/ Technology

Why I’m sick of software updates

A computer update in progress

Software updates over the internet are fast, free… and not always necessary. Has the speed and opportunity to constantly release new versions made developers less inclined to get things right first time?

Let’s just look at a 24-hour period of my life last week.

I woke up to find my PC had automatically rebooted itself after a Windows System Update. It was Patch Tuesday (a ‘patch’ being the term given to fixing a bug or filling a gaping security hole) – when Microsoft rolls out its monthly fix for things that might leave your PC open to attack. Fine – once a month I can live with.

A whole day of updates

Arriving at work, there was a flashing icon in the bottom right hand corner of my screen telling me that updates to Adobe Photoshop, Acrobat and some applications I never use were ready and waiting.

I powered up Tweetdeck to respond to some of @WhichTech’s followers, to find that Tweetdeck (in its infinite wisdom) thought I’d benefit from upgrading from version 0.37.1 to 0.37.2.

Not only this, but Adobe Air, the platform that increasing amounts of software runs on, also claimed to be out of date and in need of an upgrade! That’s at least two valuable minutes of my life spent updating software to deliver features I didn’t know I needed.

Mobiles are just as bad

I tried to keep my eyes away from my mobile(s). Hardly a day goes by without my Android phone popping up an icon indicating that one of my many apps has been updated, probably to fix a compatibility issue with a specific handset I don’t even own.

And on my iPhone, there was a tantalising number next to the App Store icon showing just how horrendously I’m lagging behind in the ever-updated world of apps.

A new Valentine’s edition of Angry Birds? No thanks. An Amazon Kindle app which finally includes page numbers in my ebooks – now that sounds more tempting.

Too tempting to ignore

These software updates are getting to the same ‘un-ignorable’ stage as the ‘you have new email’ icon. In the same way that not clicking to read that new email message is unthinkable, not updating an app to a new and improved version makes me yesterday’s man.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s brilliant that software developers are constantly improving their products, tweaking things, adding new functionality, and making things better. No-one can possibly miss the days when updates were few and far between, arrived on a CD-Rom and took an age to install.

But haven’t we gone too far in the other direction? Updates are great, but let’s make sure that developers aren’t releasing products too early, knowing they can update with every little improvement.

Unless it’s a matter of life and death for internet security, once-a-month updates suit me fine.

Comments

Software updates were a real pain using a dial-up service, but not with broadband.

I find the Apple Software Update very efficient and I cannot recall a single problem on any of my Macs. If it is not convenient to accept an update when prompted it takes one click to delay the update to a more convenient time.

I don’t mind updates if they are:

* fixing bugs
* improving features
* improving security
* are quick
* don’t mess up any personal settings

However (Microsoft bashing warning for all the Microsoft lovers), I have to say that whilst most vendors seem to be able to fulfil nearly all of the above Microsoft seem incapable of fulfilling any! Take a look at the Windows folder on your C: drive and just see how big it is. 25GB? 30GB? Is that really needed?

With each update I wish they would remove anything that is no longer needed and help me keep my machine lean and mean.

And Sun are no different for their Java updates – apparently they recommend you retain previous versions so that websites requiring older versions of Java will still work. Well, here’s a revolutionary idea: instead of doing that, why not just release/update one version that will still allow web pages using the older versions to work?

I don’t mind most software updates – but some can grate. Those iTunes and Safari pop-up updates are incredibly annoying and most of seem to be pointless.

And then there’s the PS3. I can put up with a firmware update every month if it adds new features, but updates that stop me from playing games online and don’t seem to add any benefit are a pain.

Plus, in this generation of consoles I’ve seen a trend with games being released with game breaking bugs (Call of Duty: Black Ops is a recent example) simply because the developers know they can update it with a patch after release. In my view, finish the game and THEN release it.

I find upgrades and problem resolution tasks (esp. as your operating system goes out of style, eg. Vista) onerous, riddled with unfathomable snags requiring first web research then tech support contact and extremely time consuming. Add to this a variable quality wireless broadband connection and huge update files to be downloaded (eg. Vista service pack1 and 2, which I’ve only recently been made aware of, and don’t even work) and I’m a full time nursemaid for about a week. The will to live diminishes one wonders if these devices really are an advance after all. The whole thing is an immense waste of time.

DaveB says:
19 February 2011

Hi.

I create software as part of my work, and as a hobby, so I know in detail the dangers and opertunities that can happen.

You all forget, it’s next to imposible these days to write any software (however trivial) that is guaranteed to be 100% correct, and secure.

It is especialy true of any program that “reaches out” beyond your PC. As 99.9% of the time, you will be relying on other peoples work for that part of the code, and though much of it is trusted, you never know 100%. It may not even be part of a third party software tool you incorporated, but the compiler itself may have bugs in it, that result in vulnerable programs being created, though you “do the right thing” with your own source code..

Updates and Patches are sadly essential, for the continuing correct functioning and safety of our otherwise vulnerable systems. Heck, if all the offices and companies that got hit with the Confiker worm, had done their updates ASAP, it would have been much less of a problem.

