What Does End of Life Mean for Software and Should You Care?

Before we begin, understand that this articlealso addresses operating systems (OS), specifically Windows, but the principlescould apply to any software, app, or OS.

When you hear or get notification that your software is nearing End of Life  (EOL), it’s a bit disconcerting. It sounds so final, as though your software is just going to stop working on a certain date at a certain time. Rest easy, as this is not the case. The term is just very dramatic. We’ll go into what it really means later in the article.

First, let’s look at something called aproduct life cycle.

What is The Product Life Cycle?

Any product that you can buy has a life cycle,and therefore a finite life. It consists of four stages: development, growth,maturity, and decline.

  1. Development – This is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the period in which the software is developed and initially marketed and adopted or sold. In this stage, the software might still have some small issues or be lacking in features.
  2. Growth – As awareness of the software grows and the software becomes more stable, it enters a growth phase. Sales or distribution of the software begins to accelerate. Because software is something that can be changed while in use, there may be some more updates and a few features introduced.
  3. Maturity – The software has reached its peak sales or distribution. There is ongoing support for the software, but generally speaking, there aren’t any major updates or feature enhancements.
  4. Decline – For a number of possible reasons, the sales and distribution of the software begins to go down. It could be because it’s no longer really needed, a better competing product came along, it’s not keeping up with the needs of the user, or other reasons. The point is, it’s not selling that well.

If you were to graph this process by number ofsales or units distributed, it may look something like this:

You can see that the decline is not conduciveto good business. At some point, the people publishing the software just don’thave a good reason to keep producing it or supporting it.

A good publisher will make a very public EoLannouncement detailing the End of Sale (EoS) date and the EoL date.

What is End of Sale Date?

The short answer is the date that thepublisher stops selling or distributing the software. It’s often also the datethat the last update of any kind would be pushed out. It will no longer belisted for sale or download on the official channels of sale. You’ll no longerbe able to get quotes on the cost either.

This doesn’t always mean that the software gets pulled off the shelves of retailers carrying it though. Although, boxed software is almost not a thing anymore. Still, be aware that when you’re buying a version of software that’s been out for a few years, you might be getting something that is already EoS or nearly EoL.

What is End of Life?

When software or an app gets to the decline phase of the product life cycle, the end of life is near. It happens somewhere in that phase. Sometimes closer to the start of the decline and sometimes they hang on to the very end.

That’s a decision that is up to them based on their values. Usually it is preceded by an end of sale point, where you just can’t buy or get the software anymore.

EoL means any, or even all, of the following for that app, OS, or software:

  • Major feature releases may be supported for afixed period of time after the EoL date..
  • Technical support, workarounds, and bug fixes will stop.
  • Supportduring the period between EoS and EoL may only be available to those with apaid support contract.
  • Onlinesupport documentation, wikis, or forums may be archived or taken offline on theEoL date or another specified date.
  • Requestsfor features will not be accepted.
  • Validationof software installs may not work.
  • Officialtraining for the software may no longer be available.

What Problems Could Software Endof Life Cause Me?

You may look at the list above and think,“That’s not a big deal. The software still works and it’ll have all the updatesit’ll ever need. Plus, I already know how to use it and there’s lots of otherforums and blogs with information about it. Why would I bother getting thenewest version?”

That’s a valid way to look at it. However,it’s an incomplete way to look at it.

Let’s take a look at some of the problems EoLsoftware could give you.

Security Issues

This is likely the most important reason. Justbecause your software or OS has been out for 15 years doesn’t mean all theholes have been patched. Most likely, all the holes haven’t even been found.

A blunt explanation of this comes from Scott Kinka, chief technology officer at Evolve IP at the time that he was quoted on tomsguide.com in the article, “ Is It Still Safe for Businesses to Use Windows XP? ”

Kinka said, because Microsoft would no longerbe sending updates for the old Windows XP, “Just assume someone is on your PCwhile you’re working. Every password, trade secret and bit of personalinformation is at risk.”

Consider that Windows XP is now 18 years old and is still on about 4% of computers worldwide, according to NetMarketShare.com . That doesn’t sound like much, but let’s assume there’s a billion desktop computers worldwide. Four percent of a billion is 40 million computers. Some in people’s homes, and some in businesses. That’s a big problem.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the holes that gounnoticed in EoL software can also be in the newer version.

