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My most-wanted software feature: rollbacks

Four times in recent months, software upgrades were a disaster, but there was no going back. That needs to be addressed.

The conventional wisdom is to always use the latest version of software. The latest version is supposed to be the most stable, up-to-date, and secure version, right? Not always.

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In the course of the last four or five months, I've been hit with multiple software upgrades/updates that made an awful mess and left me wanting to go back to the older version. But for whatever reason, I could not go back to the prior version, either at all or without some difficulty.

Let's run them down:

iOS 7.1: It's been documented on a few websites now that iOS 7.1, which much more stable and smoother than 7.0.x, is also killing iPhone battery life. Some people said they lost 1% every two minutes of the phone just sitting unplugged. But Apple offers no rollback option to the prior OS.

BOINC: I take part in a distributed computing project called Einstein@Home, which looks for undiscovered pulsars. I figured I might as well put my Core i7-4770 to work doing something because MS Word doesn't tax it. A recent upgrade screwed up the screen saver mode. I had to remove it and run a version more than a year old, because that was all that was available from the site.

TuneUp: I've covered this almost to the point of obsession. The awful 3.0 version wouldn't have been an issue if it wasn't for the fact that if you tried to install the 2.48 version, it immediately tried to make you install 3.0. If not, it failed.

Where's My Water? 2: An update to the iOS game made it impossible to complete a level. Some users on Facebook suggested removing the game, reinstalling it, and re-downloading it without a content update. It worked, but I'm missing a big update for the game now.

I've read of similar problems with Fedora, Java 7, and Mavericks, but have not experienced them first-hand. The common question: how do I rollback?

The ability to undo a problematic install should be mandatory, but in too many instances it is not. That's because software developers are always operating under the assumption that the latest version is the greatest version, when it may not be.

This is especially true in the smartphone and tablet world. There is no rollback to be had for anything in the iOS and Android worlds. In the case of BOINC, I could have had an older working copy stored in my downloads folder, since that's how PC software is installed: you download a .ZIP or .EXE and install it, thus enabling you to hold on to the file and keeping multiple versions on hand.

I wish I'd had the version that worked, but it was purged along with about six other older versions. With a phone, you have no downloads folder. The App Store/Google Play installs it for you.

We need the ability to go backwards with all software, until the day comes when software developers start releasing perfectly functioning, error-free code. And since that day will never come…

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