Windows Server

Use case for older software: Easier, thinner, and quicker

When it comes to working with software, sometimes it just makes sense to use older supporting tools. IT pro Rick Vanover explains the pros and cons of consciously selecting older software titles for certain situations.

We live in a world of connected pieces of software that rely on many different pieces. Any given piece of functionality in the form of a software application can require an operating system, a database engine, browser functionality and more. Depending on the requirements, this can be a lot of supporting stuff just to get to run one piece of software.

Recently, I was discussing a test system for a piece of software and the question came up to build the test piece of software on a Windows Server 2003 R2 or Windows Server 2008 R2 system. My presumption was to use Windows Server 2008 R2, but the request was to use Windows Server 2003 R2. The reason was not for anything technical or dependency-related, but simply that things are easier on Windows Server 2003.

While I am generally pushing to use the latest and greatest for everything, I stopped and thought about this for a moment. If the software in question is supported on any modern operating system and brings the requisite functionality, does it really matter if the latest and greatest is used? The comment that the task is easier on Windows Server 2003 is simply true. While I really like Windows Server 2008 R2, it takes longer to do some things that I can do quickly in 2003.

The silver lining here is resource management. I work frequently with virtualized systems, and preserving precious system resources such as RAM is always in fashion. Windows Server 2003 R2 has a minimum amount of memory of 256 MB; Windows Server 2008 R2 has that minimum raised to 512 MB. While I frequently don’t hover at the minimums, few people will disagree that Windows Server 2008 R2 requires more memory resources. Take storage into consideration, and Windows Server 2003 R2 will win that argument as well.

This poses the question that if the “solution” can function on older platforms, does that make sense? There are plenty of other factors to consider. These can include any cost considerations as well as the expected duration of the system. If the system will be around for a while, it may not make sense to enable an obsolete platform later.

This can be a passionate topic, do you ever consciously decide for the older platforms or related components when those don’t matter? Share your comments below.

About

Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

47 comments
Lightning Joe
Lightning Joe

The counterpart of the "Aha" moment: that moment in which you realize that others are having a great revelation over something you've known all along. I'm having a "duh" moment right now. Start with "Never buy ver. 1.0 of anything," that tenet that's saved so many of us countless early-adopter headaches. No further comment is needed, there. But we can go much further with this concept. I long ago found THE word processor I'll use until the day I die. It's called VDE (last version I use is 6.14 or something). It's written largely in assembly code, and is hence very fast indeed. It has a comprehensive multi-macro programming language, uses word-star key bindings, multiple files windows, index markings, very good search and replace. You can also do full-screen text. What it doesn't do is graphics, but who needs them to just write? VDE is a killer app in a retro sense, meaning that I maintain an old MS-DOS 6.22 system, JUST to be able to use this program. Norton's venerable Norton Commander is handy, simple, and provides the menus I need for the system.

pastorjim
pastorjim

Our company is (happily) still running XP Pro and Office Pro 2003. Last year we started using Exchange Online...oops, I mean BPOS, which will soon be Office365 (why does M$ feel compelled to change their product names every year or so)! Unfortunately, Office365 will not support the Outlook 2003 client. That means we either upgrade to a later version of the Office product or content ourselves with using the Web access client. Sheesh! Make good products and add functionality that people are willing to pay for. Don't force customers to upgrade just so you can dip into their pockets!

ps.techrep
ps.techrep

I think this is a case of "If it ain't inadequate, why upgrade?" Manufacturer and publisher-driven upgrades are a poor way to utilize resources. The only legitimate reasons for "upgrading" is for the consumer to obtain necessary improvements in total performance (includes administration and cost) or an addition of new capabilities with a high probability of positive ROI. A person or company who replaces a perfectly adequate system with a newer one without some form of cost justification, should reexamine their rationale. Often it's fuzzy thinking based on fear or imagined loss of status. In the corporate environment, unless a new capability provides competitive advantage spend your money on something else that will. ie. Unless a newer system truly enriches your life, pass it by.

manxann
manxann

Private user, various PCs since the early 90's running XP SP3- For my photo processing I still us Aldus Photostyler SE (1993?),came on 3 floppy disks, 3.2 Mb install. Worked on 3.1, 98, XP and Win7, (Wifes' laptop) and is faster than most consumer graphics progs! I believe Adobe bought the company as the tools are very similar to early Photoshop

