#iMovie randomly not saving my project is solved – it’s the zombie project’s fault

A few weeks ago, my infatuation with my new Mac and iMovie was crushed when iMovie lost six hours of work.  I had been putting together a photo/video montage and was just putting on the finishing touches when all of sudden my project became unplayable.  As far as I have been able to determine, this is iMovie’s behavior when a project file goes corrupt.

I still haven’t forgiven iMovie for this.  There was no specific triggering event that caused it to die, and the lack of any sort of error message is downright annoying.  But the product is so good, I had resolved to start over, being more carful to back up after every few changes.  It also provided a great opportunity to learn about Time Machine.

So, I started putting the project back together.  While the old project was unplayable, it was still around in a kind of zombie state.  I was able to access parts of it by using mouse-overs of the project timeline, which allowed me to see the order of the pictures and videos.  This was useful, since I could use it as a guide for what pictures I had originally selected and what order I had put them in.

And then I discovered I had a new problem.  I would periodically quit iMovie in order to back up the project, but when I returned I sometimes found that iMovie had not saved my changes.  It was erratic – sometimes my most recent edits would be there, and some times not.  It was like playing roulette, and I was seriously questioning how Apple could release such a buggy product.

A large chunk of my day job involves trying to play sherlock holmes with strange system problems, looking for patterns in errors and trying to come up with theories that explain them.  I don’t believe in gremlins, and I figured there must be some pattern as to why iMovie would sometimes save my work and not other times.  There is no way a bug of this magnitude could be widespread.

My suspicions soon fell on the zombie project, and after a few tests, I confirmed my theory.  Any time I would touch the zombie project to check on the order, iMovie was going into a silent failure mode.  It would let me make changes to the other project, and even allow me to preview them, but it was no longer actually saving any of my work.  If I would avoid touching the zombie project, everything would be fine.

There are no error messages coming out of iMovie, and no warnings on the console.  This kind of silent failure, particularly around saving work, is a serious design flaw.

The real killer is that despite all this, the product puts to shame anything I have seen back in the PC world.  Rather than quitting, I am going just recreate the project from scratch, without the help of being able to refer to the old one.  No I just have two rules – backup often, and run far away from any corruption I encounter, since it is contagious.

Making great products sure does allow Steve Jobs and Apple to get away with some pretty major slip-ups.


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