The Why of Software Updates

Question: I just bought a new computer, why do I have to run software update? Why are there so many updates?

Computers are complex. They include many different components hardware (the physical computer), operating system (mac or windows, which is really just big fancy software), and programs (web browsers, word processing, games). Not only are there many different components, in general they come from many different places and companies. Since there is a desire to release new products frequently, deadlines are tight to develop and release new parts for a new computer. It’s not surprising that a bug can sneak in.

Bugs? But the computer was just turned on.. How could that happen?!

First, rest assured, while bugs can be quite problematic, a bug is not the same as a virus. I’ll cover viruses next week!

A bug occurs when there is an unexpected outcome from the software. For example, the alphabet is generally sorted as a, b, c, d, e. If there was a bug in the sort program, the result would instead be a, b, d, c, e!

Patches, or software updates are released to fix bugs.

When did the term bug come about? It’s credited back to when there were vacuum tubes running computers. A bug (moth) literally crawled into the hardware and died causing the electrical circuit not to close properly. The term is credited to Grace Hopper.

You should run software update as soon as the computer is set up and connected to the internet. Why? In the weeks and months from when the programs where installed at the factory to the moment you turned it on, there is a very good chance modern bugs were found and there are updates to fix them. Run the software update until it says “no more updates at this time”. You can schedule this to automatically check, please do this at least monthly, I prefer weekly. You should also check for software updates of the applications you use, such as word processing programs in the same way.

Why do we still get bugs?

The modern bugs are different, but because so many parts of the computer are coming from different places and there are many different variables, sometimes the programmers don’t get everything right the first time. Should they? I’ll leave that debate for some other time and place, but given the complexity it’s not surprising that bugs sneak in and cause havoc. We just hope that they are patched in a timely manner.

One more thing:

Updates and upgrades aren’t quite the same thing. An update will fix small problems in the things that are currently installed and may introduce small new features. Upgrades are bigger changes and often require paying for the new features (and their unintended bugs).

Sometimes even a small regular update can introduce new bugs. Each computer becomes different with use and different programs installed on it so it’s not easy to say if any update will work as expected. Some people wait a day or two when new updates are announced just incase they introduce problems. Understanding what the updates fix can sometimes be quite complex, so if you are wondering if you should update, please do not hesitate to ask.

Basics of running software update:

  • Mac
  • Windows
  • If you are running Linux please contact me as there are many different ways to do it depending what flavour of Linux you have installed and how the applications were initially installed.