USBPort1
USBPort1

We were just forced by our accounting software to upgrade our software and hardware. Our version was only 3 years old and they refused to put out the year-end package for our version. While checking the requirements of the software, we found our server and all workstations didn't meet their specs. This is nothing but extortion! We could continue to use their software, we just couldn't close the year from this year forward. This from a company that also forces us to pay a yearly fee just to use their software as well as for support. They even charge a fee to use their knowledge base, which is lame at best with even worse search results. That's pure American greed at work. All the while all they do is change the graphics and move things around and call it new - sort of like another company that makes operating systems and business software. No wonder cloud computing is catching on...

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

Heck. We just shut down our NT servers 2 months ago. Now we are all 2003. I thought 2003 was new!

mgfyo01
mgfyo01

Hi! Be careful. Win2003Server with its iis5 or iis6 used in isolation mode allow writing pieces of software which will not be played on win2008Server. Best regards, Michel FENYO

tj243025
tj243025

I prefer the older Microsoft software. I stay with XP, 2003 server. I also use the older office software. A few reasons are they are easier to use and setup. The other reason is I don't have to deal with Microsoft issues the need to be fixed. My rule of thumb is that I hardly ever use a Microsoft product until it is at least a year old.

kjmartin
kjmartin

Software and operating systems should be upgraded when there is a business need or security issue; not because someone wants to click next and fill up space in whatever time tracking mechanism management wants.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

For there to be an old, there would have to be a young and non trivial software is out of date the moment you write the first line. There's only one technical question for a software developer, is it "cheaper" to keep it alive, or to replace it. 2008 is not new software it's 2003 with some changes and a new name to fool people into buying it again.... That's a commercial decision not a technical one.

nwallette
nwallette

I used to be all about the new releases. What I've seen in the last several years is that New usually equates to "needlessly altered, more expensive, probably bloated, and not really better in any meaningful way." Win2K3 is faster and easier to deal with than 2008. WinXP is faster and less of a hog than 7. (Vista... I would just feel cruel for picking on Vista.) Office 2003 is much less of a turd than 2007 and especially 2010. But I reluctantly gave in to 2007 to get native support for all the new file formats. Even my old standby Paint Shop Pro, once a lean, mean Photoshop-for-casual users, is a complete pig since Corel took over. It even installs a third-party licensing service. For a

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I want to make sure I can run old things. Old is good. The bells and whistles are usually superfluous, or at least, one of them's likely to be redundant ;)

rcfoulk
rcfoulk

I'm with the folks above who feel that there is no need to reflexively spend money for new hardware and software if there is no real constraint in continuing with what is currently owned. Like with Win7 folks harp about supposed better security than a Win2003/XP network but the reality is that most have resolved such issues via software or hardware appliances. New hardware costs money. New software costs money. Retraining staff because MS refuses to offer backward interface compatibility cost money. So if what you own is not meaningfully limiting productivity then the only reason to upgrade has nothing to do with business functionality. I'm for spending capital resources when it is needed and not a moment before.

Recknam
Recknam

Our users think this way but our our environment is so large and our users don't like to upgrade even though some are still on Windows 2000. I try to go with some sort of 2008 right now to try and mitigate headaches later on.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, or replace it.

jhinkle
jhinkle

After working for a company that supports RPG2 and up on IBM mainframe systems I've come to realize that if it's still supported and it does the job then it's not old. I understand that server 2003 will be deprecated before 2008 but the software is still supported and runs on new hardware. If you don't see the need to make changes and upgrade for years to come then you should choose what you think is best and that includes the decision to run older software. On top of this it's not like the protocols that allow the system to work are going to change and keep you from talking to newer systems. FTP, IFS (SMB, NFS, CIFS as well), DNS, Radius, etc haven't changed for years. As another thought to this, I've seen several Windows 3.11/DOS computers that manage industrial sewing machines. The owners refuse to upgrade because they can still get used parts for pennies on the dollar and it works the way it should.

