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What Is Legacy Software and a Legacy System in Business + The Risks
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What Counts as Legacy Software. Why Businesses Still Use Legacy Software and What They Risk.

If you are leading a business or work within a business, this guide is definitely for you.

You have probably come across the term legacy software or legacy systems but don’t know exactly what they are. Or, even more likely, you are using legacy software or systems without even knowing it.

But there are risks and challenges associated with this (somewhat unavoidable) business practice.

Below I will explain everything there is to know about making the most you can out of legacy software and systems. As I said, it’s highly probable for a business older than a year to be using at least some tools which can be labeled as legacy tier.

First thing’s first, though: let’s start by exploring what is legacy software and what are legacy systems. Typically, any medium to large company nowadays has at least a few legacy elements in its IT environment.

Next, we’ll move along to tips that can help you identify whether your legacy software or legacy system is one of the risky ones or not.

What Is Legacy Software? Definition(s)

To put it in as few words as possible, legacy software is any piece of software that can’t receive continued patching or support from its developer, or can’t meet the compliance standards in use.

The examples of enterprise-level legacy software can be quite different.

Here are just a few cases which can be labeled as legacy software, to get a better idea of what it can encompass:

* A major platform with no functional replacement (yet), still supported and compatible with other IT assets, but which does not receive security updates anymore;

* An older piece of software that is still in use and receives support, but its creators are announcing the transition of support to the newer version of the product (such as the case of Python 2 vs Python 3);

* A piece of software or platform which still gets updates but only for features (not security patches);

* A piece of software or platform which still gets security updates and support but is no longer compliant with recent standards;

* A piece of software or platform which gets updates and support but is not compatible with the newer systems and drivers in use (thus stalling the company’s adoption of those);

In some cases, the category of legacy software can include consumer-oriented software products issued by companies that no longer exist.

But, in spite of the discontinued support – and the discontinued official listing of that software (there’s nowhere to officially buy or download it from) – some users continue to procure it out of nostalgia.

Such is the case of Winamp media player, for example. There are entire Reddit forums dedicated to Winamp nostalgia, along with users still sharing custom made Winamp ‘skins’. There is also newly issued software that can emulate Winamp in-browser. So, the power of nostalgia for legacy software can still make the world go ‘round.

What Is a Legacy System in a Computer Industry Context?

A legacy system is a platform or hub or operating system (something which facilitates digital operations but is one level above software) which is outdated.

This state of being outdated can refer to the fact that the system is either lacking the possibility of support, or to its compatibility with other IT system elements, or to its level of compliance, or to the updates it receives.

Myth Busting Legacy Software and Legacy Systems

Here are the most common misconceptions about legacy software and legacy systems.

#1. Legacy software is useless

False.

While legacy software and legacy systems still pose risks (which I’ll dive into below), it doesn’t mean they outlived their usefulness completely.

In many cases, a piece of legacy software or a legacy system is still in use precisely because it is the most comfortable option. Either there is no exact functional replacement yet, or the transition is still too difficult to weather.

Regardless of the exact reason, companies continue to use legacy software precisely because it’s still useful.

Ideally, yes, people should try to move on from legacy software as soon as it’s feasible, but things are always a bit more complicated in practice.

#2. Legacy software is free

False.

The opposite can be true: precisely because legacy software was quite an investment, companies may be reluctant to replace it yet. An investment only makes sense if the cost is recovered over a pre-determined use period.

In many cases, even subscription-based software and systems (which the company is still actively paying for) are in fact legacy ones. The recurrent fee ensures continuous support and perhaps even some feature updates, but the security patches are unsatisfactory, or the software is not compliant.
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