Keeping your digital universe safe and sound and working: Software upgrades and updates, Part 1

There was a time when I updated my software for fun. Updates weren’t a daily event, like now, so it was a bit like Christmas where every new download came with “must have” features and insider tricks to amaze your friends. I still love the hidden space man zapper in QuarkXPress. Those were simpler times. These days, with our always connected technology, software updates are constant, often in the background, and usually with tiny changes (to us) that we’ll never see - bug fixes, feature improvements, and compatibility patches. They keep our software working properly in an ever more complex and interconnected digital universe. And the App Store elevates your user experience to an even higher level, providing reminders and oversight about the code you install. Even doing them overnight while you’re asleep. What’s not to like?

But for all the convenience, I still see people who resist applying updates and upgrades for one reason or another. For some, it’s a nuisance. For many, it’s the fear of a bad experience; that they’ll lose a feature or something that isn’t broke . . . well, will be. And, often, it’s just indifference or misunderstanding about the importance of it all. My boys have become obsessed with the analog world of vinyl records, film photography, and, the latest, typewriters. All pre-updatable technologies. There is a cosmic appeal to the simplicity, for sure, but we moved on for a reason. In our day-to-day tasks we desire more convenience and portability than we once did and the constant evolution of software provides that.

What’s inescapable in the always-connected digital world is that we’re better served by being at, or close to, the current versions of whatever we use. It’s not just that we need to be protected from the latest security threats, but that we can access the internet properly and exchange documents easily with others. It all works best when on a level playing field; when we’re using the same versions of everything and our technology is glitch free.

The Spectre and Meltdown issues are a great illustration of the challenges we face. Who knew that a chip designed for better speed and efficiency (we love that) would turn out to offer a vulnerability for hackers to exploit in search of our passwords and personal data (we don’t love that). It’s like the Stephen King novel, 11.22.63, where the Kennedy assassination is averted (cheers!!) only to (spoiler alert) have it warp history and lead to a dystopian future for America. Okay. That’s a little dramatic. But the point is that software, like history, is always moving forward and evolving. And today’s code may be solid and cutting-edge, but will hold some vulnerability that won’t be obvious until some other yet-to-be code is written and released.

So if software updates are valuable, and the mechanism for applying them is pretty easy, then why doesn’t everyone do them? For every complaint I hear about “the last time I ran an update it screwed up my mail/internet/camera/calendar/whatever . . .” I’ve encountered dozens where iPhones didn’t sync with Macs, Time Machine stopped backing up, iTunes had issues, or some other problem was caused by old, cranky software. It’s not worth it.

Software has become the glue that holds together our digital user experience so it’s worth some attention and care.

In the next post, I’ll talk about the different kinds of upgrades and updates and give you some tips about the best way to keep everything running correctly.

iPhonePaul Einarsen