All my geeky stuff ends up here. Mostly Unix-related

The upgrade disease

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It is getting harder and harder to simply use a computer due to a spreading disease that unfortunately affects all OS’s and major pieces of software: the upgrade disease.

Windows: at any moment there are countless processes living just for the sake of checking whether a piece of software is up-to-date or not. Last time I checked on a Windows box I saw:

  • Java update scheduler
  • Google update
  • Apple update
  • Blackberry software update

Cumulated, these processes use up to 100 Mbytes of memory and probably other resources like file descriptors and sockets, and of course CPU time. Most of them come with no option to turn off automatic updates and when they do, the update process may still live on but do nothing (looking at you, Java).

Windows update is also running in background at regular intervals, usually choosing the worst moment to interrupt my work. When it starts I can safely assume I will not be able to do anything on my PC for 15-60 minutes and will have to reboot one or more times. Oh joy!

Ubuntu runs UpdateManager at regular intervals too. Things would be fine if this bloody application did not use modal windows and steal my focus while I am typing something on a terminal. Half of the time I just happen to be hitting the Return key at the precise moment when the window appears, unwillingly triggering the upgrade process. CPU and network usage after that are just unbearable. I usually take a break at that point.

OSX is a bit friendlier: the upgrade manager pops up at some point asking for permission to install stuff and warning you when you need a reboot afterwards — at least the window is not modal. When you finally decide to run the upgrade you have to agree to endless pages of unlegible end-user license agreements for a frigging mp3 reader that you already bought with
the OS a few months back.

On Windows the situation is even worse if you take into account the inevitable anti-virus that continuously runs in background, keeping the CPU hot and eating away memory. I had at some point a corporate XP laptop running the IT-blessed anti-virus tools with such efficiency that it was just impossible to do anything else but watch the machine scan its disks
full-time. Remind me: why did I ask for a PC, again?

At some point it would be great to remind our friendly OS makers that some users care about actually doing something with their computers. Software developers: if you ever plan to add an auto-update feature on your code, try following these:

  • Do not impose a perpetually running process running in background just for updates. There are cron jobs for that kind of things. You could also check for newer versions when explicitly asked by the end-user.
  • Do not assume that because your software can find an Internet connection you are allowed to go download on your own several hundred megabytes of software upgrade. Sometimes I like to do something else with my bandwidth.

Eating away resources in background without notifying the user or even offering them some opt-out box is just plain rude. This is similar to a default Windows feature call pre-fetching where the OS thinks it is smart to start as many application as possible after booting, just in case the user chooses to run one. It took me easily 15 minutes after bootup of my XP laptop to be able to actually start doing stuff with it. The pre-loading of most commonly used applications had saturated memory (2Gb!!) and slowed everything to a crawl.

One last point about updates: I declare I have the right to refuse upgrading a piece of software. Upgrading vital pieces of software may just break something and I may not be interested in spending the rest of the day finding out how to repair it. The endless update and reboot reminders on Windows are driving me nuts.

Written by nicolas314

Sunday 17 October 2010 at 7:27 pm

Posted in osx, Ubuntu, windows

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One Response

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  1. Half of the time I just happen to be hitting the Return key at the precise moment…

    HA! I am sooooo with you! Grab a cup of java (non-updated) and take a lap around the building :~)


    Saturday 13 November 2010 at 5:41 pm

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