john3347
john3347

I feel forced to maintain a Windows 2000 machine for my photo management because my graphics program (ProImage Plus) only handles 8 character file names (this dates the program) and does not run well on XP or anything more recent. This piece of software(on 1 3.5" floppy) does what I need done MUCH better than any bloated graphics software since. I also have a Mustek 600 III EP scanner that works significantly better than any of the current all-in-one scanners that are currently available. (I realize that there are flatbed scanners currently available that can probably perform equal to my "old" scanner, but these now cost hundreds of dollars and there is no economic justification for purchasing such a device when I have a satisfactory setup.) If a geek wishes to play with all the latest toys, that is their decision and quite acceptable. It is not acceptable, however, for a company who must answer to stockholders to employ the same penchant for the "latest and greatest". A company must have economic justification for any hardware or software migration. A product such as Office 2007/2010 with the ribbon system that requires 3 to 5 mouse clicks to perform the same operation as 1 to 2 mouse clicks on older versions on a very non-intuitive, desktop gobbling ribbon offers no economic justification for the corporate world. This same "bloating and slowing" is prevalent throughout the software industry and is not restricted to any particular product or category.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It's a tried and tested business model, no different to a next model car, a slightly bigger telly, or a cover version. Once you've saturated your market, revenue comes from selling the same thing again. If you think cloud computing is a "solution", start saving up now, for when you are proved wrong.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

the boot! Accounting software isn't that complex. My dad used to write his own, just to avoid that kind of aggravation.

nwallette
nwallette

It's interesting to see the unanimous support on this topic. I'm pleasantly surprised.

michaellashinsky
michaellashinsky

It's not old, its mature! Big difference! Immature software is expensive and causes headaches.

b4real
b4real

If it makes sense - I'm cool with it!

shryko
shryko

I've seen my friend run a 16-bit virtual machine (Win95) on a 64-bit machine... and his main comment? It was more reliable than his old machine. Even if you can repair the older hardware, often it's cheaper/easier to just turn it into a virtual machine, and have it sitting on top of newer, stable hardware (that's really convenient to get parts for) I plan on running mostly 32-bit software for a long time coming (most of my video games, for instance). But I'm going to run VMs to do it. After all, then I can have both my 32-bit AND 16-bit games running happily side-by-side...

b4real
b4real

For consistencies sake, at least

rclark
rclark

Visual Studio has gone the way of most MegaPrograms. Bloat was always a factor, but now with the do everything all in one program, it is extremely hard to actually deploy a stable executable. I still keep a licensed copy of QB45 for those quick fix/translate/reformat programs. I still script ftp transfers rather than build a monster app to do the same transfer. Yes, the development IDE is nice with VS, and memory is not what it use to be, but still, with some of the old dev environments you can get a clean executable that works day in and day out for decades, deploys cleanly without the registry, and only takes up 38Kb. It just works. Doesn't look too pretty, but it does the job without affecting anything else. Go up to VB6, and you have all the hooks you need to work with everything up to SQL 2008 R2. You loose the ease of installation, but still much more compact and easier to deploy than VS2005 or VS2008. I still develop with VS2005 over VS2008, simply because the IDE is simpler to use. The VS2008 is arguably better able to access remote servers, however, most of the time, I don't need to access remote servers. Locals are fine. So overall, my development goal is to keep it simple, stable, cheap. Anything else is burning up non renewable resources, my time and money. I have better uses for both than giving it to an OS/IDE/Server that is too complex for what I need to do today. Tommorrow? Who knows? I still have to buy and keep current on all the systems, but I don't have to waste time using them on trivial tasks that work better, faster, cheaper using older tech.

Ron_007
Ron_007

"IF it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a great point of view BUT for that view to work you have to clearly define "broke" AND "ain't broke". Most people don't. For me, a classic example of fixing something that "ain't broke" is the new "Ribbon Gooey" in Office 2007/2010. I strongly resent the loss of productivity this kindergarten UI has caused me. I resent that MS unilaterally decided to throw out 20+ years of my personal time, effort and MONEY that I INVESTED in learning the menu UI down to a muscle memory level. The ribbon is just another marketing ploy to convince customers that there are enough "improvements" to justify the expense of buying the new version. It would have been a trivial effort for MS to have kept the menu available as a configuration option. The menu and Ribbon are simply shells on top of the actual underlying commands that access the code. Those commands have NOT changed, all VBA macros still work.

