To Update or Not to Update

that is the question

My e-ink book reader greeted me with a message about a new software update available this morning. I tapped “install” without even pausing to think, but the battery was too low, so I plugged the reader in and started reading the book I intended to read in the first place. An hour later, when it became safe to start up the coffee machine (the noise would no longer wake my wife up because the cat just did), I initiated the update process. I had to agree to two new license policies, I like the new home screen less, I had to go to the settings to switch off two new annoying recommendation features for the services I never intend to use, and I couldn’t go on reading for the 30 minutes that the process took. I should definitely have resisted that urge to update, heh?

The problem is, all my reflexes call for doing a software update as soon as possible. I mostly use open source software on my computers, and in open source the updates are usually bug fixes, long-awaited features, and UX improvements, so as long as you’re on a stable branch there are usually no reasons whatsoever to postpone updates. The closed-source commercial software I admin is mostly low-level, and there the updates are usually closely tied to security fixes, which is even more of a reason to update at the soonest convenient time. And for the big user-facing closed-source commercial software systems I need to use for work, I’m usually spared the decision of whether to and when to update, there are special people in charge of that. So, all in all, I’m basically trained to update whenever an update is available. Sometimes, like today, it backfires.

My wife, on the other hand, is trained for exactly the opposite behaviour: she only does software updates when she absolutely can’t avoid them. I remember her coming home from a conference once and rushing to install a system upgrade onto her MacBook — a colleague showed her the new awesome window management options that she immediately wanted; the upgrade that had those was pending on her laptop for a year and a half. She’s not ignorant or lazy, it’s just that all her experience with the systems and the software she’s using taught her that updates are usually no good. Updates add unwanted features, clutter the UI, introduce bugs, demand money to subscribe for the things she’d never use, make good software worse and slower, and ultimately force her to buy new expensive devices to replace the ones that she was perfectly satisfied with before she pushed that “update” button. Her whole life Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, and other big commercial vendors taught her that the wisest approach to the software updates is “don’t try to fix what ain’t broken”, and she learned the lesson well.

And while it’s definitely good to have a person like me to keep an eye on the home network of the household, I feel there are things I’d better learn from my wife regarding the software update strategies. Especially in case I ever succumb to the modern “smart devices”/“smart home” trends.

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