By John Giles One can only wonder how long these changes can keep coming before printers revolt. November 21, 2005 -- Microsoft has announced a new operating system to be released sometime in 2006. Apple has updated its operating system to OS 10.4.3 and further announced it will start using a new chip in its computer that won't support Classic applications. Unlike past announcements, small commercial and quick printers are greeting the news with a collective groan. It seems like just when a printer starts to get everything working properly, some vendor makes a change that creates havoc in the prepress department. One can only wonder how long these changes can keep coming before printers revolt. Planned obsolescence has always been a fact of life for computers. Software companies are in business to sell software. If they can make an improvement to their product they can gain new customers and force old customers to upgrade. The new bells and whistles often provide major benefits and over the years users would automatically get the new software because it added features they felt had to have. Is the Upgrade Worth It? New features and capabilities continue to appear, but printers question whether the benefits are worth going through the inevitable hassles of upgrading. As Microsoft and Apple rework their operating systems, users are forced to upgrade because their old software no longer works with the newer operating system. The new stuff may be faster and sleeker, but why change when the old software is working correctly and predictably? Printers question whether the benefits are worth going through the inevitable hassles of upgrading. Visit any print shop today and you'll typically find an old Macintosh running OS 9 to handle older Quark and Adobe programs. You'll find old Windows 98 PCs driving output devices. Many printers are supporting customers with old software to avoid having to recreate files stored in the archives. And the range of ages on software that must be supported is growing. Some printers support Quark 4.x files on a regular basis because their customers can't --or won't-- upgrade. Are printers finally going to say "enough is enough?" Will the benefits of the new operating systems and software offset the cash and time investment printers must make in adjusting their workflow? What vendors forget is that most printers have to support at least two operating systems: Mac and PC. While some of the software can seamlessly translate from one platform to another, font and driver issues can cause confusion. It also costs a lot of money. One Approach Adobe has provided a great service to printers through its Adobe Solutions Network. The program lets printers receive copies of both Mac and Windows versions of almost all of Adobe graphic software for a yearly price of $600. The price also includes all of the updates that are released during the year. This allows printers to support both platforms without major--and repetitive--software expenses. Quark offers a special pricing package to printers, but it isn't as robust as Adobe's plan. The ASN program is one reason you see smaller printers migrating to Adobe from Quark. Some printers support Quark 4.x files on a regular basis because their customers can't --or won't-- upgrade. Vendors know that most printers are conservative--some would say cheap--when it comes to purchasing. But if printers have to go through another wave of upgrades, they may start to rebel. I just visited a small printer in central Pennsylvania. His prepress department is using three Mac G4s running OS 9.2. The main page layout software is Quark 5. His plan is to upgrade to Adobe Creative Suite 2 on his single Windows XP. This will allow him to handle most of the native files he now receives from customers. He will convert those files to PDFs or EPS files that he'll send to the older Quark 5 on his Macs for output to his platemaker. He also has his customers using an automatic PDF creation program when they submit files. According to the printer, he doesn't have the time to deal with upgrading to OS X and managing the font and driver issues. He doesn't have the cash to pay the upgrade fees for software and utilities. His staff can continue to process work with what he has. It may add an extra step or two, but he can still meet his customers' needs. He figures that in about two years he will upgrade his Macs and software to OS X. He wants to do it slowly so he doesn't disrupt his workflow or cause delay for his customers. He also wants to be able to pay for it. Whether or not his individual decision is the correct one isn't what's important to the vendors. What is important for them to realize that this printer is one of many who are tired of having to buy the latest, greatest hardware/software combination. He has found a way to continue to be profitable without spending a lot of money. He'll eventually buy the new hardware and software, but he'll do it on his terms and timetable. Printers are tired of being forced to buy the latest, greatest hardware software combination. PDF a Key Solution I'm guessing there are a number of printers in the same boat and wondering where they are going to get the cash and time to deal with the next upgrade. As PDF file formats become the norm, I believe you'll see printers investing in PDF workflow software that works with their equipment so they can keep the old software and hardware working. Does Quark have an upgrade? Just get the file converted to a PDF. Is the customer working on another platform? Get a PDF and the file can print. The printer doesn't have the latest version of the application? Have the customer use the right PDF creation tool and take a PDF file. Printers may spend the money for new software or one more new operating system, but vendors may see the well run dry. Unless the new software dramatically improves the printer's workflow, is easy to install, and works well with other investments such as the platemaker and digital press, printers are going to start finding other ways to get more out of the equipment and software they have now. Printers can be very resourceful in creating their own work-arounds to avoid spending money. Printers can be very resourceful in creating their own work-arounds to avoid spending money. It is going to be hard to get printers excited about new technology when they haven't figured out how to use what they have now. Vendors need to remember that there are some printers still running letterpress equipment--and making money.