tom.brockman
tom.brockman

While I haven't seen this in quite a while, there was a time when I used to find a lot of small businesses still running Netware 3.x for file/print, nearly 10 years after Novell had stop supporting it. When asked why, these business owners (or their support guy) would respond "it still works, I haven't needed to reboot in years, why change it?". Likewise, the majority of Windows clients out there now are still XP and probably will be for a few more years. Most will wait until the hardware is dead or dying before replacing and upgrading to whatever version of Windows is then current. Same reason: why be forced to learn a new system (that requires more CPU and RAM) if the old one is working?

nwallette
nwallette

In an organization of any size, that particular burden has been removed. It's called "Software Assurance" and is pushed hard by sales reps and Microsoft. The pitch is this: When a new release comes out, there's no charge to upgrade to it. Upgrades are free! (Provided you keep your subscription current.) Therefore, there's no reason, when a new release comes out, not to go ahead and "upgrade." After all, it's free. P.S. Aldus Photostyler SE! I remember that! It came with a nifty walk-through on using the brand new Magic Wand tool. I spent hours fiddling with that picture of the Latin girl in the ornate dress.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

I do business functions every day, and rarely do I use any of the "enhancements" in my current Office 2007. The same was true in Office 2003 - bigger, slower, less compatible and less productive than the previous release. Office 9x really did everything we need for business. The ribbon is confusing and disorganized, and is filled with useless "fluff" that just gets in the way. Word processing, Spreadsheet, Presentation manager, Database - the 9x version is much thinner and faster than the 20xx versions. It seems that most current software development has been driven by some airhead cloud-lover saying "wouldn't it be neat to ..." instead of experienced business people saying "to do our job more efficiently, we need to ..." So the software products become more laden with useless bloat, making it more difficult to do our job. Bigger, slower, and less efficient. And of course, more expensive.

b4real
b4real

Previous versions. Examples: SQL 2005 over SQL 2008 Windows Server 2003 over 2008 Etc... Especially when the "business service of interest" is not those titles, but something that needs an OS or needs a database.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Maturity implies it's got better at what it does, not bogging up due to youthful flights of fancy as it were. A lot of the time though it's users who mature, they know that option doesn't work, that if you get error 900765 when you do this, it means you forgot that. They stop noticing the bugs, because they are working round them. Just change the version on an established piece of software, and tell them you've made it better, they'll report bugs that have been in there for decades.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

runs dos games under WinXp, in a VM... So, that's been around for a long time ;)

shryko
shryko

...and they said that the server OS would run on the modern hardware. So, just buy mirrored hardware to run the not-so-new-and-shiny software.

mvirard
mvirard

I reached rage levels when I am forced to relearn everything for the sake of a supposedly "new and improved" user interface that does not add a iota to the functionality of the product. The result: I scrapped Office 2007 and return to 2002-2003 versions on all our machines. And I might retire while still using them.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I'm not kidding. I curse M$ every time I use an Office 2010 product, which is every day now. We should start some sort of petition or organized letter sending. I think that M$ deserves a tsunami of hate mail for this one. Our message is clear: "THE RIBBON MUST GO!" I back the suggestion for an option to turn the ribbon off. Like a "Classic mode" setting.

nwallette
nwallette

I hate that !$@%ing ribbon so much. I don't know anyone who likes it. What I can't believe is that MS ignored the uproar in forums and news sites and even added it to Outlook in 2010. Can you imagine those design meetings? "Meh. They'll come around. Onward, gents."

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

No way the code is that different, other wise you'd still be waitng for it....

b4real
b4real

Between Windows 2003 and 2008, less so between SQL 2005 and 2008.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

version number, but it's more like a facelift than a child....

