PastPerfect software

My library’s archives/special collections uses PastPerfect to catalog their collection. PastPerfect seems to be a popular choice with museums and archives, and presumably the people choosing it know more about their needs than I (Coordinator of Library Technology) do.  So we’ll forgive PastPerfect its outdated-looking interface.  I have more trouble, though, with forgiving all the errors we’re getting from PastPerfect right now.

Almost certainly these errors are because none of us at my library really understand the technical requirements of the software… but there’s no technical documentation available, a single support call costs $85, and if I’m reading their website correctly, support for my library for a year is going to take a $540 bite out of our budget.  Ouch.  I get that they need to make money somehow, and they still sell their software out of a box like we’re in the 90’s again, which means there aren’t any ongoing subscription costs, but still.  Ouch.

Are we going to pay that?  Yes, sadly.  Can we pay that right now?  Of course not–it’s currently the end of June, and who knows when we’ll be allowed to spend next fiscal year’s money?

So right now, no support, and lots of errors every time our Special Collections folks try to backup their work.  (I mean, really, why would archives/special collections want to do a silly thing like backing up their work?  Sigh.)

I’m also baffled by my inability to find people writing about their experiences working in PastPerfect.  What search terms do I need to add to get something other than the software’s official site, Wikipedia entry, a couple software comparisons, and a bunch of non-technical stuff with a target audience of “general public”?  So here’s what I know, in the interests of

  1. Organizing my thoughts so that maybe I can find an answer before next year’s budget is available, and
  2. Sharing my experience in case someone else is having these problems.

Our Setup

We have PastPerfect 5 plus its Network Addon.  Desktops in our Special Collections area, plus two librarian laptops, have PastPerfect installed on them.  The actual data lives on a drive share managed by campus IT.

We went to this setup a few months ago.  Previously, one of the computers down in Special Collections was designated the “server computer” (it’s the computer one part-time staff member usually sits at) and it was where all the data lived.  This was annoying, because no one could work in PastPerfect unless that computer was turned on.  Switching to the drive share meant that the librarians could work from their laptops without going to Special Collections to turn on the server computer.

Backups

Every day:
  • When the former server computer turns on, a homegrown script runs a full backup of all files on that machine that are associated with PastPerfect.  That backup is saved to the shared drive.
  • Someone on the former server computer uses PastPerfect’s backup features to manually run an incremental backup of all changes anyone made to PastPerfect that day. That backup is saved to the hard drive of that particular computer.

Note to self: Are we doing recursive backups that reflect each other to infinity?  Or is it ok because the manual backup uses PastPerfect’s own backup tools, which presumably only grab content from the appropriate directories?

“Regularly”:
  • Campus IT backs up the drive share.  I *think* this is daily, but I don’t know that for certain.
Monthly:
  • Manual, incremental backup to an external hard drive stored elsewhere in the building.
Biannually:
  • Full backup to an external hard drive that we store offsite.  (Or at least, offsite-ish.  It’s still on campus, but at least it’s in another building.)

The Errors

A couple weeks ago I was told that there had been an annoying error popping up for a while when PastPerfect opened:

Shared history couldn’t be opened.

There didn’t seem to be any negative effects; everyone was still able to do their work and access everything they needed, backups still ran, and no one was worried.

Then one of the computers gave an error during a manual daily backup:

A minor error occurred but the backup file was created anyway.

Have you ever read a more useless error?  “Something went wrong and it was important enough that we thought we should tell you.  However, we’re not going to tell you what the error was.  We’re not going to tell you whether anything you care about was impacted.  We’re not going to recommend a course of action you should follow to deal with this, or to prevent it in the future.”  Awesome, PastPerfect.  Good job.

Later update: Apparently this means that someone else was using PastPerfect at the same time, which is of course a big no-no.  Here’s the PDF documentation from PastPerfect

We started talking about paying for PastPerfect support, but a bunch of people were going on vacation, and it was only a minor error, so presumably it could wait for us to all be back at work.

Then we got this one:

You have just encountered a minor error. Try pressing Continue to proceed.

If pressing Continue a few times doesn’t work, you can choose Quit Program and restart the program from Windows. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Error Information: Error #1104 Error reading file [[file location on shared drive]]\master.dbf.
FRMBACKUPRESTORE Line 1138
[[file location on shared drive]]\ACCNDEFT.DBF Rec 1
Version 5.0E6

It also told us this had been recorded in the error log, and provided a phone number for customer support.

Later update: Here’s the official documentation for error #1104.  PastPerfect blames wifi / bad networking.  I’m checking with our Special Collections folks to see if they were trying to work over wifi at the time, but I’m pretty sure they were on a wired connection… not that that couldn’t still be slow.  Sigh.  

I suppose I should be glad that at least this time we were given a course of action, but as soon as we hit Continue on that error, we got:

Error backing up multimedia files
[[giant list of files]]

…and hitting ok led to a repeat of the first error, only at line 891 instead of 1138…

…and then there was some confusion about when PastPerfect said backups had run…

…so we tried the backup again, and this time there were MORE of the same errors.  Lines 891 and 1138 are not my friend, the same multimedia files failed to backup (but I guess it’s good that it’s still trying, even though it’s an incremental backup, because those files haven’t been backed up after all).

Oh, and now we’re starting to get exciting errors just from opening PastPerfect–before we even try to back things up.  There’s all the same stuff about this being a minor error, press Continue, etc., and then:

Error #12 Variable ‘FRMBACKUPREMINDER’ is not found.
FRMSYSTEM Line 888
[[file location on drive share]]\MASTER.DBF Rec 1
Version 5.0E6

Later update: Here’s the official documentation for error #12.  If we were trying to look at a report, it would be related to invalid field names.  What does it mean when you’re trying to run a backup?

and then

Error #1940 Expression is not valid outside of
WITH/ENWITH.
FRMSYSTEM Line 889
[[file location on local machine]]\MAINSHOW.DBF Rec 2
Version 5.0E6

and then that repeated, and then

Error #1939 WITH/ENDWITH mismatch.
FRMSYSTEM Line 891
[[file location on local machine]]\MAINSHOW.DBF Rec 2
Version 5.0E6

Then Error #12 again, but this time on the local machine and Rec 3.

Then #1940 again, but line 889 and Rec 4.

Then #1940 on Line 890 and Rec 5.

Then #1939 on Line 891 and Rec 5…

…and then we quit.

Fun!  Fun, fun, fun.  Happy Friday to all.