TechsPlace | Most products have a finite lifespan, even if that’s not necessarily obvious. In an IT context, the lifespan of a piece of hardware will typically be determined partly by its build quality and partly by its usage. The lifespan of a piece of software, however, will typically be determined by market forces that directly impact your business.
The life cycle of a piece of software
When a piece of software is launched on the market, it will either develop a user base or it won’t. If it develops a user base, then developers have an incentive to keep its users happy (with updates and support).
If it doesn’t, then developers either have to improve matters so that it does or abandon it and move on. As long as a piece of software is “earning its keep” in terms of the income it generates for the work it requires, it can be considered to be active.
By contrast, if the user base declines to a point where it ceases to be profitable, then its developers either have to revive it or formally cease support for it. This is done by an “end-of-life” announcement, which is essentially the equivalent of an employee handing in their notice.
Receiving end-of-life notices
In some cases, end-of-life notices are, literally, headline news, at least in the IT press. This is typically the case when a major company withdraws a flagship product, for example, when Microsoft terminates older versions of Windows.
In many instances, however, a piece of software reaching the end of its life will only be of interest to a small group of people and as such is unlikely to be considered mainstream news.
This means that you will need to pay attention to updates from the developer to be sure of hearing the news at all, let alone of hearing it in good time.
The end-of-life process
The end-of-life process will depend on the developer. In principle, they could just pull the plug on a product and walk away.
Alternatively, they could opt to stop selling it actively but allow people to continue to use it at their own risk and potentially offer a certain level of support to those who are prepared to pay for it.
In some cases, developers may even opt to allow their proprietary software to become open source, thus allowing it the possibility of survival but relieving themselves of the responsibility for maintaining it. A lot will depend on the nature of the software and the developer’s further plans.
For example, Microsoft typically introduces new versions of Windows every few years and generally just allows nature to take its course by having the new system installed by default on newly-built PCs with the result that most users wind up being updated by default when they replace their computer even if they do not actively choose to install the new operating system when it is released.
Smaller developers, however, may have neither the resources nor the desire to go through a long withdrawal process and may, therefore, take a more proactive approach to usher users to the exit doors, by, for example, stopping updates, ceasing to provide support and ending the provision of documentation.
In fact, they may even start to mothball existing documentation. Reputable developers will, however, set out a clear roadmap of their plans and ensure that their user base has sufficient time to adapt to the changes before moving on. Some would not follow these steps that will directly impact your business.
The practicalities of end-of-life software
These days, when it comes to anything to do with IT (and in many other contexts), the number one question to ask is – “Is it secure?” and the number two question to ask is – “Is it legal?”.
When it comes to end-of-life software, the answers to both questions are – probably not.
Back in the days when the software was installed and used offline, using end-of-life software might not have been best practice, but it wasn’t necessarily open the door to disaster either.
In today’s online world, however, it often is. For a case study in what this can mean in cold, hard, terms, refer to the 2017 WannaCry attack which targeted people who were still using Windows XP literally years after its end-of-life date.
This lack of security means that continuing to use the software after its end-of-life date has the potential to land a company in serious legal hot water if it is shown to be a factor in a data breach.
When considering this point, it may also be worth remembering that, post-GDPR, all data breaches must be reported and may be subject to very severe penalties, including prison sentences that directly impact your business.