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Argh! Bugs!

From The Flickering Candle, Issue #9, March 2002
Copyright 2002 Jason Anderson

Isn't it amazing how much we depend on technology these days? Or at least expect it to be there, and always working. This point became very clear to me over the weekend, when our VCR decided that it didn't want to work any more. We'd noticed a few glitches over the last two weeks with TV reception, but had thought that it was just the TV companies providing a poor service. Nope, not this time. Sunday evening arrives, we go and hire a video to watch (since there was nothing interesting on that night), and... nothing. The video doesn't play. Well, that isn't totally true, The sound of the video played - its just the pictures from the TV continued to be displayed.

Now, admittedly there are times when we don't use the VCR for a while - perhaps a week or two at a time. But for some reason the thought of not having a VCR just doesn't seem to sit well. Which leaves us with two choices - fix, or replace? And as many of us know, fixing such items often costs as much as buying a replacement. So we are now hunting around for a new VCR. The VCR was around 6 years old, so its not like it broke after only a few months of use.

Software has one advantage over other technology - it won't decide to suddenly stop working. As long as the details of your computer remain the same (well, that isn't 100% true - a serious computer crash can corrupt files which might mean that it no longer worked - but that is extremely rare these days). But if anything changes on your computer, all bets are off. System software upgrades are often the worst offenders. Why is this?

There are many reasons, and not all of them are the fault of the original application programmers. The worst case is that the application programmers used some sort of 'trickery' in their code which worked fine on all previous systems, but when Apple released a new system it (not surprisingly) stopped working. Often the trickery was used because it was the easiest way to do something - finding another way to do the same thing can sometimes take a while.

In a slightly better situation, perhaps their code was written to work around a bug in the operating system, and when Apple fixed the actual bug the work around failed. These are easier to deal with - you just remove the work around for the latest version of the operating system.

The other extreme is that Apple introduced a bug into the operating system, which caused the program to fail. It is rare, but it can happen. These can lead to the second type of problem, so are often not good. This problem has occurred more than usual in the last year or so with Carbon applications running on Mac OS 9. Earlier versions of Carbon were buggy, and some things didn't work as they were supposed to. Thankfully, this situation has improved greatly in the last year or so.

Of course, system software isn't the only reason a program might suddenly fail. A new program which you have installed might have changed one or more system extensions which you had installed, either installing a new version, or in some cases installing an older version. If the program you use depends on the system extension being a particular version, the replaced version may cause the program to fail.

Often we don't care about the reason why it doesn't work - we just want our software fixed. If your software suddenly stops working, the first thing to do is ask yourself what has changed on your computer since you last ran the software. Think very carefully - sometimes the smallest change can cause a problem. Then go hunting on the internet to see if other people are having similar problems. The web site of the company who makes the product is a good place to start - some companies, if they are aware of a problem, will post the problem (and possibly a solution) on their site. If they have a forums area, that is also a good place to look. Finally, web sites like MacFixIt are great for compiling information from other users about problems encountered, and often they have a solution (or at least a work around).

If all that fails, contact the company involved. Most companies will try to help you as best they can - after all, if their product doesn't work, then they are going to lose money. But remember to tell them as much as you can about the problem - just saying that "it doesn't work" is no help to them at all. You have to help them help you. If you changed anything on your computer, make sure you tell them about it. If they ask you questions about your computer, try to answer them as best you can (and if you don't know the answers, tell them - they can probably tell you how to find out the answers). Not all companies will help. But most will.


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