The UpDating Game

WHAT ARE ALL THESE THINGS FLYING AROUND MY SCREEN?

If you’ve ever written an article or book, you revel in its construction. You are overjoyed as each new piece of your work falls into place. Well, what if you decided to release your writing when it was a rough draft, then break into the homes of all of your readers to inform them of your finishing touches?

There’s a new threat in the computer world, called auto-updaters. They hide in your computer, and constantly call home looking for newer versions of themselves. Some are from legitimate products such as Windows or Office, others are from vile spyware such as Ask Toolbar, or vToolbar.

I personally turn off any auto-updaters. Why? In a frantic frenzy to plug up the myriad holes in their products, products like the dastardly Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and Java attack almost every computer in the world CONSTANTLY with update popups that scare and distract the user.

Another analogy: You buy a brand new Chevy Malibu, but when you take delivery of it, the front end is smashed. For the next 10 years that you own it, the salesman follows you on a moped, flinging clumps of Bondo and duct tape at your car. That’s the world of software updating.

Dilbert comic from 5 Apr 2012

Storytime

One of my clients employs me and another IT firm to maintain their office. The other guys are there to break things, and I show up to fix them. Go figure.

“Hi Marc can you come in and fix one of our workstations? The other IT guys remoted in and broke it.”

“I see.”

When I got there, I learned that the entire computer was roasted and all the software needed to be reinstalled. I can’t say for certain, but the only thing that could’ve caused this was a Windows Update. My competitors re-enabled it when they remoted in.

So I got them on the horn and asked them why they enable updates. They gave me the usual excuse,

“Well, your computer is safer! Microsoft puts out patches to protect you! Long live the king!” etc.

And my response was, “It may patch holes in the product, but it doesn’t make the product safer. These people are no more or less safe than they were before – the only difference is, Windows Update CONSTANTLY FORCES THEM TO RESTART WHILE THEY’RE DOING THEIR WORK, and sometimes destroys the entire copy of Windows, as it has done here.”

The only thing he could counter with is, “Uh, well, Microsoft puts out patches to protect you. The computers are safer! Long live the king!” etc.

I quickly realized the debate was futile. It was almost like trying to talk to a pyramid scam zombie. I revel in the fact that I succeed by doing the exact opposite of the average IT guy.

If you insist on doing Windows Updates, at the very least, do them monthly at a time when nobody’s in the office. That way everyone isn’t forced to restart at random points in the workday, and people’s machines aren’t surprise-destroyed.

Organic Software

Pesticides were meant to help farming. They solve a certain problem and in small amounts won’t kill you. That hasn’t stopped a backlash against foods with them and the effects they may cause. (Why is everyone allergic to everything all of a sudden?) This also hasn’t stopped a huge new industry of organic foods from, er, cropping up!

One of the things that sets me apart from normal computer guys is the fact that I’m against updaters. In fact, I don’t run any updates on any of my technology. I guess you could say my computing experience is, well, organic!

WHAT?! Organic… what? Really, Marc? What are you, some kind of marketing bobblehead?

Actually it’s quite fitting.

Unfortunately, the term Organic Computing is in use already. IBM has a vision of a bunch of bacteria working together to solve math problems or something… okay fine, so I guess my phrase can be Organic Software. Performing a Google search for that term produces only nebulous results, so I’ll stick with it.

What is it, then?

I’ll define Organic Software as this – Software that doesn’t destroy itself often, and doesn’t nag the user with constant updates. In my work, the best I can do is disable the updaters, but at some point I hope to create my own software that comes this way out of the box. All of the software we discuss in this article is vile and toxic and not at all organic!

So, why are updates so bad?

Let’s employ these cartoonish characters to help us understand:

  1. Looney Tunes: Aside from nagging and scaring, updates can have side effects. When people update the software on their computers or smartphones, for example, many times the machine becomes slower, more confusing, or more unstable. I sometimes equate updates to one of those Looney Tunes episodes where a boat is sinking – whenever they plug up one hole in the boat, two more open up! That wasn’t the intended purpose of course, but it happens all too often. the updates, but oftentimes it is the outcome, especially with Windows Vista and Java.
  2. Bulk & Skull: Children of the 80s will recognize these guys – harmless yet extremely annoying. Such are Adobe’s Reader and Flash products. Adobe knows the world depends on them to read PDF documents and watch videos online. So, the arrogant buffoons pop up on nearly every computer in the world, every second of the day, Right now. And now. And… now. Nagging, clamoring, and begging, for updates. Flinging clumps of duct tape and bondo onto your computer. Slowing you down. Making you think you need a new computer.
  3. Angelica Pickles: “You dumb babies, monsters are just frigments of your infactuation!” Bossy and condescending, those updates just walk right into your computer. Why? Because they can. Because they do. Because they’re afraid of becoming known for what they are, which in Java’s case, is a gateway for viruses to walk into your computer. According to them, the machine in front of you isn’t yours. It belongs to Microsoft, HP, Norton, Java. It is on your desk to do their bidding, not yours. Why? Because too bad for you.
  4. Meatwad: “Where is my popsicle? You know i require a popsicle every 15 minutes!” Constant rearranging and inconsistency is yet another drawback to software, both in the form of constant updates (usually free), as well as upgrades (a whole new version of a product, usually paid).We won’t spend much time talking about upgrades today, but here are some great examples of products that are worse than their predecessors:
    • Microsoft Windows Vista
    • Microsoft Office 2007
    • Apple iTunes 11
    • Apple Final Cut Pro
    • Apple OSX 10.8
    • That’s not to mention the most COMPREHENSIVE SELF-DESTRUCTION of any tech product – Windows 8.
    • Even my beloved Ubuntu, once a perfectly good product, destroyed itself out of boredom a couple of years ago.

