RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

When do I upgrade my computer or my devices?

From the standpoint of a consumer, it is hard to tell whether the new operating systems and programs are driving the new devices and upgrades or if it is the other way around. But it is clear that during the past year there have been a great number of both. As genealogists, we are not immune from these rounds of constant upgrades. The changes in both devices and operating systems affects our own equipment and particularly the genealogy software programs. At the time of the writing of this post, we are currently waiting for the release of a new version of Legacy Family Tree. There was just a new updated version of RootsMagic to Version 6.3.0.3 and Ancestral Quest to Version 14 and so forth and so on.

In the device arena, the upgrades are staggering. I just upgraded my iPhone to the iPhone 5 and now in another week there will be a new one, the iPhone 5S or whatever. All of the other manufacturers are caught up in this treadmill of devices with new versions of tablets, smartphones and computers appearing almost daily.

For me, this is nothing new. I have gone through every iteration of computers since the introduction of the Apple II and the IBM PC. But, I admit, it can be maddening to those of us who are not made of money and have difficulty adapting to new technology in general. It seems like just as get used to using one program or device, they change it. It also seems that each so-called upgrade is harder to use than the last one.

So how do I react to all of these upgrades and version changes? I have learned not to fight it. I realize that technology has been rapidly changing ever since I was born and that it will likely continue to change until I die. I view the devices as if I were renting them with the purchase price amortized over the life of the device. Because I use the technology every day, all day long, I do not see computers and other devices as luxuries. I see them as the "tools of my trade" so to speak. I recognize that for any device, there is a life cycle and when any particular device reaches the end of its life cycle, it is time for a replacement. As a device nears the end of its life cycle, I evaluate whether or not there is a newer model available or whether I will switch to another type of device altogether.

In a related area, for example, we just switched from our land line to a a completely cell phone based telephone system. We did this by transporting our old land-line phone number over to a cell phone provider. By doing this, we avoided the hassle of changing a long established phone number and were able to save on the monthly phone bill and get additional service capabilities. This is a constant process and if it bothers you that there is this constant background of change, then there is not a lot I can do to help you.

I do have some of my own rules in this regard however. I do not run out an buy the latest upgraded device or equipment as soon as it is introduced. My use of any particular device, such as my MacBook Pro laptop, is governed by the utility of the device itself, not merely by the introduction of a new model. I drive most of my cars about 150,000 mile or more and keep them for up to 15 years so I am not worried about having an older model of anything. But I do recognize that computers are not cars and they have a shorter duty cycle. I usually keep my main computers from 3 to 5 years, depending on the software upgrades. I still have PC with Windows XP and an iMac with an older operating system. I do keep my software updated to every new version, mostly to keep abreast of the changes, but also to make sure I am migrating my data from version to version and not getting locked out.

From the standpoint of a genealogist, the underlying issue is digital preservation. This is the preservation of our computer files, not digitization of paper files. The ultimate problem is the concern that my files will not be compatible with a new operating system or device. As long as I am comfortable that my files are secure, I see no real reason to run out and upgrade the equipment. As part of this underlying concern, there is also the issue of file storage and backup. I am constantly acquiring more files and more information. My storage needs now exceed the capacity of any internally available hard drive, so I am constantly upgrading my storage devices. I purchased a 32 GB flash drive just yesterday. Ultimately, I upgrade my computers and devices to accommodate new programs and greater memory capacity.

Waiting too long in this upgrade game can have the serious consequences of lost data and incompatible files. We can fight against the changes in technology or we can just adsorb them as one of the irritating things about our modern life. I can safely say that there will be new operating systems shortly and new devices within the next week or month or year. Count on it.

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