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the pain of a software upgrade
the pain of a software upgrade

The last upgrade for Joomla was the move from 1.0 to 1.5 over 3 years ago and yet we still see many, many Joomla sites running Joomla 1.0.

Why is it that - after people have bust their ass to produce a shiny new version of our product - users are so slow to upgrade?

What can be done to ensure that the same doesn't happen with the release of Joomla 1.6?

What can we do to ensure that we aren't supporting three different and incompatible releases of Joomla! on our client's web sites?

How can we ensure that all users will see the benefits of all the hard work?

Why don't users upgrade?

  • WE know it's better.
  • WE know it'll help them kick ass in new ways.
  • WE know that if they stick with their current version, they'll never truly become passionate...because they'll never touch that high level of expertise where things get really really interesting.


But there our users sit, apparently content to hang out in the "competent" zone, happy they no longer suck, but unmotivated to push forward.

the upgrade curve

That's a problem.

We want our users learning and growing and improving and reaching for new challenges and doing more complex, cool things.

So why are users dragging their feet?

Why aren't they desperate to get the latest and greatest spanky new release?

Conventional wisdom says it's because of the expense, or that users fear change, or that users are simply too lazy. But there's a simpler explanation.

People don't upgrade because they don't want to move back into the "Suck Zone" that they fought hard to climb out of.

They worked too damn hard to reach a level of competence and the thought of sinking back down - however briefly - into that awful state they clawed their way out of is too unpleasant.

  • Raise your hand if you've ever installed an upgrade only to find yourself back in that confused I have no frickin' clue where they put that dialog box state?
  • Raise your hand if you felt the upgrade just wasn't worth it, even though you knew that the way you did things in the current version was pretty much an inefficient hack.
  • Raise your hand if you felt intimidated and maybe even a bit humiliated that after upgrading you could no longer do some of the simplest things.


It's not usually the upgrade that sucks. It's that the upgrade makes the users suck. Or at least makes them feel that it's their fault for not instantly getting it.

Bottom line: nobody likes doing things they suck at.
If there's a way to avoid it, we will.

How to inspire users to upgrade

Don't give in to featuritis!


Make the upgrade worth it.

More importantly... Make sure the users KNOW it's worth it.

Provide compelling benefits and do your best to ensure that the entire community of users know about them.

Go over the top with documentation

Don't you hate it when you get an upgrade and it comes with a whopping 1 page "Read Me".

Make sure users know there are people ready to hold their hand and walk them through the new things in the friendliest, most accessible, most encouraging way.

Try not to break things that were previously important to them

Yeah, another "duh" thing, but so often ignored.

Users should feel like the new upgrade simply adds capability, performance, etc. without sending them back to the "suck zone." In other words, they should feel like the upgrade is an extension not a radical modification. This isn't always possible for forward progress, of course, and you don't want to be locked in to your former design mistakes, etc. but at least think about ways to help a user transition gracefully from one version to another.

Don't tell me what cool things YOU did to the new version, tell me what cool things I can do with the new version.

Never, ever forget that it's all about the users. They don't give a duck about the new specs, they care about what it means to them. We need to connect the dots for them in the most vivid, compelling, motivating way.

The pain of an upgrade begins with download and installation

Even if the new version itself is natural and easy to get used to, if the install and set-up is a pain in the ass, they'll remember that the next time (and tell their friends not to bother unless it's REALLY REALLY worth it).

Set the tone for future upgrades

If you lie about the upgrade - either by downplaying the learning curve, overselling the benefits or mis-selling the compatibility, you're screwed. With the scheduled 6 monthly upgrades from now on this is a crucial step.

Users will remember the pain of THIS upgrade when it comes time for the NEXT one. The better the first upgrade experience is for them, the more likely they'll be to ever do it again.

The joomla 1.0 to 1.5 upgrade experience wasn't great and we're going to have to fight to combat this so let's not make the same mistake again.

Entice, bribe, or potentially force them to upgrade

This is extremely dangerous, but if you are absolutely certain that your upgrade will be universally loved by users and that the upgrade will be relatively bloodless you could potentially hold them hostage, like the way Apple does regularly with iTunes.

Start the buzz early (practice T-Shirt-First Development)

By the time Apple releases an upgrade, the Faithful are so excited that they line up by the thousands outside Apple stores at midnight, or earlier, braving the cold, just to get it ahead of their friends.

New releases can be a source of great enthusiasm and energy - Exploit that.

In the right situations, upgrades are like crack (in a good way)

Nobody wants to go back to the "suck zone", so it's your job to make sure that:

  • The new upgrade must not send them back to the Suck Zone
  • You must convince users that they won't land back in the Suck Zone
  • In the ideal world, the curve looks like this:


the kick ass curve

This blog post is adapted from Why they don't upgrade by Kathy Sierra from Creating passionate users, updated and given a joomla feel.

Note unlike the rest of the blog it is not licenced under the WTFPL but under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.


J o o m l a !

Brian Teeman

Brian Teeman

Who is Brian?

As a co-founder of Joomla! and OpenSourceMatters Inc I've never been known to be lacking an opinion or being too afraid to express it.

Despite what some people might think I'm a shy and modest man who doesn't like to blow his own trumpet or boast about achievements.

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