Are software updates worth it?

Having just had the weekend from hell re-installing everything on my PC including Windows, I thought it would be a great time to blog about whether updating software is always a good idea.

The mistake I made in causing my PC to go haywire was installing the Cubase 7 update from 6.5.  Yes, you’d think that this would run smoothly, but no.  Instead, many of my plugins stopped working. Then my PC stopped working.  User profiles would quit, the PC would shut down and then bring up a ‘startup recovery screen’ which always failed to compete its task at repairing whatever problem it was supposed to be able to fix automatically.

Infuriated, I commented on Steinberg’s Facebook page (because they don’t have an email address or telephone number for instant support) and this received a few ‘likes’ from fellow users, but SURPRISE nothing from Steinberg.  This problem wouldn’t have been so bad, were it not for the fact that I paid over £100 to have the update and I had a client booked in the next day, which I nearly had to cancel.

Installing everything again from scratch made me realise just how many software revisions there are on each and every music software program around, fixing bugs and making things run smoother.  Why would developers release a software program that had bugs in the first place I ask?  Are these titles not tested properly or is this a deliberate ploy to get quick sales before its completely ready and then to hook the customer in to having to visit their sites to get updates? (Thereby hopefully seeing something new that they want to buy?)

Indeed, this could be a conspiracy theory with some truth behind it, as companies fight for sales and rely on ‘inbound marketing’ to attract new business (where they encourage users to go to them rather than in-your-face advertisements, or ‘outbound marketing’.

But this is not acceptable, as to install a program creates masses of registry entries and each update adds more. To see the sheer scale of mayhem that each program installs just search google for ‘manually uninstall Microsoft office 2010’.  The list of what you have to remove is MASSIVE!  Your PC (or MAC) can soon be minefield of masses of files for the same program, which eventually leads to problems like I experienced.  So, to answer the question we have to consider a number of things:

  1. Do you need to buy the software at its first revision point anyway?  If not, it may be worth waiting until at least the first ‘fix’ comes out because you can avoid the trauma that new users will experience when it all breaks on them, only for the company to release their first solution.
  2. Read the revision notes of what the update actually does.  If it simply adds functionality that you don’t need or ‘fixes minor bugs’ but everything seems to be working fine, think about whether it’s worth updating or just waiting for a bigger revision version to come out.  On the other side of that argument, any update that is important should be updated as it will prevent further problems.
  3. With big revisions that change the program (like Cubase 5 to 6 or 6-7) consider whether you need the new features, prepare your PC first with full backups and restore points. Be prepared for it to crash and read up on forums to see what users are talking about in relation to issues you may experience.  Then you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s worth it or not.

Last but not least; ALWAYS back up your files. Whether that be online, on a different hard drive or both.  Don’t allow software malfunctions to ruin what you’ve built up over years.  Incidentally Cubase 7 works perfectly with a clean Windows install.  All the plugins work and there hasn’t been a single glitch.  But everything was also working perfectly before I installed the update that led to the computer crashing out on me.  Darn you Steinberg!