/ 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Not only this, but Adobe Air, the platform that increasing amounts of software runs on, also claimed to be out of date and in need of an upgrade!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
Member

I totally agree!
There is nothing more infuriating than your computer forever installing new updates – once a month would be far more sensible. 🙂
I’ve also found that sometimes an update can seemingly surreptitiously change some settings so it means items you’ve used previously don’t work until you fathom it out and change them back! 🙁
Certainly not easy when you try to operate a computer with your paws!!!! 🙂 🙂

Member

I think it must depend on the software – I normally only get updates for XP and Adobe reader at around 1 month intervals – WordPerfect updates around every 6 months or more (the rest of the suite never needs updates) – FireFox and Thunderbird every 3 months. Similarly with Paint shop Pro.

Did have Agent (similar to Thunderbird) update to a version that was incompatible to the earlier version – so ditched it.

Daily use of computers and software for around 5 hours daily.

Member

Most modern apps on the Mac give you the option whether or not to check for updates when you start the app. Personally I like to have this set on, but I agree some people may find it annoying – at least we get the choice. Similarly Mac OSX itself gives you a choice of how often to check for updates to the OS itself – mine is set to weekly which seems to be a good balance.
I don’t know how things work in the iPhone and PC world but I would agree with the OP that multiple unsolicited update reminders every day would get annoying.

Member
James Harrison says:
15 February 2011

I’d like to see the ‘helpful’ window, which pops out to tell you that you don’t really need an update or in fact, a particular program, which you never have and never will use. Would you like to delete this now? Oh, yes please…… Hey, I invented it!.

Member
keith says:
15 February 2011

I’m very fed up with software updates that crash my system after installation and take ages to sort, safari and itunes seem to be the culprits, haven’t decided which one yet! I think it’s Safari that’s the problem.

I would use Firefox as a default except that it is now almost unusable due to settings and updates which make it incredibly secure! I now have to confirm every action and process, I know it’s my fault and I can fix it, just don’t have the time…..

Oh and for some reason my main software decided to change to Imperial inches after the last update, reset them…trash the prefs… still pops up and says metric is the invention of the devil..grrr

Member
Deepestbluetoo says:
15 February 2011

I was under the impression that one can chose to turn off the update notification facility.

Member

Get yourself a free tool that manages all/most of these updates without any interaction.
Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector will track the software on your PC, perform weekly scans behind the scenes, and auto-update out of date software. The updates are driven by a security need, not by a whim of the software vendor. The whole aim of the tool is to keep your PC secure with no or minimal intervention. There are also settings if you still want to be in control.
I’ve been using this for some years and the most recent update (v 2.0) has the auto-updater feature. It is a set & forget tool.
http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal/

Member

Nice suggestion kymp60! Although isn’t there a slight irony in having to install yet another piece of software, which itself needs to be kept updated, to take control of your software updates?

I’m going to give Secunia PSI a try, but having read some of the most recent user comments, my personal opinion is that it might be more trouble than it’s worth!

Member

Microsoft normally provides updates on the first Tuesday of every month – Update Tuesday. When it does send out out-of-band updates, it is to plug a serious security problem.

As Internet browsing is a prime time activity, Adobe (Flash), Java and other browser plug-in vendors try to release at the same time as Microsoft. But again, serious security patches may be released at any time.

As much as you like to complain about these updates, think how you would complain if you caught a nasty virus or had your details stolen through known but unpatched security breaches?

You can’t have it both ways. Perhaps your anger should be aimed at the police for not apprehending the criminals that exploit these vulnerabilities.

Keep moaning.

Member

Some of the smaller but most useful programs are updated rather too frequently but as they take up little time to install I can’t say it bothers me. I would rather frequent updates than security being compromised. At least nowadays programs take note of of what is already installed. No longer do the frequent Adobe Flash updates leave the old program in place.
Windows Updates usually take a long time to install and as they are often security related I would be happy to be “pestered” at fortnightly intervals if that would speed the installation process and makes the computer more secure at an earlier time.
I can’t say that I have problems as the result of updates apart from Windows Optional updates to component drivers which often have to be back dated when they don’t work.
I would recommend the free Secunia PSI program to monitor security patches but no doubt that would lead to similar complaints.

Member

Sometimes I find that Windows updates keep wanting to install the same update and you have to tell the update service to hide it. Also you get updates for internet explorer even when you use another browser. I recently got Windows 7 on a PC. I was surprised that an email programme was not bundled with it. I don’t recall about this being reported, when it first came out..

Member
pablo says:
15 February 2011

Hate updates as I no longer feel in control – last lot were 27 strong for windows 7 and one of them failed .I have been days dealing with this and it is still not sorted out have had to hide it. How useful is that.

And they always advise that anti virus software is disabled- how do you do that without re-installing.
No one ever says.

Member
Thomas says:
15 February 2011

Apple regularly inform me of Quicktime & I-Tune updates. The last time I installed an update my PC crashed & I had to reinstall the entire operating system. Fortunately I make a regular backup using Acronis True Image. I cannot praise this backup program highly enough.
I now avoid installing all updates from Apple!

