The automatic update is one of the more useful tools ever invented by software developers. Click a couple of buttons and you never have to worry about checking for new security updates again–it happens automagically! But it’s also one of the more frustrating and intrusive mechanisms we’ve seen in recent years, thanks to the tendency of vendors to abuse its power and smush in a bunch of extra applications and add-ons that users may have little use or desire for.
Apple is famous for this, cramming its Safari browser down the throats of users who only wanted QuickTime or iTunes. Microsoft and other vendors also have had their goofs on this front. The problem isn’t so much that they’re sometimes silently installing extra applications on users’ machines, it’s that they’re doing it under the guise of protecting users from new security threats. As Infoworld.com’s Neil McAllister writes, this needs to change.
Still, software vendors need to find a balance between automation and cooperation for security updates. Users have a right to know what software is being installed on their PCs, when, and for what reason. At the same time, they have a responsibility to keep their computers up to date with the latest security patches, so they don’t become vectors for botnets, worms, and other malware. It’s just good Net hygiene.
And therein lies the problem. Users have been told to turn on Windows Update and just let it worry about downloading and installing new patches. But then they end up with entirely new applications such as Internet Explorer 8 installed, they get annoyed and turn off WU and they’re right back where they started.
How this gets remedied isn’t immediately clear, or else one of the software companies likely would have adopted it. But what is clear is that something needs to be done before users get frustrated with the whole process and go back to square one.