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I.T. in practice: Upgrades update

Every Issue

Cite as: October 2009 83(10) LIJ, p86

Law practices need to start taking into account the upgrades in Microsoft and Mac software.

Software makes up the basic "plumbing" of desktop information technology, and both Apple and Microsoft have upgraded their offerings.

Apple's new release of its Mac OS operating system has been named "Snow Leopard" - part of Apple's recent theme of naming software after big cats.

It is actually version 10.6, and visually it is difficult to distinguish from previous versions, with most of the upgrade work going into speed and stability enhancements behind the scenes.1

For law offices with mixed environments - Macs and Windows-based workstations - there is tighter integration, especially with email servers. Snow Leopard is only available for newer (Intel) Macs and recent purchasers of the older (10.5) version have access to a heavy discount on the upgrade cost.

Of significance to the greater proportion of legal practices is Microsoft's new desktop operating system - Windows 7.

As a matter of technology trivia, it was named "7" as a flow-on to the internal version numbers of previous Windows versions (Windows 2000 was V5.0, Windows XP was V5.1, Windows 2003 was V5.2, Windows Vista/2008 was V6.0).

This piece of software has been available in pre-release form for about a year. As a result it has undergone a huge amount of end-user testing, which is reflected in its high levels of reliability and usability.

In much the same way as most firms jumped from Windows 95/98 to Windows XP and bypassed Windows ME, many will now skip Windows Vista and jump straight from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Although it is possible to purchase such an upgrade, it is not possible to merely slide a DVD into a computer, click "Upgrade", and then wait. For existing XP users, it will be necessary to use an "Easy Transfer" tool to save data (but not program) files, install a fresh copy of Windows 7, then install all old programs again.

Licensed Vista users are able to do an in-place upgrade from XP to Vista, and then to Windows 7, but this involves a process that would usually take many hours more than a wipe-and-reinstall.

The new version of Windows comes in three flavours. Most offices will install the Professional version, as this will allow connection to server-based office networks (in contrast to the Home Premium) and doesn't have the unwanted features that attract a higher price (such as Ultimate).

Windows 7 looks much the same as Vista, but non-Vista Windows XP users will need to learn how the new "Explorer" organises its files.2

Existing older hardware will need to be updated, mostly in terms of memory and graphics capabilities. However, newer computer hardware tends to be assembled around the requirements of Windows 7, so this also may have implications for smaller firms wishing to replace part of their desktop fleet and thus take advantage of the federal government's Investment Allowance before the end of the year.

With Windows Vista, there were a lot of initial problems regarding the compatibility of older software programs. In Windows 7, this is mostly resolved with the ability to run programs in "XP Mode".

For those practices wanting to stay with Windows XP or Windows Vista, this will not be so easy and will become increasingly cost-ineffective. Hardware vendors will build their machines to support the new standard and software developers will focus on the new Windows version.

Older versions will become harder to purchase and more costly to obtain support for.

Prices of the new versions of Windows will not be materially different from older ones, and as with Snow Leopard, recent purchasers of the Vista-equipped computers will not have to pay full price for their upgrade.

Microsoft's other flagship product - the Office suite - is also in the process of having a new upgrade readied for release in early 2010.

Office 2010 - the successor to Office 2007 - is currently being tested quite widely, and will feature enhancements in all areas, including the user interface.

Many practices still use the Office 2003 suite, but are aware that official support for this product will start to wind down with the end of its official life cycle.

Therefore, decisions regarding installing Windows 7 and ensuring this is stable across the office environment will most probably want to be tackled first, before embarking on potential upgrades to office productivity software.


ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm. For more IT in-practice information, see the contributions of the LIV Legal Practice Management Committee and IT e-Marketing Department at www.liv.asn.au/members/sections/sps/it.

1. See www.apple.com/au/macosx.

2. See www.microsoft.com/australia/windows/windows-7/whats-new.aspx.

To-do list

  • Check recent hardware purchases which included an operating system, to determine whether a free or reduced cost upgrade is applicable.
  • Audit the existing desktop hardware fleet to establish which machines may require upgrades or replacement.
  • Liaise with software partners to confirm upgrade compatibility.
  • Identify costs for hardware upgrades and replacements, and consequent operating system upgrade costs.
  • Identify whether each office desktop will require an in-place upgrade or a complete wipe-and-reinstall.
  • Identify an overall upgrade project plan and budget.

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