Should Adobe Fix Older Versions of Programs to Work with Newer Operating Systems?


We all want the software on our computers to work forever, but there’s a problem: Software doesn’t live in a vacuum. That is, programs like InDesign and Photoshop have to play nice with all the other software you’re running — and, in particular, your operating system. Whether you use Windows or Mac, your operating system is critical to the success of your apps.

So software developers such as Adobe work very hard to keep your programs and operating systems in sync. And that’s why if you change one, you often need to change the other, too! The newest version of InDesign won’t run on an old operating system; and, vice versa, the newest operating systems won’t play nice with older versions of the software.

This isn’t a conspiracy. It’s not Adobe trying to rip anyone off. It’s just the way publishing software has always worked, and always will. It often takes considerable effort for developers to “fix” their software to keep working with new operating systems. It can be a lot harder just to keep things working smoothly than it is to add new features!

So… The First Rule of Software: Don’t upgrade your operating system until you’re absolutely sure your software will work on it, and don’t upgrade your software until you’re sure it will work with your operating system!

When to Upgrade

I recently heard of a whole office that still runs Apple OS9 on old Quadra computers from the ’90s because they know their software (PageMaker, I think) works properly and it won’t if they upgrade to either newer software (e.g. InDesign) or an operating system (such as OS X or a newer version of Windows).

I’m not one to judge, but that does seem a little crazy to me. After all, the whole point in upgrading (either software or OS) is to become more efficient. Generally we become slightly less efficient for a little while after an upgrade (as we become accustomed to the change), but then we should become more productive. I used PageMaker on Quadras, and I can assure you I’m exponentially more efficient with InDesign CC running on today’s fast processors.

Which bring us to The Second Rule of Software: Don’t upgrade unless it is going to make your life better. You should either be able to work faster, produce higher quality work, exchange documents with others better, run software you want to run, or something. Too many people upgrade just because there’s a new version. That’s not a good reason. Just because Adobe or Apple or Microsoft or whomever releases something doesn’t mean you have to follow along. This isn’t fashion, it’s software. Or to use another comparison, there’s a good reason why you don’t replace the hammer in your toolbox every year. Hammer technology is pretty stable and mature at this point, so a shiny new hammer won’t serve you any better than the boring old one you’ve had for 20 years.

Change is Good

…and The Third Rule of Software: Don’t be afraid of change! There is no glory in mindless change for change’s sake, but nor is there honor in putting blinders on and blocking out the new. By definition, the only way to get more efficient, more productive, or have more fun in your work is for something to change. That might be you changing (getting some training to help you learn better ways of doing things), or it could be your software or OS changing.

As they say, “Everything changes but change itself.” Change is opportunity! Embrace it! So explore and stay curious, but don’t leap until you find a good reason. And then, when you do change one part of your system, remember that you’re almost certainly going to have to change a lot—including your way of doing things. It’s a process. Be mindful and don’t let fear of change—or fear of missing out—drive your decisions.

Posted on: December 19, 2015

David Blatner

David Blatner is the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign, Spectrums: Our Mind-Boggling Universe From Infinitesimal to Infinity, and The Joy of Pi. He is also the author of InDesign Essential Training and the InDesign Insider Training titles at David is the co-host of InDesignSecrets and PePcon: The Print + ePublishing Conference, and is the co-founder of Creative Publishing Network.

8 Comments on Should Adobe Fix Older Versions of Programs to Work with Newer Operating Systems?

  1. I thoroughly endorse David’s “First Rule of Software” — Don’t upgrade your operating system until you’re absolutely sure your software will work on it, and don’t upgrade your software until you’re sure it will work with your operating system!

    The unfortunate fact is that today’s operating system developers (especially Apple) do not adhere to the what was once an unquestioned requirement — that new versions of an operating system continue to run application programs written and tested on older versions of the same operating system without loss of functionality or problems. This is particularly problematic with MacOS and iOS, but increasingly true with Windows as well in recent years.

    Part of the problem is changing user interfaces in conjunction with dramatic changes in display hardware (especially resolution) combined with OS use of primarily resolution-dependent raster operations for screen display. Application software developers such as Adobe are severely challenged to continually update their applications simply to run properly on the newer OS versions, much less take best advantage of them and newer hardware features. And quite frankly, the application software developers don’t have 20-20 foresight or even much advanced knowledge of what the OS and hardware developers will make available in the near much less the distant future. That is why you can’t expect your 10 year old copy of InDesign to properly install and run on a HiDPI screen-based Macintosh running MacOS 10.11 (or an equivalent system running Windows 10). Nor can Adobe somehow easily “fix” such old software to accommodate the new hardware and OS versions without rewriting that old software — that “rewrite” is the newer version of InDesign.

