Descript needs to sort out its software updates

It’s a marvellous tool, but endless patches are trying my patience

For the work-shy layabouts who decided to take the first week of January off, I trust your slothful malaise was enjoyable. The rest of us have been hard at work since last Tuesday, and I think we all deserve a pat on the back for making it this far.

I’ve seen many prominent figures within podcasting kicking off the new year with sweeping thinkpieces about the future of the industry, but I’m choosing to start 2024 as I mean to go on: with several hundred words of petty griping about a relatively inconsequential topic that’s probably only of interest to a handful of weirdos.

To that end, I hope you’ll indulge me while I have a bit of a rant about software updates. To my mind, they’re a lot like toilet cleaners: you know they're doing their job right when you never have to think about them. Descript’s software updates, on the other hand, are like a toilet cleaner mopping around you while you’re trying to wash your hands.

I love Descript; it's become an essential tool in my audio editing workflow, and the last year has seen the company release a continuous cavalcade of capabilities, adding more bells and whistles to its already-impressive featureset.

In truth, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer, and although many of its newer features are geared specifically towards video production, I’m certain there’s more I could be using to speed up various aspects of my podcast production. It’s among my favourite tools, and one that I frequently recommend without hesitation.

However, there is one major problem that I have with Descript’s user experience, and it runs as follows: why, in the name of all that is good and holy, does it insist on making me install new software updates every single time I open the app?

The issue is one of compatibility: if a project was created by someone using a newer version of Descript, then it refuses to let that project be opened by anyone running an older version of the software. This is to minimise bugs, glitches and security vulnerabilities, and to ensure that there’s no conflict caused by features that are supported in one version and not another. 

This is a fine and logical system in theory, and one that many software providers have been using in one form or another for decades. What makes it so frustrating, however, is that Descript is incredibly generous with its software updates. It issued nine separate patches in December alone, including multiple patches in the same day, often for relatively minor tweaks and fixes.

If you’re working on projects with other individuals and you’re diligent about keeping your own software up to date (which is no bad thing, as a general rule) it means that everyone else you’re working with also needs to do so as well. 

To get around this problem, Descript supposedly uses automatic updates, applying the latest software whenever the app is closed and reopened. In practise, however, I constantly find myself having to manually check for updates and install the latest patch before I’m permitted to access that week’s file. 

I confess, I find this this intolerable. We're living in a world of software-as-a-service and web apps, and I won't apologise for becoming accustomed to desktop software which quietly applies any updates in the background without having to trouble me about it.

For all its faults, Adobe actually does this pretty well; its Creative Cloud platform ensures that all my installed Adobe applications are regularly updated with no oversight or involvement on my part, and despite using apps like Audition and Photoshop more regularly than Descript, I never seem to find myself needing to manually update.

On the other hand, this could also be because Adobe is significantly more forgiving in terms of compatibility, and won’t lock you out of a file your software isn’t freshly-updated. Without getting too technical, Adobe software is generally forwards and backwards compatible within major release generations - so if you’re trying to open a project file created in Adobe Audition version 15.4.2, you can still open it even if you’re running Audition 15.2.6. 

Descript isn’t that flexible, sadly, and will prompt an upgrade if there’s the slightest discrepancy between versions. I could understand if it was balancing the impact of major changes, but it’s especially frustrating when I have to take time out to apply a patch that’s fixing a single small bug affecting a feature I don’t even use.

I’m not a software engineer, and I’m not familiar with the intricacies of Descript’s codebase; for all I know, there may be a very good reason why it can’t take the same flexible approach to compatibility as other software providers. However, if that is the case, then I’d implore the company to exercise a bit of restraint with the frequency of its updates. 

Rather than issuing multiple patches per week, you won’t lose anything by saving them up and releasing them in bulk on a monthly or fortnightly basis - and it makes them easier to plan around, too. At the very least, it’ll stop me tearing my hair out every time I open the app.