Unless (as I do) you run various services from a computer 24/7, it’s best just to let it download them when needed, but let you choose when to install them. The best compromise, as then you get minimum wait time, and still have some control as to what and when.

If you run a PC 24/7 for whatever reason, and an auto forced reboot is not wanted, then set up the update preferences as above. You dont *Have* to let it do it’s own thing when it wants, after all it works for you, not the other way round.

If nothing else, let the security updates run, also from vendors such as Adobe, who have been having issues of their own. Applications for sites like Twitter, are also best updated with security pathces, as soon as available, for obvious reasons.

If nothing else, make sure your Firewall is fully up to data, and do keep an eye from time to time on it’s settings. There are documented ways for App’s to alter it’s settings for their own use!

If you are restricted in your connectivity (no ADSL for example) it is still posible to have someone else download the updates in a form that you can use from for example a CD or USB stick. It’s not exactly straightforward, but is posible. Of cours, if your PC is not connected to anything, and you don’t exchange CD’s or memory sticks with others, you’re probably safer than the rest of us!

Lastly, *ALL* OS’s have these problems. Just that at present Windows is a much bigger target for the Bad Guys to aim at, than the others. You can rest assured (and if you search, you can find evidence of this) that other systems, MAC, Linux, FreeBSD etc, all have open vulnerabilities that are not patched, but as yet, no one is (known) to be exploiting them.

Lastly. Remember that Windows XP falls out of support re updates etc, after about June or July 2011.

Take care.

DaveB

If it had not been for the Windows Vista fiasco, the market share of Windows XP would have been a lot smaller. Microsoft should shelve its plans to remove support for XP until corporate users and the majority of home users have migrated to Windows 7.

In response to DaveB

It is true that a system can never be fully tested, as a Test Manager, I am aware of this.

However, I do not believe that updates are “essential” per se. They are only “essential” if the product has been pushed to market too quickly and (all too often) it is the test time that is the first to be cut.

It is also only essential if the application is dependant on another application which itself is constantly having updates.

For an example of how things can be done with a “right-first-time” mantra, boot up a ps2 or a ps1. No updates were available to these games and I never had an issue with any of them. The internet is something which has enabled software companies (not the developers themselves) to not do a thorough job and deliver much more quickly. Then where there are problems, this facilitates a support centre, patches, etc to mask the fact that the original was pushed to market too quickly.

Continuous integration of features and Test Driven Development is a good start, as is a business who actually know what they want the product to do.

But seeing as most companies use contractors, it is in their interest to get it done quickly due to cost, but ultimately it ends up damaging the companies reputation when they deliver sub standard software.

The internet has made software companies lazy, not developers. Devs just do what they can in the time with flaky requirements, they should be commended for actually making anything 🙂

W.S.Becket says:
24 February 2011

It is not the updates that worry me so much as the frequency with which different versions of software are produced. If it is an operating system – and MS seem to bring one out every two or three years – it invariably means most other software has to be repurchased as well.

What is needed is a degree of regulation. No software should be superseded until all bugs with the previous version have been ironed out. New versions should also be a radical (say 80%) improvement upon the version they are to replace.

For years now, software companies have been making fortunes by selling us the same product several times.

Leen Petre says:
4 March 2011

I do really dislike software updates. It is impossible as non-tech user to distinguish between the ones that you need and the ones that you do not need, and most of the time for Windows PCs they seem to clog up your operating speed with all sorts of unnecessary things!

I also use an apple computer at home, and I love the fact that I do not get these constant operating systems updates and guess what – the machine is 3 years old and is still as fast as it was when I first got it!

Leen

bechet says:
6 March 2011

Another hate. Firefox barges in with updates while I am downloading. At first it appears that the browser has crashed (as it seems to all too often these days) but then it reports that it is updating. Once it’s finished playing it allows the download to resume ~ provided it hasn’t given up. I’ve always liked Firefox but it’s beginning to irritate.

Also Safari, Quicktime and iTunes (& one apparently for mobile computing), which I hardly ever use, seem to ask every other day whether I want to download the latest. If I say Yes, I know that it will take ages to complete and then probably tell me that it can’t do it, so I always click on Quit. But at least these give me the option.

Moksaphoto says:
28 August 2015

It is funny how old this article is and yet so up-to-date! 🙂 Things just got worse…as I see, the world is goint to the agressive way. First they offer you to update, then they recommend and later they force you to update giving no other option to choose from. And if you think about all the bandwidth (millions of devices do this continuously and somebody has to pay for that!) that these operations need to use, I would not even call them “free” updates…

Norbert says:
6 March 2016

I am furious about software updates! I write software for a living, and it shocks me how badly designed, and poorly written the majority of software is.
You know, if you want to change the hardware of your computer, than you can individually, and within broad limits change the capacity, performance, power consumption, type and speed of the memory, processor, power supply, main drive(HDD os SSD), and graphic hardware components besides other accessories.
But you can’t decide if you want a feature or not in software. Software is the most complex f****d up, cross-linked, inseparable piece of shit that mankind has ever created. It is written to meet deadlines, and often there is no second thought given into its architecture.