Roger A. Grimes’ article, “ Zero-days aren’t the problem — patches are ” talks about how hackers look at patches to find the vulnerability that it’s meant to patch. Why? Because a lot of these patches don’t get applied, and they definitely don’t get applied to EoL software because no patches are available. So the patch becomes like a flare in the sky showing where the problem is, and how to exploit it.

Sure, that’s horrible for an old operatingsystem, but does software present as big a problem? Yes, if that softwareinteracts with the Internet in any way, it’s as big a hole. Most office suiteprograms can connect to the Internet or receive files from the Internet thatcould open holes. Don’t forget web browsers are software too!

Regulatory or Legal Issues

Whether you’re running a business out of yourhome or just use software to do things like file taxes, you may run intoregulatory or legal issues.

Let’s say that you’re using accountingsoftware that has gone EoL. It’s no longer receiving the updates needed to staycurrent with tax and business laws. So the files and information it preparesmay not meet current regulations. This could result in missed tax refundopportunities, rejected tax returns, or even audits and fines. You don’t needthat.

Another example might be that you’re doingsome medical transcription at home. If some piece of old software has left yourcomputer open to hackers, you might be leaking very personal medicalinformation and not know it. Yet, you’re still accountable for that.

Incompatibility

Although usually a minor issue, it is highlyfrustrating when someone sends you a file that isn’t compatible with yoursoftware.

Imagine getting a spreadsheet about bonusesdone in Excel 365 but all you’ve got is Excel 2010. The functions in the 365version might not work on 2010 so you wouldn’t know what your bonus was goingto be.

Worse yet would be sending your resume done inan old version of Word and having all the formatting fall apart because theemployer is using Office 365. How horrible would that be?

Decreased Reliability

All things degrade over time. Software is no exception. How it happens is a topic that would fill another article, but nonetheless it happens. Over time, you find that the application crashes more often and you lose your work.

Weird bugs creep up making it harder to do what you’re trying to do. Do you really need the frustration and time lost? Of course not.

Outdated Skills

Using Microsoft Office as an example again,how are you going to keep your skills relevant if you’re still working onOffice 2003 and most of the world has moved on to Office 365. Office 365 isabout 16 years newer and has features and integration that you couldn’t havedreamt of back in 2003.

The more competent you are with the newestversions of software and operating systems, no matter what your line of work,the more competitive you’ll be in the job market. That means better jobs andbetter pay. If your line of work is technical, even more so.

Cost

How will staying with EoL software cost you money? We’ve already seen that it could cost you job opportunities, waste your time, and even put you in legal hot water.

All of those things come back to money out of your pocket either literally or in opportunity cost. But there can be other costs associated with maintenance of your computer.

If you’re using EoL software, it could cause your newer operating system issues. Figuring out that it is the old software is beyond the skill set of the average person, so you might end up taking it to the nearest computer shop.

If you’re lucky, that shop will have experienced technicians who will know how to diagnose the problem quickly and recommend you upgrade the software.

However, there is a reason most people start their IT careers in the computer service departments of big box stores. It’s about as entry-level as it gets, so there’s a good chance the tech will take longer than necessary to figure out what’s happening and that comes with a bigger bill.

Plus, they’re still going to recommend you upgrade the software. Save yourself some time and money and just update it as soon as you know about the EoL date.

How Do I Know if My Software isReaching End of Life?

If you’ve registered your software or signedup for updates, you may receive a few emails leading up to the EoL date.

If you know your software is older and start hearing about a new version coming out, you’ll want to go to the developer’s website and search out the EoL date for your version. Or you can get on a search engine and find it that way.

For your convenience, here are some of the EoLpages for a few major software producers:

Microsoft – Search Product LifeCycle

https://support.microsoft.com/en-ca/lifecycle/search

Adobe End of Life Matrix

https://helpx.adobe.com/support/programs/eol-matrix.html

Google Apps End of LifeAnnouncements

https://gsuiteupdates.googleblog.com/ search for “end of life”

Google Chrome OS Devices

https://support.google.com/chrome/a/answer/6220366?hl=en

Google Pixel and Nexus Devices

https://support.google.com/nexus/answer/4457705#nexus_devices

Apple Vintage and ObsoleteProducts

https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT201624

(Apple isn’t very forthcoming on EoL dateslike other companies.)

Yes, You Should Care AboutSoftware End of Life

To conclude, yes, you should care. You should care because you care about your time, money, privacy, peace of mind, and yourself in general.

For the sake of the cost of a night out of every 3-5 years, you can avoid all the pitfalls that EoL software, apps, and operating systems can bring into your life. Isn’t that worth it?