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Author Topic:   Product Firmware Updates
jimh posted 07-09-2014 10:11 AM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
Lowrance (and by association NAVICO) seem to be quite fond of issuing product firmware updaters for their devices, and for expecting end users to apply these firmware updates in the field to their devices. There are always two sides to this process.

On one hand, it is nice to get improvements to existing features or even to add new features by performing a field installation of new firmware into a device. A firmware update might cure a nagging problem. It might fix a simple mistake like an error in spelling of a word appearing on screen. It might add a entirely new set of features.

On the other hand, installing new firmware in the field is a bit of a risk. If something goes wrong during the process the outcome can be a completely useless device that needs to be return to the factory for repair. Issuing incremental firmware updates or patches to be applied by the end user in the field creates a very inconsistent population of devices. Some are updated, some are not. This tends to create more problems in product support and in diagnosis of problems. Once a firmware updater or patch has been issued, there is a tendency for first-tier technical support people to assume that the new revision cures all ills, and the application of the new patch is recommended as the remedy for any discrepancy in operation. Immediately following the release of a firmware updater, there is likely an expectation that any problem found can be cured with the new firmware. This may not be true.

Expecting end users to install firmware updates creates its own support problems. No matter how clearly the instructions are written, there will be end users who cannot perform the updater patch procedure. They can't download the file. They can't extract the archive. They can't move the patch onto a memory card. The existence of updater patches creates its own support nightmare.

On a modern boat the electronic devices are often interconnected and expected to operate together, particularly devices from a common manufacturer which are networked together and intended to share resources. Application of a firmware update to one device of several devices on a network of devices expected to interoperate may cause unanticipated problems. Devices with older firmware may no longer operate properly with devices having newer firmware. Now the firmware must be updated on all devices!

There is also a philosophy consideration. If embedded firmware in a device is considered to be available for field updating, the creators of the firmware may adopt a slightly different attitude about their computer code. They may begin to be less rigorous in their design and testing, since they anticipate that any errors found after the initial release can be remedied with a updater patch. Some companies might accept the notion that a revision could be released, and then a revision to the revision released a few days later to fix a significant flaw in the first revision. For other companies their corporate (or national) culture might find that to be dishonorable and intolerable.

Hoosier posted 07-09-2014 02:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
Your comment about a network having a population of devices of differing generations is very appropriate. My boat has an LCX-28c HD chartplotter, a gen 1 HDS 5, an Link 8 VHF, an LWX-1 Sirius radio receiver, and an LGC-4000 GPS receiver/antenna, all but the LWX_1 on the NMEA 2000 bus. Oh, I forgot the two Yamaha F-150s and the EP-85R Data Storage device, also on the NMEA 2000 bus. LCX-28c has an update from '09 that has not been applied. I'm chicken, if it ain't broke, why fix it?
Jefecinco posted 07-09-2014 07:42 PM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
A few years ago I had a Lowrance HD10CHD on my Dauntless 16. I was having some problem which I don't remember so I called Lowrance Support. I was advised to download a software update from their site. I explained that I wouldn't know where to start. The young lady assisting me volunteered to send my a copy of the download on a chip at minimal cost.

Even I had no problem installing the update.

Of course my old HD10 was not networked to anything.

Pretty good service, I thought, and they probably will do the same today for anyone as technically challenged as me.


swist posted 07-10-2014 08:48 AM ET (US)     Profile for swist  Send Email to swist     
I would never update firmware unless it addressed a very serious problem, and one that I was actually experiencing.

Jimh is right in that the methodology for patching these devices is not very robust. If you apply an operating system patch to a computer, there is always a backup done that will allow you to revert to the previous version if something goes wrong with the update. I would think it highly unlikely that marine electronics do this kind of thing. You could probably kill your device if you accidentally powered it down, or otherwise lost power, during a half-applied update.

Chuck Tribolet posted 07-10-2014 10:32 AM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
I've always been of the opinion that installing updates is
good. I generally don't do it the day they come out (I'll
let somebody else live on the bleeding edge), but try to keep
reasonably up to date. It works for me.

I do follow the instructions, especially to make sure that I
have a stable power supply when doing the update.


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