Caveat Upgrader

Jacques Mattheij on the downsides of online automated app upgrades:

I don’t actually remember what the last time was when I bought a shrink-wrapped piece of software, it probably was Microsoft Office around 1997. Since then, almost all software distribution has gone online. And that’s great right? No more hauling physical media around for bits that you might as well teleport around the world instantaneously.

The benefits are obvious: fast turnaround time between spotting a problem and getting it to the customer, very low cost of distribution and last but definitely not least: automatic updates are now a thing, your software knows when it is outdated and will be more than happy to install a new version of itself while you aren’t looking.

And that’s exactly the downside: your software will be more than happy to install a broken, changed, reduced, functionally no longer equivalent, spyware, malware, data loss inducing or outright dangerous piece of software right over the top of the one that you were using happily until today. More often than not automatic updates are not done with the interest of the user in mind. They are abused to the point where many users – me included – would rather forego all updates (let alone automatic ones) simply because we apparently cannot trust the party on the other side of this transaction to have our, the users, interests at heart.

It’s not just operating system updates that can have unintended, and possibly costly, consequences. Major applications such as those in Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud can bite users in the behind in various ways.

Some of those are due to bugs that evaded both developers and QA teams. Others, though, are simply a lack of forethought about warning the user up-front about potential problems.

Yes, users should backup their data regularly, but that is because hardware will eventually fail. It shouldn’t be because a software update might make said data unreadable.

Unfortunately, I don’t see the situation changing any time soon, for the simple reason that End-User Licence Agreements act as a shield against having to admit you screwed up and face any consequence.

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