RaspBMC dual card risk mitigation strategy

Recently the RC5 update came out for RaspBMC.  Unfortunately for me (and others) this update completely boned what was a perfectly functioning RC4.   It all started during the update process when my system got stuck in an endless loop of RaspBMC logo, XBMC time-out screen and install progress bar.  Even after a fresh install (ie loosing all my library database, custom keymaps, etc) it’s still horribly flakey – a scan to sync files with tvdb, etc causes the system to hang, the network drops out and the GUI freezes and gets covered in terminal text with clockwork regularity.

It must be said that this project is well and truly up the hobbyist end of the open-source community spectrum and quality control is not exactly robust.  It is after all basically one guy’s hobby putting it together (and what a great guy for doing it!).  But this doesn’t reduce the frustration when you go to use your media centre only to find it’s auto-updated itself into a flaming heap.  Yes, that’s right: auto-updates are turned on by default.

I can’t help but think that the responsible course of action would be for them to distribute the system with auto-update turned off by default and for the RaspBMC website to list prominently on the necessary hardware page a recommendation to run two SD cards – a primary and a test card.  Having just visited the local supermarket this is exactly the operating model that I plan to adopt.  This way the current system can be duplicated onto the test card, the update applied to it, it can be run in for a day or two and then if it all works okay it can be kept.  Should it all grind to an awkward halt then it’s super easy to simply swap the cards back like nothing ever happened.

I fully acknowledge that this project is still very much in the embryonic development stage, but users should be encouraged to treat it as such – and that involves treating updates with a high degree of skepticism until shaken down, to maintain a robust backup strategy and not to rely on the irreversible inbuilt auto-updaters.  Yet this isn’t the how it comes across in their documentation – if anything the opposite: the auto-updater has its praises sung and the files needed to install previous versions are not officially provided (I got my image file from a bloke on the forums!).

By officially encouraging the use of two cards (which let’s face it costs loose change) all the potential bad-blood from a premature code release is completely negated.  For me, if I manage to get one other user onto the dual-card system without having to find out the hard way then this post has been worth it.

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