I am operating system agnostic. I have a computer that uses Windows 8, another that uses Windows 10 and I use a MacBook Pro here at work. I have an iPhone and an iPad, but I also love my Nexus tablet that runs Android. Contrary to what all of the loudmouth fanboys say, each OS I deal with has its own strengths and weaknesses. They’re all unique – but they all present a common conundrum that needs to addressed: should they be updated automatically or manually?
While I own technology from all of the major players (don’t judge me – it’s a sickness), I don’t necessarily trust any of them. Consequently, I used to take a very “hands on” approach to updates, sorting through the ones I needed and ignoring those I deemed unworthy. This worked just fine until Google and Firefox decided to take the “update arms race” to the next level, essentially updating every day (or even more than once a day). That caught on pretty quick, and soon updates for software, operating systems and even firmware were on a much faster schedule. I found myself making a lot of “should I or shouldn’t I” update decisions on a daily basis.
I felt like one of those guys on the old black and white TV shows spinning plates. Not only did I have to keep the plates spinning, but if I let one plate drop, it would often take another plate down with it. If I skipped an OS update, suddenly an app like Facebook would stop running (as if Facebook needed an excuse to crash). Then I would need to update all my apps by hand. Sometimes the opposite happened, as apps forced me to update an operating system.
Soon, I came to realize that the bugs weren’t really the problem with updates. Bugs are a necessary evil when you are trying to improve a program while anticipating thousands of known and unknown outcomes (this is especially challenging for web browsers). The real problem with manual updates is that you don’t automatically get the bug fixes that inevitably follow. I would download an update that introduced ten awesome new features and one conflict, then struggle trying to figure out why my software was acting weird for a week while new and improved code sat patiently inside another update waiting to be installed.
If you’ve ever read my blogs or heard me speak, you know that I am firm believer that the Internet (and all technology connected to it) is like a runaway train. We can’t steer it – we can only hang on and try to keep up. So why did I think I could manage it manually? Who knows? It was like being in one of those YouTube videos where the kid is in a room with ten puppies, trying desperately to scoop them up and accommodate their crazy desire for attention: pretty soon you just lay back and enjoy the puppy breath as they pile on.
Which brings me to the point of all of this. This week, Microsoft is ending support for any version of Internet Explorer before IE11 (learn more here). In fact, they would much prefer for you to jump all the way to Windows 10 and Edge. This is especially important for those of us in the web design community, because we can (theoretically) move on from worrying about those rickety old browsers. But that only works if everybody updates. If they don’t (and they won’t), we will spend the next year or two doing a lot of extra work to make cutting-edge technology accommodate limping versions of IE that are chock full of ancient code and gaping security holes.
If we all just turned on auto-updates (in our browsers and operating systems and apps), we could enjoy the puppies together! I can’t guarantee that there won’t be problems (in fact, I can guarantee that there will), but they are almost always better problems than those experienced by antiquated technology – and more importantly, somebody is actively trying to fix them. I’m not asking you to trust the likes of Microsoft, Apple or Google. I’m just encouraging you to get the most out of their products – because you’re probably going to use them anyway.