    Thus, reinforcing David’s messaging — if you are hot for new hardware and/or OS versions, be prepared for the possibility, no the likelihood, that you will also need to upgrade your applications as well.

    – Dov Isaacs, Principal Scientist, Adobe Systems Incorporated

    • I live by the first rule for many years – never upgrade OS before 100% sure everything works fine. I’m not hot for new shiny macs either, but it couldn’t help when my 3.5 yrs old mac running Yosemite with CS6 broke down and have to buy a new one running el capitan out-of-the-box. Indeisgn CS6 crashes miserably every couple minutes, it crashes once every 75 mins after resetting pref file. Since i’m not a heavy user (only a handful of indesign projects per year), it’s not economically sounded to subscribe CC. Maybe Adobe could open-up some code for the community to maintain the last box retail?

  2. Maybe Adobes craptacular subscription rip has something to do with it. Easily avoided by using alternatives. Not as fab (perhaps) but mine and some even free. AND I don’t have to worry about not being able to my own work efforts should I be forced to drop a subscription.

  3. Twenty years? This seems disingenuous to me, David. I bought the CS6 suite three years ago. At considerable expense and as an investment and with no warning that it would be obsolete soon. I am an independent designer and can only imagine what misery a larger firm must be feeling if they outfitted their whole crew with this software only to have it rendered inoperable because Apple won’t allow it’s users to modify their memory settings. This is no minor affair and quite frankly I have to wonder if they’ve opened themselves up to litigation. Although they’re probably too big to care. After upgrading to El Capitan I found that CS6 was unusable, despite all the “fixes” floating about, and have now just finished “downgrading” to the previous OS. It cost me a lot of time and emotional distress. I hope they figure out a patch but I won’t hold my breath. What all of these companies need is some competition because right now they have none and have no reason to cultivate any loyalty and instead behave like royalty.

    • Erik: Not sure what you mean by 20 years being disingenuous. Do you mean my comment about a hammer?

      I can totally understand your frustration. I’ve had to deal with that kind of thing, too! But the whole point of writing the article was to help save people from these kinds of problems. I hope this will make people pause first and check to ensure CS6 (or whatever version they’re on) works before updating their OS.

      CS6 is good software, but there’s no reason it should keep working forever on all future (or present) operating systems.

  4. Agree entirely with your three rules, though I really do not see all that much reason to upgrade high end software in a less than three year cycle. Sometimes, even longer. The cost of the CC model, for instance, is so high that I think it makes life very difficult for individual creative people to run it – specially of they are not in a ‘first world’ country, where the income levels (particularly design fees) are significantly lower. So 10.8 / W7 and CS6 serve the rest of us pretty well!
    On another note, the Quadras and Pagemaker. Shows you how long the damn things last. And once again, for the rest of us, there’s Sheepshaver for Intel 😉

  5. We have CS6 on our iMacs in my lab at my community college. We can’t afford CC. This post and the comments saved me a lot of grief because I had been considering updating our OS to El Capitan. Now, though, I am wondering what we are going to do down the road when other requirements force us to update to a new OS. Even if my college agrees to pay for CC one year, what happens in a bad budget year when the funding stops? Quark? Use my own money to pay for CC if my college will not pay for it? This is scary.

    • I have some truths, too.
      1) if you see no value in innovation, the you don’t need to upgrade.
      2) if you are a large company with a huge investment in graphics software, hardware, customized programming, and such, you can choose to innovate or choose to stagnate. See number 1.
      3) if you are a freelancer or small studio, you have the ability to out maneuver the big company. You’ll probably do this by being more innovative than them. See number 1.
      4) if you don’t like to learn new skills, you will be out maneuvered by both your largest and smallest competitors. It won’t hurt as you fade into oblivion. While you are happy in the year 2003, time is moving away from you. See number 1.
      5) You shouldn’t expect your clients or your vendors to be content with stagnation. Stagnation is death to most businesses. Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, and a host of others businesses– maybe even yours — must innovate or they cease to exist. See number 1.

      Is it easy, cheap, or fun? Not really (ok, it can be fun. When it’s not taking the oxygen out of the room.) Innovation yields dividends that are shared with clients and lead to new opportunities.

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