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Software - Change For No Reason

By Sammy of Stone Marmot

May 24, 2009

Those of you who frequent this site may have noticed a lot of appearance changes over the past six months. Some things suddenly don't seem to work, text sizes changed between articles, columns got moved to the bottom, etc. There may be other things that have been happening on other browsers that I'm not even aware of.

I originally created this blog with Wordpress 2.5.1 using a Cutline 3 column theme. It worked pretty well and looked nice. Wordpress 2.5.1 was also fairly easy to use.

Then I started getting notices from Wordpress that I was using an outdated version of Wordpress and that I should upgrade to the latest version. I ignored them since everything was working well. Why fix what isn't broken?

Then I started getting notices warning me that unless I upgraded, some of my old stuff would stop working. So I looked into upgrading. But the upgrade procedure did not seem too user friendly. Basically, you had to save the entire website, manually remove all but a few critical files from the blog directory (about 99 % of the files, well into the hundreds), and then basically reload Wordpress from scratch, and then somehow associate the handful of files that weren't removed with the new Wordpress. And to make matters worse, at that time a new version of Wordpress was being released about every week.

But I bit the bullet and upgraded. It took most of a day to do it and to get the blog sort of running again. And, of course, a couple days later they released another update to Wordpress, and a couple more updates since.

But, since the upgrade, I've had all sorts of problems. The theme I was using didn't seem to be working right anymore. So I was forced to upgrade the theme to its latest version. This fixed some problems but introduced other problems. I was able to manually change some of the PHP software files for the theme to fix some of the problems, but not all and some of the problems I fixed would reappear some time later.

So I tried some other themes, each of which gave the blog a completely different appearance. Of the about 20 different themes I tried, only three appeared to work reasonably well. About a third did not work at all, just giving an error message when trying to access the blog. The rest that didn't work had formating problems, the most common being the columns appeared one above the other rather than side by side. These are all Wordpress approved themes from the Wordpress site. One that didn't work was one of the Wordpress default themes. The other default theme was one of the only three that did work, but its text was ugly and the letters ran into each other on my browser, making the blog almost unreadable. The theme I've had to settle on seems to be working, though it is much slower in loading.

My question is: Why did Wordpress even change the software in the first place? Version 2.5.1 was easy to use and worked well. This version I'm using now, 2.7.1, hasn't worked too well at all. The administrative panel, what I use to maintain the blog, is ugly, much harder to read and much harder to use. Before, I could just type in the text to add a new blog entry. Now I have to create an HTML file for each blog entry, which takes a bit longer and is one reason the blog hasn't been updated as much as in the past.

This is a common problem with virtually ALL software. People change it for what seems to be no apparent reason.

I can understand this for commercial software. They are trying to compete with similar software so they are trying to at least give the illusion that they have made vast improvements to attract customers and upgrades. I find that frequently they only add features and seldom address defects or shortcomings in the present versions. Since I find that for most software I use probably less than 10% of its features and don't even have time to learn about the rest of the features, I'm more concerned that what I do use works reliably and is easy and quick to use. And frequently these new versions just introduce a bunch of new problems.

Microsoft Vista is probably the best known example of an “upgrade” that is much worse in most people's view than what it replaced. Vista came into being simply to try to force hundreds of millions of Windows users to upgrade so Microsoft could make more money. It is moves like this that are driving a lot of Windows users to move to Apples or open source software.

But Wordpress is free open source software. Why go through all this effort for no apparent improvement and cause all sorts of inconvenience to the software users?

I do not live software. I am a musician. I have better things to do with my life than to keep upgrading and maintaining software. Any time spent upgrading and maintaining software is time not spent writing and recording songs, practicing my instruments, trying to promote our music, writing this blog, etc. Any time spent upgrading and maintaining software cost me money, even if the software or the upgrade are free.

Upgrading one piece of software also frequently causes other things to no longer work. I am still using an old version of my main recording software Cakewalk Sonar (version 5.2) because:

1) None of the past upgrades have addressed any of the things in Sonar that have been causing me problems. I've even shown the Cakewalk reps in person at trade shows or road shows the problems I keep running into and it just seems to go over their heads or is forgotten. It seems to me these people don't use their own software.

2) Most of the time I do a major software upgrade, a lot of the plug-ins no longer work. I spend weeks, even months, trying to get the plug-ins and other software (and some hardware) to work again. I can't afford all the downtime due to trying to get these upgrades working again.

3) Frequently, a $150 upgrade with one piece of software forces me to spent over $1000 upgrading my other software to get it all working again. I don't have that kind of money that I can afford to spend that much on software each year. This is one big reason why I am going more and more to open source software.

4) Other than the few deficiencies in the existing software, which often aren't even addressed in the upgrades, the present software more than meets my needs. Why upgrade, risk the downtime and extra expense for no reason whatsoever? I'd rather be making music.

I am not exactly a technological neophyte. I have an electrical engineering degree, 23 years of full time design experience, have designed computers and integrated circuits, have a number of patents, and have written commercial software. If I'm having these kind of problems, what about your typical user?

If most software developers had to live by the same rules that people who make hard, tangible objects do, most software companies would have been out of business long ago.

Update (Feb.18, 2013): I wrote this original article four years ago. We recently gave up on Wordpress after being forced by our website host to upgrade again and having all sorts of problems getting the upgrade to work. So we have reverted back to our original format for Rants and Raves articles. This format is completely under our control and saves us all sorts of hassles.

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