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Tag Archives: productivity

Automatic software updates can seriously damage your health

Yellow nosed cotton rat

In this post, I’ll tell you the tale of how a software update nearly caused me serious damage, and why. I’ll also show you why you probably shouldn’t be one of Pavlov’s creatures and accept updates to mobile apps automatically.

Evernote is a great product

Since I first found it some years ago (I first registered back in 2008), Evernote has been an integral part of my daily workflow. I use it for just about everything related to the capture, generation and distribution of text.

I use Evernote to capture multi-media notes on multiple devices and and keep them in sync. I maintain a complex hierarchy of notebooks for all sorts of purposes. I have separate notebooks for each client and each project I’m working on.

I also have more notebooks for specific workflows such as writing blog posts. This one started as a collection of notes, before morphing into a Markdown document that can be uploaded to my WordPress blog.

I also maintain a complex hierarchy of Tags and make extensive use of smart searches. All in all, Evernote is one of my core productivity tools. All told, I’ve got thousands of notes in dozens of notebooks.

Evernote’s update policy

Being one of the new generation of Internet software companies, Evernote updates its products on a frequent but irregular basis. This never used to worry me. It does now.

The Problem

Evernote recently made a major change to the Mac client

As far as I was aware, there was no warning that this was going to happen. There was a “A new version of Evernote is available” alert, and yes it did give details of the changes, but I get loads of them, and anyway, who has time to read that stuff?

Again, as far as I am aware, there was no opportunity to evaluate the new release before installing it. No beta. So, my Pavlovian reflexes kicked in and I installed the update. I instantly regretted it.

The new UI was radically different in a number of areas and my carefully constructed workflows were totally disrupted. It pulverised my productivity.

Unfortunately, this happened at a moment when I was particularly busy and just didn’t have the time, or the inclination, to learn a new UI.

Luckily, I was able to revert to the earlier version. The Mac is very easy in that respect. Rename the newly installed Application and drag the old one out of the Trash Can. Peasy.

Changes also made to iPad version

Now came another shock. At some point, the iPad version had been updated as well. I hadn’t used this for a while, so I’m not sure when it happened.
Unfortunately, there is (effectively) no potential to revert to a previous version on the iPad. You could do a device restore, but that’s OTT.

Luckily, the changes were not quite so dramatic and I was able to live with them.

Then the Penny dropped

The mobile “Apps” world is different

All this opened my eyes to a previously hidden consequence of using mobile apps: the user has lost control of the software upgrade process. Yes, I know you have to explicitly update apps from iTunes, but there are so many updates each week that it’s impossible to vet them all before applying them. You just have to trust the developer.

Software update and release processes have changed fundamentally. I’ll cover this in more detail in another blog but essentially, the old mantra of alpha releases, beta releases, community evaluation and then explicit upgrade; has changed.

Be more circumspect

I’ve been taught a lesson, and in this case it was not too painful. The learning points are:

  • Don’t upgrade Apps automatically
  • Watch for user community feedback before committing
    • i.e. don’t be an early adopter if your business depends on it

It’s a restatement of a previous mantra “never install release the .0 of a newly updated software product: wait for .0.1 or a service pack” The problem is that you are now no longer always able to predict when the next .0 is coming out.


  • Treat updates to mobile apps with caution
  • If the app is critical, don’t upgrade automatically

Next Step

Like I said, this change to software release processes could expose a business to additional risk.

So, take a close look at your mobile app inventory and consider whether you should be blindly hitting the “Update” button.

Oh, and why not let me know if you’ve had a bad experience in this area. I promise I’ll be sympathetic.

Update September 2013

Since writing this post last December, I’ve now successfully migrated to the latest version of Evernote. I had a couple of days downtime and took the plunge. Now that I’ve got used to the changed UI, I like it. However, that doesn’t diminish the need to evaluate changes before committing to them.

Picture by By Roger W. Barbour [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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