    captainhook

  5. Captain Hook: Adobe SNEAKS STOWAWAY SOFTWARE into your computer, in order to make money off of you if you appease one of its constant updaters. These stowaways occur in the form of adware, like McAfee Security Scan Plus, or  Google Toolbar. BE VERY CAREFUL if you ever have to download an Adobe product:adobe is malwareTwo of my favorite Adobe customers ranting about this: One, Two.

Thin Ice

While I love my Android phone, I won’t DARE update it. The only update I needed to do was one to the Google Voice app, which added the feature of daily crashes to the app. Out of fear of a complete overhaul of my user interface, I’ll just use it as-is until I buy another one. I don’t have time for that kind of hassle. I’m grateful that I know how to defeat updaters of all kinds.

I won’t even update my beloved Linux desktop. All too often I’ve run an update by accident and was unable to boot the machine afterward. Recently I witnessed a friend’s Sony PS3 update itself –  now whenever he watches video, he can no longer rewind/fast forward them, and the entire machine reboots itself during videos every 15 or 20 minutes. Too bad. No hope. Nothing he can do.

Finally, the whole mentality of “newer=better” has to stop. Recently, a friendly-looking jihadi named al-Gohary called for the destruction of the Pyramids. He described them as outdated idolatry. Yeah, sure buddy. Let’s run an update on Egypt. Who needs the pyramids anyway?

Defeating Them

Here’s how to kill the most common ones in Windows. First off, clear your Startup list in Msconfig (here’s how). That will disable many of them. Next, go into Control Panel and make sure “Software Updates” (a sneaky blue icon with a water droplet) is completely turned off. If you’re an advanced user, hunt it down in your “Common Files” folder and obliterate it.

Next, in Control Panel, if you have a Java icon (some versions of Vista will hide it in 32-bit preferences), double-click it and go to the Update tab. Make sure the “Check for updates every 3 seconds” box is unchecked. Once you uncheck it, it actually tries to BARGAIN WITH YOU:

disable-updates-never-check

“How about every month instead?” Punch it in the face by clicking NEVER CHECK. I really wish you could actually punch them.

More detailed instructions can be found at Java’s own website here.

Next, if you’re on a Mac, Google Picasa doesn’t allow you to turn off the updater. So, click here to learn how to defeat it.

Next, Adobe Reader. Their popups insist that if you don’t update RIGHT AWAY, the planet will explode. Let’s turn off the updaters and test their claim. First, find your Adobe Reader icon (e.g. Adobe Reader 8, 9, X, XI) and double-click on it. Then go to Edit, Preferences, then select the Updater category.

Updater_AI2You’ll notice that after disabling the updater, Reader attacks with ONE LAST DYING GASP, asking you for one more update for old time’s sake. Right-click it and hit cancel, then whisper, “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”

Finally, Adobe Flash. You know, that thing that pops up EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU TURN ON YOUR COMPUTER? (Viruses have been known to impersonate this box!)

AdobeFlashVirus

Just go to Control Panel, then Flash, then Advanced, and click NEVER CHECK FOR UPDATES. That will kill that one.

disableflashupdater

They forgot to include an OK button there, so just close the window and you’re done!

Side note: Newer versions of Firefox are automatically disabling Adobe and Java plugins that are more than five minutes old, in order to protect and confuse you. Expert users can go to about:config and turn off the new “blocklist.”

Call to Action

Software developers should make functional products in the first place. When you buy a new car, nobody’s going to sell you a smashed car BECAUSE IT’S OBVIOUS AND VISIBLE. Since most people (including and especially many IT guys) are dreadfully unaware, jalopies from the likes of Adobe, Java, and Microsoft are allowed to exist.

Sure, flaws will be found in software. If updates can be done in a unified, civilized, less intrusive manner, without surprise-destruction, then that’s fine. Until then, we can all do without them.

Years ago, I worked in IT for a Very Large Organization. The IT staff at headquarters were clowns who escaped from a local circus, and had never used computers before. Thus, when it came to applying the thousands of weekly Microsoft/Adobe updates, they WOULDN’T BOTHER TESTING THEM. They would simply spray them at random (with no warning to my team, of course) across all the computers, virtually guaranteeing chaos every time. AT THE VERY LEAST, TEST THE UPDATES BEFORE deploying them across a 10,000-person organization. Please.

Finally, as tech journalist Brian Boyko says, let the market decide if a newer version upgrade is in fact better. Why pull Windows 7 off the market and force people to buy Windows 8 if it’s unusable? If you’re a near-monopoly already, at least give people the choice of buying whatever version they prefer.

That’s all for today’s article. We’ll see you all next time, or maybe we won’t. I hate computers and I want to retire.

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