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Thomas Sullivan<br>Information Sharing

Tell Users What They Get With Software Upgrades

End users cannot always see what they get, at least not when a software upgrade comes disguised as itself.

To the people sitting on the opposite side of the network from administrators, software upgrades can be like getting wisdom teeth pulled. It’s better in the long run, but it's awfully painful while it happens.

Often times, end users are told: "We need your machine for a few hours so we can upgrade you to Windows 98," or whatever the new OS is.

The end user, we’ll call him Peter, asks: "Do I need the upgrade, I’m happy with 95?"

"It’s for Y2K-compatability reasons," retorts the administrator.

Huh? You mean every company in the world is moving to Windows 98 in preparation for Y2K? It’s funny that I never heard anything about that before. I guess I better run right out and buy me some Microsoft stock before the big day.

So the user turns over a system that just so happens to contain almost everything accomplished since starting the job. A couple hours, a few phone calls and some handwritten notes pass, but no system back yet.

"We’re going to have to keep your laptop overnight because we had a little trouble with the installation," the administrator says. What really registers with Peter, though, is that no one knows when his computer will be back on his desk.

Fifteen minutes later, on a trip to the fax machine, Peter watches the administrator lock the back office and walk out the company’s doors, wearing a coat and carrying only a set of car keys in hand. The clock says 5, after all.

A day or maybe two later Peter gets his computer back. At last, a return to normal working conditions!

At the end of that day, Peter shuts down his notebook exactly as he did under Windows 95, and rushes out the door to pick up his kids from soccer practice. Upon returning to the office the next morning he finds that the system is displaying the Windows 98 shut down screen -- just the way it did when he left the evening before.

After suffering through several startup nastygrams telling him to shut down his machine properly, and the interminable bootups that accompany them, Peter picks up on the fact that Windows 98 hangs at shutdown on a regular basis, meaning at least three times a week. And then a thought occurs to him: The only difference between Windows 95 and 98 is that the newer version won’t let my computer shut down properly. Oh yeah, and in the upgrade process our crack IT staff "misplaced" the file containing my schedule and contacts. So Windows 98 put me back to ground zero, and gives me no advantages in return.

Administrators know that there are advantages to Windows 98. Many of these are on the management side, so end users do not benefit as much as IT. There are also new features in the OS that end users can take advantage of. But too few end users know about either set of advantages. So they see no benefit from upgrading. What’s worse, some users find the new software less effective than the old. As a result, upgrading is a painful experience best avoided if at all possible.

The moral of the story: End users don’t always see the benefits to an upgrade. Why? Well, they’re not systems administrators, and very few of them are certified by any software companies. Most of them are specialists in something else. Something such as marketing, for instance, that systems administrators are as equally lacking in expertise as the end users are in computer knowledge.

What this means for IT is that you will be doing yourselves and your users justice by educating them a bit when you upgrade their software to Windows 2000 Professional.

Let's take, for instance, new mobile-minded features in Windows 2000 Pro, such as the ability to work offline, power management, increased security and hot swapping PC cards. Show your users how easy it is to take their work offline -- and continue working while out of the office -- then how to sync back up with the network so all the necessary files are updated.

Show your road warriors how to better manage battery power for sustained life. And while you’re at it, let them know about the hibernate feature so their systems will start faster.

These aren’t features that get up and dance when users start a notebook, so they don’t always know they are in there. But they are features that Microsoft has been promising for some time, and important improvements to boot.

Tell your other users features that can make them more productive, too. No one knows this better than you administrators.

Maybe then you won’t get those dirty looks when it’s upgrade time again.

Do your users know the advantages of software upgrades? Is it even worth it to spend the time educating end users? Write in to sullivantp@entmag.com and let me know your thoughts.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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