Are Enforced Updates a Good Idea?

I currently have a system running Windows 98 in my home because there are some older games and other applications that I still enjoy using on that platform. The system isn’t connected to the Internet or any other machine because I consider the system a security hazard. I’ve set this system up for the sheer pleasure of seeing some of my old applications come to life again and to make use of some older hardware that still works just fine. The system has our movie database on it and a few other non-business items. However, the fact remains that this system would be unsafe to use to browse the Internet. It would probably be infected to the point of being unusable in a matter of hours (if it lasted that long).

Generally, when it comes to my Internet-connected systems, I use the latest software available to keep my systems secure. The software isn’t allowed to languish until it reaches an unprotected state either. I test every available update on one machine. If it works and I don’t see any major problems, I deploy it to all of the other systems I own on the same day. One of the major ways to keep your systems safe is to ensure you’re running the latest version of the software—the one with all of the latest bug fixes.

For most developers, debugging is an ongoing process. Although it seems is if it would be possible to squash every bug in the application after one carefully conducted review, the reality is that most applications are complex enough that even a team of developers can’t find every bug in multiple reviews, much less one. It also doesn’t help that many companies rush products to market long before they’re ready because they need to generate money from that product in order to remain solvent. So, from a certain perspective, we’re all beta testers and those bug updates are a requirement if we want to keep our systems running properly in the hostile environment of the Internet.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as conscientious as I am and some people are downright suspicious of updates. So, I can understand
Microsoft’s perspective about employing forced updates of some of their
products when those products are attached to an unfriendly Internet.
Just in case you haven’t heard it, Microsoft is going to start automatically updating Internet Explorer users. However, Microsoft is hardly the first one to the party with enforced updates. A lot of other vendors use this tactic as well. Many products today include a forced update feature. Most allow the user to opt out of the forced update, but the default setup relies on forced updates to keep less skilled user’s machines updated.

There are many advantages to using forced updates. The most important is that using forced updates keeps everyone on the Internet safer. The fewer machines that nefarious individuals can exploit, the better. Forced updates also reduce vendor support calls and could therefore help keep software costs lower. Using forced updates can also improve the user experience and make users more productive. For all these reasons, and more, I see forced updates as a big win for the less experienced user, especially the home user who is currently susceptible to every sort of virus and intrusion out there.

However, there is a down side to using forced updates. All users find them intrusive. Even if the update is silent, it uses resources during the update process. As a result, the user’s system suddenly slows down, which could actually cause some number of support calls when the update process is a resource hog. Forced updates are also a cause for concern in corporate environments where running untested software can cause a host of interoperability problems with custom software. Expert users also find forced updates a problem because the update can (and usually will) cause problems with the user’s custom configuration.

I’d also like to see forced updates provide a wait feature. Some users will apply unauthorized fixes to repair a bug until an update comes out. These unauthorized fixes tend to cause problems with the update. Giving the user a chance to remove the unauthorized fix before the update occurs will keep the update from actually trashing the user’s system. Personally, I never use these unauthorized fixes simply because they do have such a huge potential for causing more problems than they fix. However, some users don’t have the option to wait for the update to come out and must rely on an unauthorized fix.

So, what is your opinion about forced updates?  Are they a good idea? Generally, I see them as a win for novice and home users, but less helpful to corporate and expert users. Let me know your opinion at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Author: John

John Mueller is a freelance author and technical editor. He has writing in his blood, having produced 99 books and over 600 articles to date. The topics range from networking to artificial intelligence and from database management to heads-down programming. Some of his current books include a Web security book, discussions of how to manage big data using data science, a Windows command -line reference, and a book that shows how to build your own custom PC. His technical editing skills have helped over more than 67 authors refine the content of their manuscripts. John has provided technical editing services to both Data Based Advisor and Coast Compute magazines. He has also contributed articles to magazines such as Software Quality Connection, DevSource, InformIT, SQL Server Professional, Visual C++ Developer, Hard Core Visual Basic, asp.netPRO, Software Test and Performance, and Visual Basic Developer. Be sure to read John’s blog at http://blog.johnmuellerbooks.com/. When John isn’t working at the computer, you can find him outside in the garden, cutting wood, or generally enjoying nature. John also likes making wine and knitting. When not occupied with anything else, he makes glycerin soap and candles, which comes in handy for gift baskets. You can reach John on the Internet at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. John is also setting up a website at http://www.johnmuellerbooks.com/. Feel free to take a look and make suggestions on how he can improve it.