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Upgrade Blues - Sun, 9 Oct 2011

Upgrading your software is something you want to do often, to get new and enhanced features and bugs fixed. But it is also something that sometimes bites you back, with features that you used to use getting removed, or having new bugs introduced that now pop up when you do something that always used to work.

But it’s a necessary evil. Eventually, your old software, e.g. your DOS or early Windows programs, will not work on your new computer. You will have to upgrade your software if you want to continue to use it, or purchase another to do that function. Moving to another is your other option but it has its own plusses and minuses - including the regret of no longer using your old software.

There may be an upgrade fee. When there is, you have to make a choice: to upgrade or not to upgrade, that is the question. Is the upgrade worth the fee? Or, if it doesn’t include a lot of enhancements you need, maybe you should you skip this new version and wait for the one after that. Every program is different and each upgrade opportunity requires its own decision.

Here’s a few upgrade headaches I’ve recently gone through.

I was a happy user of MailWasher for so many years, I don’t remember when I first bought it. I use it every day to pre-screen my emails. About 40% of the 100 or so emails I get a day are spam and Mailwasher saves me time and hassle in pre-screening them for me.

A few weeks ago, up popped a message. Your 1 year subscription expires in one week. Please renew. Hmmm. I thought I purchased the last upgrade. I go to their site, and sure enough they changed their policy and are charging a subscription fee. I am firmly against the philosophy of charging a subscription fee for a desktop program. I want it to be runnable by me forever. I’ll forgo new features to get that. So I went back to the previous version, hooked it up again. It gives me 90% of what I had before … but does that without expiring.

Wordpress and bbPress: Well these are free. So theoretically there’s nothing stopping me from upgrading every new version. Right? Wrong. First of all, I have my blog and forum running on these two wonderful inventions. They have been coming out with new versions every couple of months. To upgrade these is getting easier, but has always involved work. Assuming the upgrade goes flawlessly (maybe it will, probably it won’t), there’s time spent debugging to get everything working again. But even assuming the willingness to do that, there’s all the 3rd party plugins I’ve got plus the customizations I’ve done. Many of those won’t work any more with the new version. I’ll have to wait several months to forever for that party to upgrade their package. Those upgrades may have fees. And then I’ll have to incorporate my customizations again which sometimes don’t translate easily (or at all) to the new version.

So it’s not easy to upgrade my WordPress/BBPress installation. It works just the way I want, so best I leave it alone for now. One day, the web server I am on will stop supporting these packages as they become antiquated. Then I will have to bite the bullet and redo it all. But that’s quite a way into the future because this technology is still quite entrenched.

I’ve been working on Behold’s help file, and the program that I use for that is Dr. Explain. I paid for an upgrade about a year ago to Version 4.0. Now, just as I’m finishing off the Behold documentation, out comes a free upgrade to 4.5. What 4.5 primarily has added is an ability to customize the annotations. I never really liked the little numbered circles and I thought I could make it look really good with callouts that match the look and feel of Behold and its website. So I went for the upgrade. Would it be quick and easy? It was a simple update and it only took a few hours to implement the new annotations. I thought I was clear until I noticed that the text on some of my help pages, that previously were okay in 4.0, suddenly in 4.5 were extending past the right edge of the page. It took a few hours of debugging and comparing the HTML produced by 4.0 and 4.5 using IE9’s Developer Tools (F12) to find the correct class in the style sheet that needed its margins to be changed. I’m not sure if this is a problem with 4.5, or if it was a problem with 4.0, but it definitely was a difference and did require some work to solve. So even free and seemingly simple upgrades should only be done if you can afford to take the risk of something going wrong.

My biggest decisions on upgrades is for the development software for Behold. It is built with the the programming language Delphi. I had Delphi 2, upgraded to Delphi 3, then 4. Those were simple easy upgrades that added a lot of enhancements. Then I waited about 8 years until Delphi 2009 which added Unicode, and I needed that. Doing so also meant upgrades to all my 3rd party packages which was a fair bit of work.

Now there’s Delphi XE2 which will allow me to build Behold as both a 32-bit and 64-bit program. With some work converting over the entire user interface to a new framework called FireMonkey, Delphi XE will potentially allow Behold to run on Macs, Unix, iOS and Android based on a single Delphi codeset. So there’s lots of important stuff here, plus important fixes to some bugs in Delphi 2009 that I encountered.

I purchased the upgrade to XE2, but it’s currently sitting in a big .zip file waiting to be installed. My 3rd party packages are not all available yet in XE2. When they are, then I can purchase those upgrades, install the new Delphi XE2, install the new packages, and spend what will most likely be 2 to 4 weeks to get it all working together and Behold working again. Never easy, but interesting, challenging and fun. Version 1.0 first. Then I’ll do the upgrade and add file saving and GEDCOM export.

So upgrading is always a decision. With Behold, I’ve tried to make it a no-brainer. I want everyone to be using the latest version of Behold. I encourage that by giving everyone lifetime licences and never charging for upgrades. I put an easy “Check Online for new version” menu item on the Help menu, that allows you to do a one-step no-muss no-fuss upgrade quickly and easily. I’ll try to ensure that an upgrade will never require you change your data files, so I’ll have to do a really good job and design the Behold project file correctly once I start working on that.

But other developers leave the upgrade decision up to you. Stop upgrading and you’ll have to live with the current features and bugs and limitations. The developer will tell you they don’t support older versions, so once you run into problems, you’ll either have to bite the bullet and upgrade … or angrily switch. I go through it as well for the software that I purchase, and I hate that game.

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