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Software Updates

Summary: Jack is reminded that data is terribly ephemeral.

This was going to be an article about last week's ARM TechCon. It was brilliantly-crafted, filled with soaring prose and elegant metaphors, a sure-fire Pulitzer winner. I wrote it on the plane back from the show on my Macbook Pro.

Someday I'll write about my backup strategy which is daily and aggressive. My main computer is a Windows 8.1 machine, but while on the road I use the Mac. After each trip I run GoodSync to sync changed files between the Windows machine and the Mac. Work done on the road gets mirrored to the Windows machine and thus enters into the backup process.

GoodSync has been pretty decent at this. It will create insurance backups of every file that is changed or deleted. It is, like most programs, very configurable.

It also changes from time to time and issues nuisance warnings asking users to download an update. A lot of programs do this. Is this good or bad? It's certainly annoying to have that pop up appear every time you run the application. Even little FileZilla has been undergoing what seems a lot of updates lately and now at version, which seems like a lot of iterations for a simple FTP client.

The computer is just a tool that is supposed to help us do some task. We maintain all of our tools, but most of us have so many programs that there's often a blizzard of updates required. Sometimes, between maintaining my computers and those of my family it seems like the machines are albatrosses of anti-productivity.

On the other hand, it is good that the programs improve and sometimes get additional functionality.

Apple got updates mostly right on the iPhone and iPad: apps just show a flag that a new version is available; they don't issue annoying request for attention. A single update request then replaces all of the old programs in one operation. However, the iPhone, too, is subject to some of this stupidity: a recent OS upgrade added new cloud functionality that is enabled by default. The phone constantly prompts for a cloud sign-in till one figures out how to delete that feature.

Advice to developers: never add a feature that will annoy the user. Default new functionality to "off."

GoodSync has been pestering me for a while to get an update, which I finally did. Back home from the conference the first sync using the new version deleted all of the work done while traveling. After installing the new version it remembers the various IP addresses and folders that get synced, but the configuration changes to simply copy the Windows files to the Mac and delete all changed laptop files. A further configuration change tells it to no longer save backups of deleted files.

That TechCon article, and too much other work, went to the bit bucket.

The moral is, I suppose, to use multiple backup strategies even over the course of a few days of travel. It doesn't make sense to even trust a hard disk, so changed files should also go to an USB stick or other external storage, at least daily. Even better would be to an SD card since that would not protrude from the laptop's form factor and so would be amenable to an automatic backup strategy.

Watch this space next week for a rewrite of the TechCon article! Or come to Finksburg to see the steam coming out of my ears!

What's your take on updates?

Published October 6, 2014