The TechnøGrouch
Where crappy technology gets what it deserves


Nightmare on Upgrade Street

by Jonathan Stars

I'm writing this story about my Macintosh computer. But most of you Windows users will also recognize the pain, horror and night sweats I'm talking about as if we were on the same computer. If you're looking with excitement toward Vista, be here warned!

There was a lot of promise when Apple came out with their OS-X system. (Also called OSX, System 10 and various clawed and fanged cats such as Tiger, Jaguar, Panther, and Siamese, I think.) There are all these cool, liquid, transparent graphics with drop shadows. It also has interesting effects such as a dock that stretches like rubber when you run your mouse over top of it. But cool graphics aren't enough to get me to upgrade.

There was also the promise of "protected memory." It works so that when one program crashes, it doesn't bring down the whole system. (Why should a program crash anyway?) Instead, only that specific program quits and you can have it back running in a matter of seconds. But protected memory isn't enough to get me to upgrade.

What made me upgrade was a piece of software I lusted after. (Always watch out for lust. It's a bad thing. Read about it in the Bible.) I wanted a music program called Pro Tools.

I have hundreds of recording projects I had done over a 35-year career as a professional musician. While playing back one of the tapes, I realized that the sound quality had degraded considerably, and the oxide (the brown stuff where the music is stored) was coming off onto the recorder heads in chunks that looked like pepper. Yikes!

I needed to transfer the tapes to digital. Using Pro Tools and a hardware box called a Digi 002, I could import eight tracks of audio at one time and protect my precious recordings from further loss. Sounds reasonable. But it was still lust, 'cause the software is soooo cool. The difference between working with tape and computer audio is like the difference between working with a typewriter and a word processor. I mean, instead of using a razor blade and splicing tape, with Pro Tools you can edit audio with cut and paste - and so much more! (Can you see the lust building?)

Anyway, I "needed" this program. It only ran on OS-X, and most reliably on a newer computer, which I also "needed." (Lust also accounts for how a lot of the money is spent in this world. Ask anybody who owns a boat.)

I got a dual processor Mac. What I didn't find out until later is that the Pro Tools system wouldn't be certified to work on this computer until fully five months after I bought it! (Lust also makes you do things without collecting all the information. No condoms in the night stand! Oh, it'll probably be OK.)

Now we pause our story as I shout my way through all of the five months. I discover that I need to upgrade nearly every piece of software that was on my old computer in order to be compatible with the new system. I also find that my printer, scanner, keyboard, mouse, and monitor no longer use the same connectors as the old machine. All of this at no small expense I might add. At every turn I would attempt to run one program or other only to find that it was either very unstable or completely unusable in OS-X. I learn that some of my favorite programs were made by companies no longer in business. (Sometimes I wonder if the computer makers are in cahoots with the software and hardware manufacturers to force us to buy a complete set of everything every few years.)

So it's five months later and I'm sallow and pale and poor. But I've got everything working. Hey, even Pro Tools works. I'm transferring my music. I'm a happy camper.

I also buy a program called Reason that is like a whole recording studio full of hardware inside a computer. With this $350 gem, I literally replaced $20,000 worth of equipment. Ya gotta like that. It takes a little time, but I finally get it working and it's simply brilliant!

Fast-forward six months. Digidesign, maker of Pro Tools, releases their next version. It has some great new features that I absolutely need. (Um, where have I heard that before?)

Moving a little more cautiously this time, I find that it will work on my computer, but only if I upgrade my version of OS-X. Well, now that I'm already in X, how hard can that be? Let me tell you. This time I have my friend, Dave, a Mac professional and a genius, help with the upgrade. (OK, he actually does it for me while I watch over his shoulder.) Starting at 4:00 PM we save most of my settings and begin a safety backup of the old system - you know, just in case. Something gets stuck partway through the backup and we finally stop it after 2.5 hours. It should have taken about an hour. We finally finish after 1:00 AM the next morning. Good thing I had somebody do it who knows what he's doing! But we had a nice visit. He's really an interesting guy.

Part of the process was to download the three updates (read that as "fixes") to Tiger that came out after my DVD was pressed - a week ago. (I know I won't get much sympathy from you Windows users. You get updates every hour of every day.) I find Pro Tools hasn't yet been certified for this update of the system. Aaarrrrggghh! Dave says to go ahead and give it a try. Certification will likely appear without a hitch in a week or two. Turns out he's right.

I start up Reason. It thinks I'm using a pirated copy because it's no longer on the system I originally installed it on. I sort through a stack of over one hundred CDs to find the install disks it's screaming for. I know where all my discs are because I keep them in a database. But I can't open the database with that message on the screen - I mean scream!

As I begin my workweek, I realize that three other critical programs need updates in order to work with the upgraded system. Unfortunately, the updates aren't available yet. So now I'm running two separate computers next to each other.

I also find some strange crashes. I looked online only to find that some of the software is fighting for the same system memory. How can that be? I thought protected memory took care of that! So what I really upgraded for was a pretty screen and my lust for Pro Tools? I wonder if they make something like saltpeter to prevent computer lust.

It is now six months later and I have everything working quite well together - on one computer. Pro Tools shouldn't offer another version for at least a year. When they do, I think I'll just make do with what I have. But I just saw this other great new program I'm pretty sure I can't live without...

* * *

I get quite upset when I upgrade anything only to find that I now have to spend another pile of money because my existing hardware or software is no longer compatible. I sometimes think manufacturers should be required to have a notice on their products that lists the price and then lists what it will probably actually cost you once you root out all incompatibilities. Sort of how they do with truth in lending and "Your mileage may vary..." - especially when it ALWAYS varies, and the variation is always on the side of poorer mileage than stated. Just like I never got any software or hardware for just the price I paid.

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