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

My databases are Oracle 9i, and only this year did the vendor up-rev the software to support 11i.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

This constant inability to use the current OS when you replace Hardware is a real nuisance. M$ Rep to me how many Server 2008 have you sold this quarter. Me 8 M$ Rep and how many instances of 2008 are you supporting Me none. Sounds far to common. Col

GSG
GSG

I deal with the same thing with the various medical software/devices that we purchase. It takes a while for the vendor to update the software to work on the "latest and greatest" OS, then it has to go through very rigorous testing, and finally the vendor has to gain FDA approval for that version to run on the newest OS. By the time that's all done, the OS vendor has released their new OS and it's all "outdated" again. When there are only 2 vendors in the entire world making a particular medical system/device and the supporting software, you don't have much choice about what OS to use, but more and more vendors are moving to an open source solution that are not sunsetted as quickly as other OS's.

OH Smeg
OH Smeg

So many companies are still using the old Software/OS that to sell their hardware they need to support the older Software. Then there is the fact that a lot of existing software works perfectly on the existing OS so when a change of the Hardware is required it may not be possible for the software that is mission critical to that business to run on a new OS. I have a Doctors Surgery who runs the newest Medical program which isn't certified to work on anything newer than 2003 R2 and even that only came out in the past couple of years. If something as Critical as that piece of Software is to remain in use which incidentally is the newest version you have to support the older OS's to run it or not sell anything new in the foreseeable future. Or worse not have a stable application running on newly supplied hardware/OS. For instance that piece of software looses trivial things like Allergies on Patient Records when run on a newer Server OS so it's not possible to move to a new OS. With so many Mission Critical Smaller Applications like that and it's by no means an exception as I could list a multitude of others which are the same but until they are rewritten there is no way forward to newer OS's. Another example is a piece of Earthmoving Software which is still the current version only runs on NT4 and as it saves the companies thousands of $ it's not about to be dumped till there is something new released. With the Hardware that gets attached to Earthmoving Plant they give away the software and as there is currently nothing to replace it we are stuck with it. On the up side the environments are so dusty and dirty in places that use this that the servers last about 6 Months or the life of the Job before getting replaced. Simple Economics and exactly why M$ provide Backward Licenses with their Software. ;) Or up until very recently I was buying MD DOS Licenses from M$ for some CAM Equipment. They sold them for $60.00 AU each but now want you to supply a License for 7 Pro or Ultimate and backward use DOS. That's a very expensive option and it's not going to be acceptable to the companies who use this equipment. OH and it's still relatively new but has to last 10 years before being replaced. Even then it stops all production at that plant for about 6 months to remove the existing CAM Equipment and replace it as well as getting the thing setup to run without causing expensive Crashes with the Hardware touching other bits and pieces when it's running. Col

b4real
b4real

All current servers will provide drivers to Windows Server 2003, for example.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

Good plan. I like Open office. The only thing that I would miss is the VBScript built in to Excel. I understand that there is a macro system for OpenOffice but I think that all the programs I have wouldn't translate.

TobiF
TobiF

If you think Microsoft cares about your money, then the best message is about your money. A few years ago, before I had even seen the ribbon for the first time, I was investigating whether I should invest in another family license for Office (but then 2003 had finished selling and they were offering 2007). I then ran across a mentioning that transition from Office 2003 to OpenOffice.org was generally easier and cheaper than transitioning from Office 2003 to Office 2007. Then, I had problems to believe what I was reading. But the moment I got a work in a place where Office 2007 was on every computer, I "got it" in less than 10 minutes... So: rather than picketing and shouting, simply churn to OpenOffice (or, within short) the fork LibreOffice. And financial support to these alternatives is well spent money.

irwanhassan
irwanhassan

I totally agree with you nwallette. I was a computer tutor in a high school for 7 years. I can say that I'm a little expert in using MS application especially Word, Excel, Powerpoint. Once MS Office 2007 comes out. I really find it difficult to find lot of function which was in a menu but not in the ribbon. Other than MS Office, I hate Vista as well. Once it was introduce, I thought WOW. But when I was using I really want to BOOOO the OS. Windows 7 is OK, but still resource intensive. Most of my PC (My home PC, Office PC) is using Windows XP. Only my Office Laptop is using Windows 7 because can't get the Windows XP driver to work properly on my Dell Laptop. I also do set up server for some of my client. I really feel Windows 2003 R2 is easy to deploy then Windows 2008 R2. If my client has Open License for Windows Server 2008 R2, I simply use Windows Server 2003 R2 which is easier to use and maintain.

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