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Cybernaut

Updates that suck

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If you need any more proof that the concept of Web 2.0 is a pipedream, look no further than your weekly software update.

This week’s slate of Apple updates included a new update to Quicktime (54 MB), yet another update to iTunes 7.3.1 (34.0 MB), and Security Update 2007-006 Power PC (3.4 MB). Last week I updated Microsoft Office and Safari, and the week before that there was another sizable Security Update and, if memory serves, the usual update for iTunes.

The promise of Web 2.0 is that your system will always be updated because your operating system and application software will be almost entirely web-based. Instead of purchasing new software and upgrades every year or two, you’ll pay subscription fees to use operating systems and software which will be constantly, seamlessly, and, most important, invisibly upgraded.

The software companies merely have to update the master software that exists primarily on their servers (you’ll have some components of the software on your hard drive as well that will be updated as needed), and all users will be on the same page.

Web 2.0 is not a new concept, it’s about four years old now, but aside from a few applications on Google like Spreadsheets and Documents it hasn’t really materialized as expected. Microsoft Vista is very Web. 1.0, as is the next Mac OS X Leopard.

But while I’m disappointed that we haven’t moved beyond the traditional process of installing new software off of a disk — which came out of a case, which came out of a box, which came out of a shell of that awful hard plastic that you can impale yourself on if you’re not careful — maybe it’s all for the best. At least this way we can pick and choose what updates we want to install.

For example, I installed Security Update 2007-006 last week only to find out later that it was causing several problems. According to MaxFixIt ( www.macfixit.com ,) “Some users are reporting dire issues after installing Security Update 2007-006, including the inability to launch applications, problems logging in to various accounts and more.”

Too late for me. I haven’t noticed any significant problems yet, but it seems things are taking just a little longer to load, save, and close. No doubt Apple will fix those problems with another update, but it probably would have been better if I didn’t download the security update in the first place and waited for the next update to come along.

Another example of bad updates is iTunes. I’ve never known a program to require so many updates, and all of them are generally huge. Some updates have been beneficial, like improvements to the radio feature and the addition of Podcasting, but most iTunes upgrades are a complete mystery to me — I have no idea what they do. One update installed a security feature that prevents users from burning songs you purchased from the iTunes Store to CD more than five times — something I probably could have done without.

My advice? If you don’t know what an update is or how well it works with your other software or peripherals, always Google it before you download. Chances are that some programmer out there has already dissected the programming and can tell you exactly what the update does and whether it’s safe to go ahead.

That’s not to suggest that companies like Microsoft and Apple don’t have the best intentions with their updates, but for the most part they can only anticipate the need for updates and react to emergency issues like security vulnerabilities, viruses, and other programming bugs uncovered in the software. Most software companies simply don’t have the time to anticipate what all the side effects of an update might be, and can sometimes overlook potential issues.

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