We shouldn’t have to fear Apple and Microsoft updates

The continuous flow of OS updates from Apple and Microsoft has dangerous consequences

We shouldn’t have to fear Apple and Microsoft updates
Credit: iStockphoto

I’ve long been of the mind that server reboots should be rare events. Unless there’s no other choice, giving a server the three-finger salute to try to fix a gremlin or two is simply pushing the problem down the line -- it will come back to haunt you soon enough.

If the problem is software, a reboot might fix it temporarily, but the memory leak or unhandled exception will show up again eventually. If the problem is hardware, it’s likely to be tougher to track down. In that event a reboot might be a worthy troubleshooting method -- after all others have been exhausted. 

Many think differently about reboots on a workstation, but I don’t. If I’m using my laptop or workstation, I’m working. I’m in the middle of 10 or 100 different things and moving through my daily workflow. The absolute last thing I wish to do is reboot, certainly not for OS updates, which is a primary cause of workstation reboots.

Rebooting my workspace is like rebooting my brain. A 60-second reboot probably takes me an hour or so of recovery over the remainder of the day as I have to spin apps back up, get my myriad shells open again, and so forth. Even if the OS can reopen apps at login, it’s not the same groove. Alas, Windows updates tend to require a reboot.

While I’ve been unhappy with Apple’s forced upgrade march in the past, especially how it runs roughshod over power users, at least Apple lets you delay updates indefinitely, to the point they may later become inaccessible. Microsoft, on the other hand, continually tries to apply updates with nagging taskbar notifications and, on several Windows versions, offers very few options for delaying that task.

I don’t want to reboot my laptop -- ever. The current uptime on my MacBook Air is 54 days, and 54 days ago, I was pissed when I had to reboot it. We are long past the days when Windows needed to be rebooted every few hours due to leaking apps, overtasked hardware, crap drivers, and other horrors of the era. It’s possible to travel across the globe with a laptop and never even think to reboot. This is what maintaining a workspace is all about. We should be striving to maintain that level of stability and consistency, not pushing out updates that constantly require disruption.

You might consider that updating and rebooting during the night would be OK. Nope, that’s almost as bad. I do not relish spending the first hour of the day setting up my workspace so that I can start working. I’d like to pick up right where I left off, thank you very much. In fact, I may have processes running overnight that I need to keep tabs on. An unexpected reboot would scuttle those plans.

Updates should not be a constant stream of interruptions. They should be applied when most convenient -- such as prompted immediately on a freshly rebooted system, or when a reboot or shutdown has been selected. While Windows does the latter now, I don’t want to be held hostage while it updates. I should always have a choice of whether or not I want to apply them during this reboot or shutdown. I’ve been stuck in a data center for 45 minutes waiting for a Windows laptop to finish applying updates because I elected to shut it down before I left. I was livid.

Quite a few Windows 7 and Windows 8 users are upset with Microsoft’s heavy-handed Windows 10 update tactics. They have received Windows 10 update notifications via Windows Update multiple times (spawning hundreds of how-to guides to removing the notification), and for some, Windows 10 has even begun downloading automatically in the background. This uninvited 6GB payload is mayhem for those unfortunate Comcast prisoners who are subject to onerous bandwidth caps. Without these users’ consent or knowledge, Microsoft is consuming their limited bandwidth for an update they may not want or even know about.

All of this leads to users viewing updates as harmful, not helpful. From Apple’s incessant push to a new OS every year, breaking all kinds of compatibility and not making the previous version accessible, to Microsoft’s habit of applying updates and rebooting everyone’s computer every few hours, and foisting gigabytes of unwanted downloads on users, it’s no wonder that OS updates are now something to fear.

We used to look upon updates as a generally good development, even when Vista and Windows 8 bit us hard. We saw improvements from both Apple and Microsoft throughout the years, but now it no longer seems we get anything better with the newer operating systems. Rather, we lose functionality and productive time. Heck, now we even have to deal with the concept of paid ads in the Start Menu.

The world does not need to begin viewing updates as harmful and disabling them because the two major commercial OS vendors have gone overboard with their policies and practices. Disgruntled Windows users are now downloading shady apps that block certain updates or cribbing batch files from forums to force-block all updates. This will only lead to bigger problems -- which will naturally require updates to fix, but at that point few will be listening.

People have been saying the year of the Linux desktop is upon us for, well, years. It hasn't happened yet, but if Apple and Microsoft continue this war on users, it may truly be right around the corner.

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