Looking at the comments on last week's article, Upgrading to Pro Tools 9 – DON'T DO IT!, we seem to have upset a few people with what we consider to be good advice.
Well that certainly isn't our intention, and we certainly don't want to upset the people at Avid who design and market this amazing software (disclaimer to forestall another flurry of angry comments – other DAW softwares can be amazing too!). As the article says, we like Pro Tools and I am sure we will continue to do so for a long time to come.
There is absolutely no doubt that we will be upgrading to Pro Tools 9 in due course. But we do have a certain amount of experience in installing software. Since the mid-1980s in fact.
Many things have changed in software development since the mid-1980s. One thing remains the same however – complex software is prone to unexpected occurrences. Bugs in other words.
The reason for this is not, at the high level of pro-quality DAWs, the fault of the programmers. Â
It is the simple fact that modern software is immensely complex, and the myriad combinations of inputs and processes can never be fully and finally tested except by an equally myriad army of software testers – the people who buy and use the software for themselves.
So although software developers test their products every which way they can, bugs will inevitably remain. Sometimes bugs are few and nothing more than a minor inconvenience. At other times the software is entirely unusable.
So what if your livelihood depends on your fluent operation of Version x of your favorite software? And then Version x+1 comes along with an amazing array of new features.
Well of course you will want to upgrade. Why wouldn't you?
With some softwares you can install a new version in parallel with the old. So if the new one falls over, you can revert to the version that you know works properly. You may have a problem if you have saved some work in a file format that is different to the one the old version uses, so bear this in mind before you use it with a important client waiting impatiently for the work to be finished by his not-to-be-missed deadline.
At the other extreme, some knowledge of the workings of computers is necessary to install a new OS in parallel with the old. It can be done of course, some OSes make this an easier task than others.
Some DAWs will install quite happily next to their older incarnation. Others are not so happy with this arrangement and want to be the only version present on that computer (or bootable partition).
So suppose you run a studio for hire. Would you want to install a new version of your favorite DAW a few days after its release? What if it falls over during a session and you have not prepared any means by which you can revert to the earlier version? For most of us, clients are hard to come by, and the loss of even one would be a blow to any commercial business.
Suppose you work to commission alone in your own studio. Then you probably have deadlines to meet. What if your new software causes problems and slows you down?
Even if a new software version is entirely bug-free, might some of its functions have changed? Might they have been moved to a different menu? Can you be sure to be fluent in your new software? Fluent enough to do real work straight away?
With our hands firmly clasped on hearts and testicles, we have to recommend that any new software is thoroughly tested before it is used in the working environment. When you are sure that it will do everything that you want it to, and that you as the operator are fully up to speed too, then you can install it in the production environment. Those who are cautious will make sure they have a fall back position, just in case.
And frankly, if you didn't do this, we wouldn't want to hire your studio, or engage you to do work for us against a deadline.
How to test new software
There are lots of ways to obtain feline fur, free of entrails, so we are not suggesting this is the only way, but it's a method we like…
There is nothing that gives us a warmer feeling than having a clone backup of the boot disk of any computer we use in production. Yes there are backup softwares, such as Apple's Time Machine. We use them, but through experience we don't entirely trust them.
Cloning a disk takes longer than an incremental backup, but it is a more certain solution. And if, as you should, your data is kept away from your boot disk, you should only have to clone when you install or upgrade software.
On our Macintosh computers, we have used Carbon Copy Cloner with excellent results. We only use Windows for testing now so we haven't cloned anything for a while and can't recommend any particular software. But we have cloned Windows boot disks successfully in the past and without undue bother.
So when we have a clone boot disk securely stored away in a cupboard, then when the time is right we can install new software or perform upgrades. Â We are never among the first to upgrade. We always like to see at least a point-zero-one update so we know that any early bugs will have been well and truly swatted.
In conclusion, this is our earnest advice on upgrading important software. If you don't want to accept our reasoning, then we respect your right to install and upgrade whenever you like.