I’m sure you have heard the quote from Benjamin Franklin: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I would like to add software updates and upgrades to that list. In fact, I think that had Mr. Franklin been around to see the evolution of computers and software technology, he would likely agree.

To be clear, there is a difference between an update and an upgrade. An update is usually free and is used to resolve bugs in the current system or add functionality to the software. An upgrade is not free. Typically when you look at software there is a version number, such as ArcMap 10.3 or Mac OS X Lion 10.7. These are upgrades. An update is usually noted as a second “dot” number, such as Mac OS X Lion 10.7.4 or ArcMap 10.9.1. It can be confusing, but the important difference is the price.

As with any other change in technology, you must be strategic in how you choose to handle software updates and upgrades. So how do you make the right decision? Here are five things to consider.

  1. Read the details. A fix for one problem could jam up another function within the software. Depending on the age of your computer, an update might cause compatibility issues. If it is an update that fixes the stability of the product and problems you have had with functionality then update, but beware—just because it is free doesn’t make it better.
  2. Research, research, research! This is vital. Most people before buying a car read the consumer reports, or before purchasing a home have it inspected. Why would you not do the same for software and hardware? Go online and read reviews and look at forums for the software you are considering. Forums are probably the best indicator of problems within the software and can give you a good idea of what to expect once you have loaded the software.
  3. Evaluate the benefits. Is the upgrade going to save time with new functionality? Will the upgrade enable you to produce value-added products that are in demand from your clients? Will an update fix a problem you’ve been having with the software?
  4. Weigh the disadvantages. Will there be any kind of learning curve, and how long will it take to master that curve? What are the disadvantages of a software update? For example, the latest update of iPhone software included voice-guided navigation but caused major errors in the mapping itself for some users. I’ve had updates on software that have slowed down my computer to a crawl.
  5. Consider the cost. Is the upgrade going to be worth the price? Also, is there a maintenance agreement with the developer that you might be able to negotiate?

There will always be new software upgrades and updates. The key is finding balance and making decisions that will help meet your business objectives.