The Joy of Firmware Updates

The first time I became aware of the phenomenon of "firmware updates" on A/V gear was when I acquired a Lexicon MC-1 Pre/pro back in 2007. There was this odd-looking D-shaped connector that had 9 holes, called a DB-9. It was intended for connecting a computer to the Lexicon. At the time I was using an early Mac, and when I looked at the first software upgrade instructions page I saw that the Lexicon only supported Windows-based PCs. I was "forced" into buying a windows PC for the sole purpose of updating firmware. So, I bought a reburbished Dell Laptop...the first of several acquired for this purpose.

AR-firm1.jpgDuring the time between then, when I did my first firmware update, and now, I've done more than 100 updates. I've updated smartphones, laptops, desktops, pads, DACs, AV receivers, AV pre/pros, digital cameras, and portable digital players. Some required smart cards, some Firewire, and a lot used a USB connection. But the one thing every firmware update has had in common is the fear of "bricking" (making a component inoperable) a device.

Of course firmware updates are less terrifying when the manufacturer makes the process as simple as possible. I recently did a firmware update that required a full page of instructions that included several steps that involved multiple button pushes (in the correct order). I got through it OK, but I won't lie, my stress levels were somewhat elevated during the process - in the back of my mind there was always the nagging fear, "What if when I push this button I break something." Yes, even reviewers worry about breaking stuff during firmware updates.

AR-firm2.jpgDon't misunderstand me, I think firmware updates are a WONDERFUL thing. Instead of buying "version 2a" to replace "version 1" a consumer merely loads a new operating system into their device and, voila! - new features and fixed bugs without forcing the consumer to leave the confines of their home. Except for the fact that the consumer must be competent enough to perform the updates, firmware update methodology is a no-lose proposition for the consumer and the manufacturer.

My complaint is that quite a few manufacturers who have elegant and well thought out interfaces for day-to-day operation have primitive firmware updates that are almost guaranteed to throw fear into the hearts of all but the most hardened IT pro. That is not a good thing.

AR-firm3.jpgMy hope it that manufacturers will put a bit more time and effort into making firmware updates easier and less stressful for consumers. The end result would be happier consumers, fewer failures during updates, and fewer bricked units going back for repair.

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