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Peter Thornton says:
18 November 2016

In February this year we bought an Asus laptop TPL 300LA. This was for my wife to use. She is an extremely busy teacher and found the laptop invaluable. On Thursday evening last week, 10 November 2016 she was using the laptop in the living room to do some job-related work when a window suddenly appeared on the screen saying Asus Live Update. Neither of us had any idea what this was so we assumed that it must be some sort of automatic update system similar to the Microsoft system.

Eventually there was a notice which said something like “do you want to Refresh before closing?”. Neither of us having any idea what this meant my wife clicked ‘yes’.

The result was an absolute disaster. Eventually a window appeared listing the programs that had been deleted. These include all our Microsoft Office 365 Programs, Virus Protection, Accountancy Program Etc. In fact everything..

Eventually I discovered that Asus Live Update is a programme which Asus load onto their computers and I gather that it is meant to seek out possible updates for any of the programmes which you have on your computer and then install them. Apparently it programs its own schedule so that it starts running at any unpredictable time.

I did call the Asus helpline to see whether they could help to explain how this had happened but the response did not really help me at all.

I then tried to work out for myself what had happened and was able to get some information about this program and its purpose by searching on the Internet.

I then had to spend approximately 35 hours personally locating and reinstalling all the programs.

I called the Microsoft Office 365 Helpline and they were absolutely magnificent with the help that they gave. In the first call they actually carried out the reinstallation of their programs direct having taken control of the laptop. I had two further calls with them during which they were able to solve other problems for me.

Needless to say I have uninstalled Asus Live Update so that it can’t possibly do the same thing again.

Could somebody possibly explain whether this was due to our naivete in having no knowledge about this program before it ran or would others possibly agree with me that computer manufacturers should not install such a programme without being absolutely certain that future users would understand the risks that go along with it?

Peter-This has caused so many people problems that several virus companies class it as badware etc . I have an Asus board but I have never been bothered with this problem and wont be because it is set up for Windows and I have Linux . It is pretty easy to remove if you have basic Windows knowledge of programming their system . What you did was a “no no ” never –EVER click on a pop-up I dont care who says what if you want a programme /app visit the OFFICIAL website NOT C.net/Download.com . It is also a security risk as it bypasses Windows firewall and has access to vital parts of your computer .

B Vincent says:
20 July 2019

So true even 8 years later. Every day is constant updates from your tv, to your car, to your phone, to your laptop. How soon till we are waiting at traffic lights, or in elevators with messages reading “update in progress, please wait.”

Software you were used to and depend on suddenly automatically versioning up, making you wait, followed by moving all of the UI elements around. UI decisions that companies once took months to carefully design are now made in seconds by the junior grade developers based on momentary aesthetic whims vs ease of use. Have you ever spent minutes searching a screen for a simple button only to find its been changed to some cryptic symbol, or buried 8 clicks deep in some “three dot” menu? Is that even a proper grammatical use for an ellipsis.

As basic as the analog world was, the one benefit was everything worked, and in a consistent fashion. Things were dependable, and like the Apple mantra of old “it just works.” Perhaps this is why Mr. Jobs was a fan of Skeuomorphism in early IOS designs.

Mark my words, one day after too many updates Skynet will go insane and send terminators out to cease updates once and for all.

DerekP says:
21 July 2019

In my case, my car and TV are too old to ever need or get software updates. On my phone, updates to Apps seem to happen all the time, with no bother. The same is true for my Linux PC’s – and I can choose whether or not to accept the updates and when to install them. On Linux, reboots are only rarely needed as part of updates. Even then their timing remains under user control..

Home versions of Windows 10 are another matter though. Microsoft still thinks that taking over my W10 boxes, to process updates and sometimes even reboot the system, is more important than anything that I might want to be doing with them.

[Sent from my linux box.]

B Vincent says: UI decisions that companies once took months to carefully design are now made in seconds by the junior grade developers based on momentary aesthetic whims vs ease of use.

LOL! So true, so very, very true 🙂

DerekP says:
21 July 2019

I appreciated that remark too.

Perhaps it explains why I keep diving into XP to use Office 2003 instead of using other, newer versions of functionally equivalent software.

I also had to look up what “skeuomorphism” was. It’s nice to know who to blame for all those stupid little icons, like the ones littering modern Office toolbars and whose meaning only becomes obvious in retrospect, after searching for online help to find where my favourite tools and functions have gone.

I have not done any software updates on my desktop computer for years, simply because I use it to run obsolete software that does the job adequately. This computer now has no internet connection for security reasons. The laptops do get updated and I cannot say that this has caused any problems, though in the days of slow dial-up internet access and big software updates I used to take the laptop to work for updating via the network.

I would not want to avoid security updates for any computer used online.