Hazardous upgrades

29Oct07

Upgrading any piece of software can be complex, whether it’s a web-based application, desktop software, or an entire operating system. Most products do a pretty good job of remembering your settings and reminding you to make a backup first. But they tend to omit a very important step: Letting the user save a full list of settings, in case some of them can’t be retained after the upgrade.

It would be foolish of me to suggest that every setting can be carried over from one version to another, as product improvement typically means consolidating old features and preferences in ways that can’t easily be translated to new ones. I’m OK with that. What bothers me is when programs don’t tell you which settings have to be clobbered during the upgrade. For example, I recently did a BlackBerry OS upgrade which worked pretty well. In the process, it deleted all my font and display settings, which was easy to see and correct. However, changes to the keypad speed and ringer profiles were more confusing, and took me a good half hour to restore.

I propose a simple safeguard against this sort of problem: Before any upgrade, let the user save a full list of every setting and preference. This is different than a backup, which is designed for when the upgrade fails entirely. Rather, the settings list helps you go through the updated software and get your settings back the way you like them, without having to remember how they used to be. Even if this list is rather ugly, simply listing the category, setting name, and selection, it would be incredibly useful when things don’t look right following an upgrade. And given the frequency of upgrades that accompany software products, this would be a huge timesaver for customers.