System Restore…

When Updates Go Bad… After the break…

System Restore…

I’ve been a fairly fortunate person over the years in terms of computer data loss. The worst that has happened to me (thus far) is that someone whom I trusted accidentally erased one of my hard drives when I gave it to him because I had thought that the hard drive had crashed. That unfortunate incident was quite a few years ago and, while time is supposed to heal all wounds, that was one wound that took years to heal. I was fortunate to have had a partial back-up of some of my personal files but I lost a lot of other personal files that represented a lot of lost work. I’ve had to replace a power supply in another computer.

Beyond those two incidents, I can’t think of any other catastrophic times when dealing with the many computers that I have owned throughout the years. Close calls? I’ve had more than what I have felt was my “fair share” but, fortunately, I’ve always managed to bounce back with little to no damage done.

Yet even one catastrophic event involving a computer that does not start properly is one time too many for many people. It is sort of like when a car doesn’t start or the garage door doesn’t open (yeah, I know… “First-world problem”); Once an incident such as those happens to you once, you are not just “twice shy” but “many times shy.” And it is with these thoughts that keep software engineers up at night and why many a software engineer have become, in many ways, the most passive-aggressive personalities on the planet.

See, when people don’t understand something, they don’t want to innovate. They don’t want to change. The status quo is just fine with them. Is it working today? Then it will work just fine tomorrow. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. And what is a software update? Fixing what isn’t broken.

In the old days, there were no ways to “force” people to update their software. You bought your computer, you plugged it into the wall, you turned on your computer and then you used it until you broke it or bought a newer, shinier one. People were often not connected to anything, the Internet, BBSes or anything. Would you like to put out a patch for your program so that it is not a sieve for computer viruses? Sure, you could do that… And only 4% of the people who have that program will patch it… If you’re lucky.

Virus protection software was the first software business who understood the psyche of typical people and motivated them to patch their software through the use of fear: If you don’t update your software, the evil viruses will sweep across your computer and render it as useless as a mushy brick. However, a lot of typical people were also dumb people and updating software was (for them) a confusing and daunting process. Computers had historical difficulties recovering from hard crashes. Everyone had “a friend” or “a family member” who’s computer had turned into a $2,000 dollar paperweight because someone tinkered with the operating system or a program on the computer and, the next thing that you knew, the computer wouldn’t even boot up. The social lesson was clear: Update at your own risk.

With the rise of the Internet, though, companies can now invade your computer and “update” their programs whether you want them to or not. You have Internet browsers that can automatically tell you when new versions of their program are available and even install them for you. Virus protection programs and operating systems download their upgrades and install them with nothing more than with a tiny prompt (and, sometimes, not even that). Games that use the “Steam” copy protection system can be updated or deleted on the whims of the intellectual property owners or by Steam itself. Got a tablet computer or a smartphone? There are “kill switches” that can render apps (or the entire device) useless remotely and instantly.

Silently and without much fanfare, the computer industry has turned into the “passive-aggressive” Nanny State. It’s an update on that old parenting trope of asking your kids if you want them to brush their teeth tonight with the red toothbrush or the blue toothbrush, avoiding altogether the discussion of whether or not they want to brush their teeth at all.

When the updates work flawlessly, no one really cares. People, like water, follow the path of least resistance. And yet, when updates don’t perform as planned…

I’ve updated my operating system numerous times. Except for some momentary re-booting, there has never been an issue…

Until yesterday. For 45 harrowing minutes, I was wondering what the heck had happened to my computer. The Windows operating system had not updated correctly. It claimed that it couldn’t start the operating system at all. It was giving me options of system restore and going back to the last save point and bringing up a recovery manager and… And…

After following my gut instinct, I simply rebooted the computer again. No crashes. No wacky “Screen resolutions from 1992” screens. It was as though nothing had happened. Eerie.

I appreciate that software companies want to update their software. I appreciate the offer to update that software for free. However, I don’t like the attitude of so many software companies employing the tactic of forcing that update down your throat unless you are so computer-saavy that you can ‘opt-out’ instead of ‘opting-in.’ Most of the time, the updates are merely “no harm, no foul.” For 45 minutes yesterday, that wasn’t the case. Someday, my luck is going to run out again. Will my personal files be backed-up when that happens? Will yours?

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