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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How to determine the Operating System support for your product - Part 1

You are working on your product, and one of the big factors determining the amount of effort needed for testing, and to some extent development, is the platform support that you offer. For both Windows and Mac, there are a large number of Operating Systems that have been released over the years, and if your product has been getting released into the market over a number of years, you would have had to support many of these Operating Systems. Consider the case of Microsoft Windows; it has had a number of operating systems released as time went by - Win 3.1, Win95, Win98, Win NT, Win 2000, Win XP, Vista, Windows 7 and now Windows 8 (I have been working on products that have been in the market supporting Operating Systems from Win 3.1). A number of people would ask as to what is the problem in supporting previous versions of Operating Systems. If you consider a software that is also released on the Mac, there are also different version of Mac OS that have been released over the years.
Now, there is a huge cost of maintaining software on these multiple Operating Systems (and when I say maintaining, I actually mean supporting these OS's on newer versions of the software). When you say that you are supporting an Operating System, this is not possible unless you have done a round of testing on that particular Operating System. So, the more Operating Systems that you have to support, the additional amount of testing that you have to do. Also consider that every Operating System would have had patches that need to be supported. So Windows XP is actually Windows XP, Windows XP Service Pack 2, Windows XP Service Pack 3. And we have seen many cases that the test results could be different because of the difference in the version number of common DLL's such as the Windows Runtime DLL's that are present in these Service Packs.
Many of these Operating Systems are very old, and not supported by Microsoft (or in the case of the Mac, not supported by Apple) anymore. In fact, Microsoft has already removed OS's earlier than Windows XP from their list of supported Operating Systems, and XP is also quickly on the way out. However, depending on your customer profile, decisions such as dropping support of various Operating Systems are not so easy. For products that are meant for layman consumers, not those who upgrade their machines periodically, you would find that a number of people are fine with using Windows XP and see no reason to upgrade to a newer Operating System. So, if your user base is comprised of such types of users, then dropping support for XP would mean that you no longer want business from such users. Further for people who on XP and have a previous version of your software, it means that you are no longer offering a path to buy a newer version, and they may end up using a software that is from a rival and you would have lost a customer.
So what are some of the other variables involved in decision making and how do you finally make a decision ?

Read the next post in this series (Selecting the supported Operating Systems - Part 2).

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