Raise your hand if you’re with me on having had it up to here with ‘helpful’ software update reminders, those increasingly pervasive, automated notification systems built into applications that let you know when you need to download a new revision. They’re meant to be helpful, but I find them intrusive and nagging.
Through these systems, it seems that I’m constantly confronted with entreaties to download and install new versions of everything I use, and those versions have been coming with greater and greater frequency, and have been weighing in at larger and larger megabytes totals. It’s become the norm rather than the exception for me to be confronted, each time I log into my computer, with pop-up reminders or system messages letting me know that a newer, better, more crucial change to my software is ready and waiting for me to grab.
Big and Small
Below: Read me… after you install all this other shit first. Adobe’s Reader software requires a complete restart after you update it.
In many cases, the smaller software publishers are just as guilty of this as the larger publishers, but Adobe deserves a special place in this canon for consistently pushing the most monolithic and unwieldy such updates around; a freshly installed copy of Adobe Acrobat, for instance, doesn’t allow you to start working until you’re confronted with a long laundry list of apparently important patches and updates that often require large investments of time and a complete reboot of your hardware. That’s just unacceptable.
In a larger sense, the ‘helpfulness’ of these notification systems is really a red herring-style distraction from the truth that most of this software is either untenably complex, tremendously ill-conceived or both. In fact, publishers are foisting on users a responsibility that should be theirs: software shouldn’t require these constant patches and updates at all, or they should do so only with extreme infrequency if they truly must.
Measure Once, Cut Over and Over
But publishers find it easier to continually push out reactive amendments to their programs than to ship rock solid software. And somehow, they’ve convinced themselves — and we’ve all bought into the false conceit — that an automated method of flagging new updates is an acceptable replacement for good, solid code that doesn’t require frequent revisions.
In fact, it’s my completely unscientific belief that the presence of these notification systems has an effect opposite to what consumers really want: rather than encouraging developers to ship unimpeachable code when a program is initially released, these systems make it easy to fall back on the contingency of pushing out patches that automatically tell the user, “We messed up, but we just showed you how to fix it, so now it’s your problem.” Software should make our lives easier, not shift responsibilities for its own maintenance to users.
This is all kind of an argument for applications on the network, where such updates and revisions are largely invisible to the user. One day I’ll give over to that concept entirely, because there’s no question that it’s the inevitable future for all programs. But in the meantime, I’m too fond of software on the desktop, where things run fast and responsively, with performance still leaps and bounds ahead of what’s possible inside a browser. Unfortunately, it just needs to be updated all the time.