One of the things that my IT Support clients find more frustrating than almost anything else with their IT is “updates”

Updates - groan

… another update installing

In fact, I think the only thing I hear complained of more than updates is passwords.

“Why do they have to keep changing things?”, “why can’t I just keep what I’ve got. It does what I need?”, and so on.

Yesterday morning, a client said to me Updates are just a way of keeping geeks in work“.

I can think of several reasons why updates are an inevitable part of our digital lives:

  • A huge part of the world’s criminal fraternity is turning to the internet to make a dishonest living. It can be very lucrative and the chances of being brought to justice seem to be very low. Therefore, there is a constant battle going on between criminals trying to find weaknesses and the good guys trying to thwart them. Everyone would soon complain if vulnerabilities, once discovered, weren’t addressed (and that means updates).
  • For better or worse, most of our computing is done in a capitalist framework with capitalist organisations seeking to make a profit. How is capitalism going to work if investors can’t get a return on their investment? The product HAS to keep changing (improving) as there would otherwise be no incentive for consumers to buy again or remain with a particular service. This is true for everything, not just computers. Maybe we just notice it more with computers as the interruptions caused by updates seem more annoying because sometimes we can’t get on with what we want to do until the updates are taken care of.
  • There are thousands of different organisations making hardware and software. This stuff all has to talk to other stuff. When a change is made to one piece of stuff, it might have effects on the stuff it has to interact with. To my mind, it’s not a surprise that many things have to be tweaked (updated) frequently to keep everything working with everything else.

Zeroes and ones

In computing, everything is ultimately expressed in just zeroes and ones.

As far as I am concerned, the surprise is that all of this technology works as well as it does. Think of this – all of the communication of anything in the world of computing takes place in just zeroes and ones (or, if you prefer, “yeses” and “nos” or “ons and offs”). Billions upon billions of zeroes and ones criss-crossing the planet all the time, being sent and received via all kinds of hardware, software, and firmware made by different organisations, on different continents, with different cultures, speaking different languages. All it takes is for a single one of those zeroes or ones to get messed up and the task that’s involved might not work. To my mind, this stuff is a mind-boggling achievement, and a bit of housework installing updates is an acceptable price to pay.

Maybe in 50 years the developments won’t be coming so quickly and all this tech may one day reach a maturity where there are fewer updates and /or where updates take care of themselves. We are certainly not there yet. Another way of looking at it is to just stand back a bit and try and appreciate the spectacular achievements of IT, and accept that tweaks, corrections, and updates are an inevitable part of that achievement.

Windows - install updates

You can now shut down or restart Windows without installing pending updates

So, how should we approach updates? My own philosophy is that they should be installed reasonably quickly after we know they are available. I definitely agree that we should be given the option to delay dealing with them for a day or two so that we can take care of urgent things first. To that end, I am really glad that Microsoft have at last given us the option of restarting a Windows 10 computer with pending updates without installing those update just yet. The amount of time (my clients’ time, that is) that I have been forced to waste because I want/need to reboot their computer, but don’t want to install updates just yet, must run to hundreds of hours.

And here’s an irony: if you aren’t running the latest updates to Windows then you can’t take advantage of the option to delay installing updates if you turn off or reboot your computer.

I can, of course, hearing mutterings of “he would be in favour of updates, wouldn’t he? He’s one of the geeks keeping in work”. To which I would reply “(a) the term “geek” doesn’t apply to me. I’m just someone who knows a bit more about this stuff than you might know, and (b) although it’s true that updates can be inconvenient, can sometimes seem just cosmetic, and can sometimes break things, they are a sign that all this stuff is still advancing, getting faster, getting better. “

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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