Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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830 words on

Updates are pretty much the curse of today’s computing experience. Want to launch your copy of Parallels/Windows once in a few weeks? For sure there’ll be some nervously blinking icon in the corner telling you about some important updates. And having read about those common attacks on Windows machines, you better install them right away – or perhaps when shutting the machine down, as Windows has to be given credit for offering, to avoid the hassle of that extra restart which every subtle change on Windows systems seems to require.

But the open source world is no better. I’m only using Windows to see how gracefully my CSS is mis-rendered in Internet Explorer. And that’s pretty much the only reason why I’d use Firefox as well. And again, pretty much every time I launch Firefox it wants to update itself by a thousandth of a version or it wants to update some of the plugins I gave it during a phase of juvenile enthusiasm. Annoying. I just wanted to check out that web page, you see…

Finally, Apple. They’re not much better either. While they seem to prefer bundling many fixes into larger and thus rarer updates, there are still a number of those to be done. In fact, I recently had the ‘opportunity’ to do a clean install from the DVD that shipped with the MacBook eight months ago. That DVD installs MacOS X.4.6 which isn’t exactly current. So one update was due at least. But it turned out that a whole bunch of other updates wanted to get on the machine as well:

List of Updates the machine wanted

Yup, correct. That’s about 700MB of updates just for the system and the applications and demos that shipped with it. A bit too much for my taste. Does that mean that Apple managed to leave just short of a billion bugs in the software they sold me with the computer? Or does it just mean that they’re quite bad at efficiently shipping updates? I guess with a 56K modem and a ‘best case’ scenario just the downloads would have taken more than a whole day. Let’s just hope Software Update is good at handling interrupted downloads.

While I’m lucky enough to have a fast DSL connection at home and can just go for dinner while the updating takes place, this surely hurts other people. I particularly love those frequent Java and QuickTime updates which come at 50MB a shot with no discernible benefits besides some updated time zones or DRM crap. Uh, well. Or why exactly Software Update needs to run again after having done its first round of updates so it can determine whether further updates are needed. Doesn’t seem too smart, does it?

Anyhow – things could be worse. And they became! This week Software Update offered me complete garbage:

WWAN Update offered by Software Update

What the hell is that supposed to be. To begin with, the language of my system is German. So what’s that crappy English text doing on my screen? In a window that popped up without me asking for it. And then, what the heck is WWAN supposed to be? Why would my computer want any of that? Or me? And how can they present me with a text, containing: WWAN, SW, Cingular, Novatel, XU870, ExpressCard, HSDPA, Sprint, EX720, EVDO, Ovation, U720, Verizon, XV620, V740 – all of which qualify as unintelligible letter-crap where I come from. Are Apple customers supposed to be fluent in both English and the contents of electronics catalogues these days or what? The text doesn’t even contain the usual link to a web page with further explanations, as Apple updates occasionally do. – I was not amused.

All that said, the problem of software updates won’t go away. While such updates always are a threat to your existing system – they could either accidentally break it or some malicious vendor or hacker could put evil software on your machine, the need for software updates won’t stop. If only because programmers are more and more willing to ship half finished software that has plenty of bugs in need of fixing, plenty of rough spots to be smoothened and plenty of points to be attacked at by malicious software.

But even when viewing this in a positive light – the honourable software businesses being so gracious to improve the software their customers already payed for – it remains a bit annoying. You just end up with nagging messages all over about your software wanting to be updated. While modern developments like Sparkle make application updates a one click affair, those notifications still come up in the least convenient situations and have to be handled one by one.

Sometimes I think it’d be great if the System’s Software Update just handled all application updates as well. It’d certainly be convenient. But it might lead to some unfortunate accidents as well. And perhaps it’d even reduce the appreciation of software which ships in a rather good state and requires very few updates only.

February 26, 2007, 0:12

Tagged as software.


Comment by Dave2: User icon

Are Cingular, Verizon, and Sprint even mobile carrier networks anywhere in Europe? Kind of senseless to offer them for countries that would never need them.

Though, in a way, it does explain why there is no German localization of the update… though it’s conceivable that an American who only speaks German or a German tourist who might like to use mobile internet cards might need the update for use whilst in the US.

Anyway, thanks for continuing to update your blog in “crappy English” so I can read it. My German skills are quite poor now that I am out of practice and only get to Germany once a year now.

February 26, 2007, 0:58

Comment by ssp: User icon

I don’t know about all of Europe, but I’ve never heard those carrier names anywhere I was in Europe which surely makes this doubly absurd. As Apple claim that their system software can do German, I do expect them to localise everything in it to live up to that claim.

As your location on earth and your preferred language can be pretty much any combination and may change between different users of a machine and while travelling, having all machines around the world at the same level does seem like a good idea.

I do wonder, though, whether these additions to the system software are so urgent and of such general interest that Apple couldn’t have waited for the X.4.9 update, say, and just slipped them in there rather than presenting all of their users with a you must restart your machine update.

February 26, 2007, 10:47

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