Member
bechet says:
15 February 2011

It used to be irritating when Microsoft updates barged in and interrupted work so I chose the option of merely being informed when they are available. Even then they take ages to download etc but since, as a rule, they are fairly infrequent and often improve security I’m prepared to put up with them. The exception is Microsoft Security Essentials which seem to forget that they updated only an hour ago and keep nagging. Another pest is Safari which I uninstalled in favour of Opera more than a year ago but keeps offering me updates.

Member

As someone said, a lot of applications give you the chance to opt for updates or not when first installed. If you want to change your mind later, then there is often a clearly visible entry in msconfig’s list of applications loaded automatically at start-up. You can disable the process and speed up your machine at the same time. Annoyingly, I can’t see how to stop WindowsUpdate interrupting and demanding a re-boot when I am in the middle of watching a television programme on the computer. I want urgent updates, yes, but once I know that there is one waiting to be installed, I’d rather wait until until it is convenient for me. Also, when my new laptop was only a couple of months old, and still with only the original software plus good virus protection, down came an update which stopped Internet Explorer finding any websites. I now use Opera!

So in summary, my attitude is – I’ll put up with updates on the day that they come out for the sake of security, but please – a) get them right and b) don’t re-boot when I’m in the middle of something that can’t be interrupted.

Member
irene says:
15 February 2011

Have just come online to listen to the podcast. Such a relief to find I’m not alone in my feelings about software updates! I’m as sick of them as you are, Al!

Member

Yes, I got sick of incessant updates and in fact of the whole Windows experience. I bought an iMac. I switch it on and it works. I wish I had bought it years ago.

Member
ollie b says:
15 February 2011

I’m 64, a simple scientist, and not from the ‘computer generation’, but I do like to be in control/at least know what’s going on: often I lose control with the likes of Adobe, Java etc updates. For me most of these updates do seem to work but the downloading process seems to be random in time in spite of the precise instructions on ‘what to do’. Some download immediately, others at some point during the session, some after re-start (and others don’t in spite of telling me they will!), and some the following day (after several re-starts), and some Never. Also, you’ve got a point Al about frequency: sometimes I wonder if ‘today’s update’ is the the correction for yesterday’s update.

Member

Yes I agree too, I got so fed up with it all, I bought a MacBook and have not regretted the change one iota. I still have a PC, and yes, because I don’t use it very often, every time I switch it on (or so it seems) I have to wait for the updating!

If you have never tried a Mac, you are missing a great deal in my opinion. MUCH nicer system, few updates, no malware or virus problems: I have experienced no download problems (due to incompatibity) in the 2 years I have owned it – but yes, they do cost much more.

Member

What I like about the PC is I can easily and cheaply update the hardware – from the motherboard downwards. The Mac cannot really be altered easily – also there are two distinct OS – A Linux version or Microsoft..Linux is effectively free.

I have not had a virus or malware – had few updates – no download problems or breakdowns. It depends on the software used. Much of it is also free for the PC.

Member

Updates from Microsoft can break your Internet wireless connection WebPages cannot be displayed message in Internet Explorer and wireless connection becomes limited. Another problem windows updates breaks DVD drive windows reports no drive found even if you plug another unit in by USB still the same report from windows or if you use MS fix page from Miscrsoft.com to fix the problem it will report problem can not be fixed. So I have turned off windows updates on my own computer that has stopped the problem from breaking anymore laptops at home or at work.

Member

Patch Tuesday?

o problems with that at all.

Why?

Well the technique used by Microsoft is ad-hoc code writing (its documented), they make it works and tidy up later, this means the code is bloated, vulnerable and open to abuse.

nasty boys with small genitalia and no girlfriends out there love to exploit these areas resulting in security and other bothersome issues.

Patches are the retro method of Microsofts chosen coding model – they use us as guinea pigs and then fix the problems as they occur – oh and some of these are known for upto 18 months (also documented) and only fixed when the issue becomes critical – ie: Spotty boy and his chums find it and abuse it.

Plus there’s the old adage that poor programming skills needs to be updated – yes ‘Flash’ authors I am looking at you!

Something positive though!

At least they are fixing it – unlike the rogue traders we see on TV leaving half-finished and poor workmanship in place.

Be happy it is so!

PS can you read your Kindle in the bath? Safely?
Sit on it in your back pocket?
Why pay a fortune for a simple paperback that you can actually pass on to share, unlike Kindle.
Ditch that and the moronic Tweet rubbish and you will have less rubbish to update.

Voila.

Member

Hi Chris – some interesting opinions there, especially your assertions about the ‘nasty boys…’!
You’re right, of course – better that updates are released which try and fix security holes, rather than leaving them open to attack forever.

P.S. I don’t have a Kindle – just the Kindle app for my smartphone, so no need to worry about my bathtime or back pocket. And yes, I still read old-fashioned paperbacks. As for the ‘moronic Tweeting’ – we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one!

Member

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.

Member

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?

Member

Hi fat sam. I totally agree with your five criteria for whether updates are worth installing. And, yes, Java has given me plenty of headaches over the years – usually when I have allowed it to update itself to the latest version (despite no mention of what improvements this will bring!) and then finding that some critical web-based application forces me to go back to a previous version. Grrr.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member
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

Member

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.

Member

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 🙂

Member
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.

Member
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

Member
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.

Member
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…

Member
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]

Member
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?

Member

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 .