The Strange Pleasure of Upgrading Software

Apple's release of OS 10.4 (aka Tiger) inspired an editorial in the NY Times on the pleasure of upgrading.

Like many Apple computer users, I'm in a pleasant state of expectation. I've ordered Apple's updated operating system, but it hasn't yet arrived. I have housecleaning to do before I can install it: deleting dead programs in my applications folder, for instance, and backing up my hard drive. Then will come the almost visceral pleasure of installing new software. This is one of the most pleasant tasks I know, vastly easier than straightening up the barn or taking the truck in for service.

Somewhere at home I have the floppy disks of many previous upgrades, including versions of MS-DOS - the first Microsoft operating system - that date from the early 1980's. They are reminders of how strange the idea of software seemed to me at the time. It did not occur to me then that such strangeness was part of living in a hardware world.

The only way to upgrade the refrigerator or the vacuum cleaner is to buy a new one. I can think of nothing I owned at the time that was capable of taking in new instructions and using them to improve its operation substantially. The only thing that could do so was not a machine at all. It was a human being.

The cynic would say that their vacuum cleaner usually worked right when they unpacked it. That isn't usually the case with software, even software much less complex than an OS. Still, my old 1GHz TiBook got noticeably faster with each new version of OS X. I'm in the process of installing 10.4 on it now. I'll be surprised if that's not the case this time as well.