Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Joy of Updates

We have a 40” screen in our shop window to advertise our products and services, and until recently we were using a laptop to feed this with looping video. I recently repurposed a 7 year old Mac Mini to free up the perfectly good laptop for other uses.

If you’re not familiar with the Mac Mini, it’s a small rectangular white box which is cool, quiet and unobtrusive, and perfectly suited for leaving running in a cupboard for months at a time without needing attention. Unfortunately a few days after I set it up an Apple update screen popped up in the middle of our video, and since it’s impossible to plug in a keyboard and still see the screen (which is facing the street) I had to plug in a second monitor in order to get rid of the update screen. While there I installed Logmein so that I could remotely administer the Mac without all that palaver next time. Two days later I came in to see our display was now fronting a Logmein update screen. It seems there’s no winning.

After a quick hunt through their respective settings I disabled both the Apple software updates and the Logmein updater, which will of course put the Mac at risk as security vulnerabilities aren’t being patched, but given that this isn’t a computer that’s used for any risky activities such as file downloading or web surfing, this shouldn’t be an issue.

This reminded me how frequently we are bombarded with update requests, and how badly some programs handle these. Windows user will know that these are fairly benign, and will often happen in the background according to you settings. Apple updates are fine on Macs, but on PCs I’m constantly having to unselect QuickTime and Safari – surely once I’ve said no the update program should be smart enough to know that I don’t want these programs installed, but it seems that the penalty for using iTunes on a PC is to forever be nagged to install QuickTime and Safari, programs which to my mind have no place on a PC.

Adobe Reader has its own overly obtrusive updater. I periodically disable it using msconfig.exe, but every time I go back in to check on start-up processes there it is again, turning up like an unwelcome social disease. After incessant nagging we all eventually apply updates, which is wise given the security vulnerabilities that Adobe exposes us to, and our reward is that for the hundredth and fifth time we get an unwanted Adobe Reader icon on our desktops. I have never met anybody who has ever opened a PDF by any other method than clicking on a PDF file, so the purpose of this icon escapes me, yet however many times I delete it from my desktop Adobe don’t seem to get the message. Exactly the same criticism applies to QuickTime, with the added irritation of a new icon in your Quick Launch bar that is so useful in Windows XP. You’d think it would be common courtesy to ask, but the software updater blithely decides that QuickTime IS going to be one of our most commonly used programs, and damn you for disagreeing.

It wouldn’t be fair of me to miss out AOL, which took the shotgun approach to scattering your system with icons, and would no doubt have tattooed a start-up icon onto your chest if that had been possible, but I’m happy to report that in a neat demonstration of Darwinian selection we rarely get to see that program any more. 

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