Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Retrospect: when good software goes bad

If you've been around software long enough, you know the feeling. Good software going bad. This doesn't happen with wrenches, power saws and bicycles -- this is one way in which software has some of the properties of a living thing.

Software is complex, and it's embedded in a complex ecosystem made up of the core operating system, the antiviral and security system, and other co-resident applications -- not to mention the physical computer and peripherals. In addition it "lives" in a complex business environment with a major perverse incentive -- after initial penetration ongoing revenues requires "upgrades". Typically bug fixes aren't enough to get users to upgrade, there needs to be new features. New features mean more complexity, more bugs, declinining reliability. On the other hand, if users don't upgrade the software becomes increasingly unsuited to its 'ecosystem' -- eventually it breaks.

Even if the software survives all of the above, people move on. Expertise is lost. Business direction changes. Software dies.

The lifespan of most software is about 6-10 years. Dantz Retrospect was an excellent and popular Mac backup solution in the 1980s. It's old. It's more than decrepit.

Today I tried to make a Disaster Recovery image using Retrospect Pro 6.5 for Windows. All seemed well -- but the ISO image was 747MB. That's too large for a CD. One CD burning app claimed it was a DVD image. The documentation says it should be a CD image. The remnants of Retrospect was bought by EMC Insignia -- who removed all of the support forums, downloads, etc. There's no where to look to sort this out.

This is only the latest in a long line of issues with Retrospect. It's been in decline for years. Each update fixed some bugs and introduced others. The support forums were sour. Usenet questions fell off. The smell was bad.

What's the chance that EMC is going to sort this out? Pretty darned slim. It's time to move on, but there aren't a lot of serious backup solutions marketed to the home office. Most small businesses and homes don't do real backup.

I guess I'll just have to wait for Google to host all of my data ....

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