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If it ain't broke...

Before I became a technology journalist I worked in high performance computing for many years. During that time I got to work with some of the most powerful and most expensive hardware on the planet – Cray, Silicon Graphics, Amdahl, DEC and Convex, just to drop a few names. Part of my job back then was maintaining hardware, which included upgrading the operating systems when required. However, I tended to be pretty pragmatic as far as upgrades went, and if I didn’t feel that I needed to upgrade an OS, I simply didn’t do it.

You see I’m a firm believer in the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Having spent years dealing with the problems that an OS upgrade would inevitably cause, I took the decision to only upgrade any OS or firmware if I absolutely had to – thus limiting the potential damage, downtime and stress on my part.

I can still remember sitting in a meeting of the DEC User Group where Digital had announced that it would no longer support the X25 network protocol in the next revision of VAX VMS. The room was full of system administrators complaining that they needed X25 support, despite the fact that Digital had spent the last two years moving over to TCP/IP. I however was completely calm, since the version of VAX VMS I was running was about four generations old already and I had no intention of upgrading to the new version.

Obviously there can be benefits to upgrading your OS, firmware or drivers. The latter in particular can often reap significant performance benefits, but even something as simple as a driver update can often break as much as it fixes. The important thing is to know what you’re getting, and to always read the label. Sometimes you have to install updates in a certain order and if you do them out of sync you can end up in trouble – as Benny found out recently while flashing the BIOS on his motherboard.

With any kind of update you need to know what it’s going to do to your hardware and ask yourself whether you need those enhancements AND whether you’re going to lose any current functionality as a result. Then, and only then should you take that final step and install the update.

Unfortunately it’s not always that easy and sometimes that freedom of choice is taken out of your hands. When I bought my PSP it was running firmware Version 1.0. It wasn’t long before there were plenty of “Home Brew” mods available for the PSP allowing it to emulate old consoles and run games directly from a MemoryStick. Unfortunately Sony didn’t like this and made sure that it closed the door on such mods with newer firmware releases. No problem I thought, I just won’t bother to upgrade my firmware – but Sony already had my number.

What Sony did and is continuing to do, is to force PSP owners to upgrade the firmware on their consoles. Basically when you buy certain new games, you’re forced to upgrade the firmware before you can play them. It’s like being held to ransom – do you want to play this game or not? Obviously you want to or you wouldn’t have bought it in the first place, so the chances are that the vast majority of PSP owners will just go with the flow and jump to the next firmware version, keeping Sony happy in the process.

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