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When things are running properly, lawyers shouldn’t have to think about the technology they’re using, since it’s only one of the many tools in their arsenal to properly represent their clients. So when the latest software updates are released, the new products are viewed with disdain, skepticism, or indifference by many � and for good reason. How many times have you found that the update to a trusted program completely changes the way you’re used to doing things? To a new user, the update may seem logical, but for someone already using the program, all the additional “bells and whistles” are just annoying. While there are good reasons to upgrade, such as security, stability, or hardware compatibility, it seems like many times updates are just a way for a software company to sell the same product to its existing customer base, rather than create a new paradigm in information technology. For example, in the past 10 years, the Microsoft Corp has released Office 95, Office 97, Office 2000, Office XP, and the current version, Office 2003. But is there all that much more you can do with word processing in Word 2003 than there is with Word 97? If you answer yes to that question, then you absolutely need the latest version, as it no doubt has become essential to your practice. But for the vast majority of users, Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint 97 may just do the job for you. And besides the big office suites, numerous utility programs have been created over the years that were lost through corporate software mismanagement, mergers, or the downturn in the economy. The major software manufacturers don’t sell (or service) the old software. Yet, fortunately, used software can provide these products, often at a fraction of what their so-called bigger, better, upgraded versions cost today. BEGINNING THE SEARCH Perhaps the first place to look for older software is on eBay. For example, a search for a new, never-registered version of Adobe Acrobat 4.0, the PDF-creation software, lists for a price of $139, whereas Adobe Acrobat Professional 6 will retail at about $399. Used versions of the software cost even less. In a law firm, Acrobat is important for transferring documents created in many different programs into a standard format, but Version 4.0 will do the job just as well as Version 6 for the vast majority of users. Storefronts on the Web also specialize in out-of-date software, where old versions of your favorite products are available at fractions of the cost. A quick Google search will bring up many of these vendors. But beware of a gray area of legality with some old software. OEM software, or software that comes shipped with a computer, is often not legally allowed to be transferred to another computer. But this may not always be the case, and you may actually need to read the fine print in the license to see if it is legal to transfer the application to another computer. When buying used software, there is also the danger of someone else having already registered and copied the program for their own use, so be wary when purchasing previously used products from questionable sources. Beware of pirated software, as well. Often marked as “backup” copies, the vendor purports to sell copies of popular software programs as backups to consumers who already have a license for the program. Copyright law allows owners to make a backup copy for their use, but companies selling pirated software rarely ask for proof that the purchaser has a licensed copy. These products often come without the retail literature or the ability to register the product � all clues that the software is not legal. But purchased from legitimate vendors, many old software programs provide usefulness and innovation. For example, I still use an old text-based, DOS program for doing fast search and replaces and cleanup of data files. While I could do the same thing with a current Windows-based software product, it takes longer, is more involved, and often not as practical. Likewise, outdated utilities can accomplish many things that today’s software may have overlooked. CAVEAT EMPTOR One category of old software that should probably be avoided is anti-virus and security programs. Hackers and other harmful predators are always looking for security flaws, and software designed to keep them out three years ago may not be sufficient today. On the Mac side, the latest operating system, OS X 10.3, cannot run many older applications. In this case, the Mac would need to switch to “Classic” mode, which is really OS 9.2.2, to run the programs. While this generally works fine, it may not be able to take full advantage of the OS X’s features. But many bargains can be found with Mac software that is not OS X-compliant, if you wish to continue running your Mac in OS 9.2.2 Attorneys may also come upon the electronic files of a party involved in litigation, but they may be in a format that current programs may not be able to read. Often the only way to get the files converted is by using the program that originally created the data. A Web search may come across a company or individual that is still selling the program. Sometimes, older programs may not run on new, Windows XP-based computers, particularly programs originally written in DOS. But there are alternatives to making those programs work. The best solution is Virtual PC, now owned by Microsoft, but developed by Connectix before being acquired. With Virtual PC, you can run various operating systems on your computer, including older ones such as DOS or earlier versions of Windows, as well as alternative systems such as OS/2 or Linux. And there is a version of Virtual PC for the Mac as well, which allows Macs to run Windows and most Windows programs. And what about the other end of the spectrum � what do you do with software that you no longer have a use for? You can sell it. One company, www.softbuyers.com, specializes in purchasing used software and says it can accept 95 percent of the software offered to it. Out-of-date software isn’t supported and may be difficult to trouble-shoot, but can often be a terrific way to save costs or solve problems. It may be old, but it’s far from obsolete. Brian R. Harris is the database administrator for American Lawyer Media’s Pennsylvania division and former editor in chief of the ALM newspaper The Legal Intelligencer , where this article first appeared.

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