of an OS could actually make your computer run slower if it's an older machine. To avoid that, be certain to carefully look at the minimum system requirements required to run the OS and make sure your computer is above that.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.