Dear Lifehacker, I often update software on my computer only to find that the update is buggier than the previous version or it breaks compatibility with other software on my machine. I want the latest versions, but I also want my computer to work. How can I avoid breaking things when I install software updates? Sincerely, Unhappy Updater
When you have a lot of software on your computer, it’s easy for an update to cause problems. All you need is one little compatibility issue to throw off the perfect harmony you’ve achieved with your current setup. No methods provide complete assurance that an update will install problem-free, but a little preparation will minimise the problem.
Early adopters exist in massive numbers. You don’t have to be one of them. Early adopters will install updates, find problems and report them. If the problems are significant, reports will surface within a few days. The latest updates can be attractive, especially when they brings highly desired features and bug fixes, but waiting a little bit longer reduces the risk of installing a highly problematic version of your software.
Survey Your Software’s Dependencies
While some updates cause problems because of bugs in the code, most often your issues will stem from a compatibility conflict with other software. Audio and video apps, which often utilise several third-party plug-ins, encounter this issue frequently because they depend on many components to run well. Other software may not rely heavily on plug-ins, but dependencies still often exist.
- Check the software’s plug-in folders. (The software’s manual should mention the location if you don’t already know.) Make note of any plug-ins you’ve installed and perform a web search for each plug-in and its compatibility with the software update version.
- Find out if your software integrates or connects to any other app or service. If it does, perform a web search to discover whether or not the latest version works causes new issues. (We’ll discuss where to look in the next section.)
- If additional updates are necessary — say, to your plug-ins or third-party add-ons — assess the cost of updating them all. When costs are associated, know what they are and be sure you can afford them beforehand. You don’t want to get stuck with upgraded software that doesn’t work with older, third-party components because the cost of compatibility is too high.
- Check the compatibility notes that come with your update, often in the form of a ReadMe file or via a link on the update download page. It’s easy to overlook, but these documents exist to help you discover any potential incompatibilities.
This all may seem tedious, but it takes about 10 minutes and beats the time wasted feeling frustrated when things don’t work and you’ll have to figure out why.
Check Forums And Compatibility Sites
Companies rarely send a notice detailing their mistakes, telling you why you shouldn’t update to the latest version of their product. When problems occur, users post about them on product forums. Many developers host support forums where you’ll find user complaints and inquiries about the latest updates. If not, a quick web search will turn up popular discussion boards that provide a similar service. Check these boards for problems, and post a question asking about potential issues if you don’t see anything outright. If you’re worried about operating system compatibility, databases exist to provide you with accurate information. Roaring Apps offers OS X compatibility information, and Microsoft provides a similar tool for Windows.
Update Everything When An Unknown Problem Occurs
Taking a shot in the dark is generally a bad course of action, but when you can’t solve a problem caused by one software update through standard troubleshooting it’s probably time for a Hail Mary pass. While upgrading comes with its own set of issues, most software companies pay close attention to dependencies on third-party plugins, apps, and services, whether they’re directly-integrated or not. As a result, the companies put a fair amount of effort into making their products fully compatible — on the condition that you stay up to date. When your update just doesn’t work with older versions and there’s not way around it, update everything you can. Often times that’ll solve the issue.
But that won’t work, of course, if a company is a little behind on getting their product working with the latest version of your software (or hardware). That said, you’re not necessarily out of luck. Contact the software manufacturer’s support team and ask them if they have a beta update you can test. While beta software isn’t ideal, it’s often better than zero functionality. Not all companies want beta testers for updates or want those beta updates out in the world, but some are sympathetic and happy to help. It never hurts to ask (unless you’re overly sensitive about customer support responses).
Prepare To Roll Back (if You Have Major Issues)
It’s rare, but sometimes software makes your computer explode (figuratively speaking). In the event of a major issue, be prepared to roll back. Windows users have it easy and can create a restore point before updating. OS X users have to clone their drive and restore from the clone if a problem occurs. This situation is very unlikely, but backing up is a good and it doesn’t hurt to be extra-prepared if you’ve got the time.
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right.