Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Update on Updating Updates

Genealogists are really quite a conservative bunch, but in some areas their conservatism runs to a fault. As a community, genealogists seem to resist computer program updates. Yesterday, I was telling a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, about the recent update to's program connecting to's Family Tree. My friend is an interested genealogist and a sophisticated computer user. He confessed that he was still two versions behind in upgrading his RootsMagic program. Why is this the case? What is it about upgrading programs and operating systems that makes it an issue?

In some cases, such as the endless updates from Microsoft, even I get annoyed every time I have to wait while I shut down my computer, but most of the updates to programs are innocuous and involved clicking a few buttons to complete. But the real problem lies with people who ignore updates altogether. They seem to think that if they ignore the problem it will go away. Yes, it might go away and take all your data with it.

Maybe it is a lack of understanding of the basic idea behind computers that engenders the problem. Computers and the programs that run them are unlike other tools. If I buy a hammer at my local hardware store, I would never expect to receive a notice from the manufacturer at all, much less a notice that they had just manufactured a new version of the hammer and they want me to exchange the hammer for the new version. I would be even more surprised, if the hammer manufacturer sent me regular notices about new features and options I might obtain with my "updated" hammer. If my newly purchased hammer was defective in some way, I would likely take it back to the store and return it for a refund and buy another hammer. So why is software and electronic equipment different than hammers?

Think for a moment. Are you still using a cathode ray tube (CRT) old TV type monitor? Or have you been enticed by the banks of new flat screen monitors in almost every store selling electronics and purchased a new, really inexpensive, one? Do you now have an Internet connection that is faster than the dial-up one you had that worked through the telephone lines? Have you purchased a new car in the last few years and noticed that it can tell you the temperature outside, the temperature inside the car, the distance you have traveled and how far you can go before you run out of gas and many, many other features such as talking to you and having an internal GPS system? Have you noticed cell phone towers going in around your town or construction crews from cable TV systems digging up your streets? Do you own or use a cell phone? Does your phone connect to the Internet? Do you send and receive text messages?

I could go on an on, but you get the point. Technology changes almost daily. It is really about as changeable and unpredictable as the weather. So why do some of us view these changes as if they were on a treadmill, running fast, but not going anyplace? I can easily say that there are very, very few of the things that I do today that would have even been possible just a few years ago. Today, I can sit here in front of my computer and if I wanted to do so, I could see and talk to almost anyone in the world who had a similar computer system. Instantly and without paying any kind of long-distance fee. Some of the changes in technology have so impacted me that I am currently swamped with suggested sources from huge online databases for my genealogy. The fact that I am writing this blog post and you might be reading it sometime is, to me, almost a miracle in itself.

At the core of the problem, I am sure, is the issue of the cost of upgrades. Genealogists, as a group. seem to have a morbid fear of paying for software and hardware upgrades. For a person, such as I am, who has purchased literally hundreds of different computers over the years, this fear seems irrational. But it is real. I have seen people in the classes I am teaching literally have a near heart attack when I mention that an upgrade to an existing program might cost as much as $29.

Now, before you get all huffy, I am not insensitive to poverty, even genteel poverty. I well understand limited budgets and difficult decisions, but in many cases, I see no apparent correlation between the fear of updates and cash expenditures. I just updated my RootsMagic program for free. I just updated one of my Adobe programs for free. I just updated my Apple operating system for free. It is true that new versions of the programs might have a cost, but most of the updates and the ones I am focusing on, are maintenance updates.

Sometimes, I will be asked to look at someone's iPad for example, and I will see that they have 75 updates waiting to be installed. These are all updates to their existing apps and are free, so where is the connection here to a limited budget. The problem goes much deeper than simply dismissing it as a budgetary issue.

So, right now, go to the menu bar of your computer and look for a link to update the programs you are using. It might be in the Help menue or in the File menu or under the Apple in an Apple program or where ever, but there is likely a way to check to see if you have the latest version of the program. Now, do you hesitate to update your program? Why? Think about it. Why are you afraid to update your program? Hidden down in this fear is a basic conservative fear of change. You don't know what to expect from the new version and you are afraid that your might have to do something different. Guess what? That is absolutely true.


  1. I'm a software developer who has been working with computers for over 30 years. As you might expect, I wind up helping many friends, relatives and neighbors with their computer-related problems. In my experience there are a couple other reasons people may be averse to updating software.

    1) Stability. Occasionally there is an update that breaks important functionality or that introduces instability in a software package. While this is rare, many people have heard or read stories about this, making them leery about taking every update as soon as it is offered. I know experienced computer professionals who wait a few weeks (or months) before accepting upgrades to protect against this. Of course the downside is that some upgrades include important bug fixes and security patches that you want as soon as possible.

    2) Interface changes. You touch on this in the last paragraph, and I think it is a very real concern for some users. If you follow the on-line discussion forums for a major software product (e.g., your word processor, music player, or genealogy software) you will see many angry complaints after each new release: "Where did they put such-and-such?" "Why did they change the menus?" "I don't like the new look" etc. People are creatures of habit, and many users don't want to re-learn the minutia of how to accomplish the hundreds of different things they do in each program. Hence they don't upgrade.

    1. I was mostly thinking of genealogists that are still running Personal Ancestral File on Windows 95.