Now's the Time

It is said that the best things in life are free but computer hardware and software cost money. The following story is true, although everything in it

It is said that the best things in life are free but computer hardware and software cost money. The following story is true, although everything in it has been changed to make a point. Nothing here is new, but the story is relevant because it addresses a question that's of perpetual interest to computer users: when is the right time to upgrade?

Roughage Systems recently released Brainfart 4.0, a new version of my main digital audio defibrillator program. The upgrade finally fixes some annoying bugs and adds several cool new features, and it wasn't too expensive, so I went for it.

With my Thursday evening mix session done and no client sessions scheduled until Tuesday, it seemed a good time to install the upgrade. I would have been happier lying on a bed of nails, visualizing a colonoscopy.

The installation began well enough: I inserted the CD and clicked the button for the “regular” install. A couple of dialog boxes appeared and disappeared; I figured they must not have been very important if they didn't stay onscreen. Then a dialog appeared and stayed. It said: “Error A437DUQ-U92111: Missing ChixParmGoblGooMRN. Code: 666.” I dismissed the dialog box, and my machine locked up completely. An ominous darkness fell on my studio, though the sun was shining outside.

I rebooted and found nothing helpful in the troubleshooting section of the electronic documentation or in the support section of Roughage's Web site. With a long sigh, I logged on to the independent user-group site, plowed backward through the flame exchange about whether MacAppendage or WinLobotomy has the stupider name, and finally found a long message, in all caps, that asked (deleting expletives and condensing considerably), “What the heck is Missing ChixParm, etc.?” A Roughage support tech replied that a hardware driver update is needed before installing the new version of Brainfart, a topic that is well-documented nowhere at all.

So okay, I downloaded the driver update, installed it, and rebooted — but the boot process was interrupted by a dialog telling me that SlimeTimeFlowerWrapLib is from an older version of SlimeTime than SlimeTimeSharedMessDriver. SlimeTime is part of the operating system, so this was most distressing. I dismissed the dialog, and my computer locked up completely. Again.

I rebooted from an emergency startup CD, prowled around my hard disk, and found that the driver update, which needs SlimeTimeFlowerWrapLib, blithely overwrote the existing version with the older one on the CD. “Oh, !@#!!,” said I (many expletives deleted).

I ran the SlimeTime installer, but it complained that there were components from different versions on my disk, and then it quit. Duh! My computer locked up completely. Is this normal?

I hand deleted every SlimeTime component I could find on my disk, somehow successfully installed SlimeTime, and even rebooted without dialogs. My driver was updated at last. On to Brainfart.

I put the Brainfart disk in, double-clicked the installer, and got a dialog that said, “This upgrade only operates on versions or higher. Please upgrade to this version and try again.” I have version “Oh, @#$*&!!” (expletives incoherent), I blurted.

I downloaded the updater, installed it without incident, rebooted, and ran the 4.0 upgrade. At last, things were looking good. I rebooted, and a dialog came up that said, “SlimeTimeFlowerWrapLib is from an older version of SlimeTime than SlimeTimeSharedMessDriver.”

Time passed. Fur flew. Somewhere in the firefight, I installed the upgrade. I looked up at the clock: it was Tuesday morning. I took a break to call a friend and vent some steam. He listened, and when I paused for a moment, he quietly said, “You do know that your plug-ins all have to be upgraded to work with BrainFart 4, don't you?”

Two words came to mind — and soon, to hand: shut down. I headed to the garage to find my old ADAT and start thinking up excuses I could give my client. I couldn't do better than “The dog ate my software.”

Epilog: once version 4.0 was finally running, it was too buggy to use. Unfortunately, it converted every file I opened, so I couldn't go back to the old version of the program. This story has no ending, but I did find a simple answer to my question: there is no right time to upgrade, just times of varying wrongness.