Enough with the intrusive updates!

This week-end, I went to my gaming PC in my living room. The PC did not respond when I grabbed the mouse. Puzzled, I pressed the “on” button on the PC. Then I saw that Microsoft saw fit to update my PC while I wasn’t looking. I had configured this particular PC to my liking, and many of my careful settings are gone.

Every time the PC restarts, it seems that “Steam” (a popular game store) has to self-update which can often take several minutes. Who are these engineers who think that an application should do a lengthy self-update with each reboot? That’s hostile toward your users.

I told myself: “no matter, I will grab my Apple laptop and do some relaxing work”. Only, my Apple needed to be booted up. And rebooting triggered an update installation… So I waited and I waited… and then the laptop came up with a mysterious message… basically, the update failed and the laptop was left in an unusable state.

Here is what you find online on this problem:

(…) when I got to the office, and turned on my Mac, it rebooted into recovery, with the Installer Log open, and a dialog that read, “The macOS Installation couldn’t be completed”. I called Apple and they had me run a check disk, (…) Since posting this, Apple called me back and they said that I should be able to reinstall macOS Sierra without formatting the drive and I should be back to the state I was before the failure.
(…) Fortunately I was able to simply reinstall macOS High Sierra by booting into Recovery Mode (Command ⌘ + R) and choosing Reinstall macOS High Sierra.

Five minutes of Googling gave me a solution. A whole evening of downloads gave me back a semi-working laptop… except that it is once again bugging me to update it to the very latest version.

Going back to the gaming PC, the Nvidia graphics card driver insisted on an update… which I did… only to be left with a machine that had the disk throughput wasted on something called GeForce Experience… I understand that this invasive Experience software is nearly useless for most people. If anything should not be taxing your machine, it is a piece of software that is nearly useless for most people. Here is what you find online about this “Experience”:

User 1: Hello, whenever I open the GeForce Experience, I cannot use the program because of a box which says there is an update and I should install it. I cannot use the program because of a box which says there is an update and I should install it. Doing so starts a program but nothing is shown, except in Task Manager where the GeForce program is running at 100% on the Disk. The same thing happens to the disk when I attempt to uninstall the GeForce Experience.

User 2: solution: don’t install GFE.

I also visited my mother-in-law. Thankfully, her PC is configured to never update anything ever because I cannot risk her PC becoming unusable to her following an update; I run the updates manually from time to time. In the task bar, I found a few pieces of software that tried to update themselves, including Java and some “zip” utility. I refused the updates. Obviously. Why on Earth would my mother in law even need Java in the first place? And whatever this zip utility is, I am sure it can continue just fine without updates.

All in all, the experience left me in a terrible mood. I also wasted a lot of time. I am quite good with computers, so I could fix all the problems, but I wonder… what do other people do?

What is annoying is how intrusive all these updates are. I realize that it is hard to do updates entirely silently, without the user noticing. But what we have now is the opposite. The updates are “in your face”.

I can excuse Microsoft more easily… because they have to support an untold number of different configurations… but Apple should do better. I understand that security updates require a reboot, but these updates should literally never fail. It is intolerable to be left with an unusable laptop after an update.

Updates should be as unintrusive as possible. They should not disturb or annoy us.

So how do we end up in such as sorry state of affairs?

My theory is that within software companies, the very worse engineers end up in charge of software updates. “Well, Joe can’t be trusted to work on the actual driver, but maybe he can maintain the ‘Experience’ software in charge of updates?” And Joe does a terrible job, but nobody cares because, these are just updates, right?

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the Université du Québec (TELUQ).

12 thoughts on “Enough with the intrusive updates!”

  1. her PC is configured to never update anything ever

    I hope it’s airgapped then – have to keep up with patches in this online world. (I know the patching experience sucks, but horrifically out of date machines are how this stuff spreads….)

    1. I hope it’s airgapped then – have to keep up with patches in this online world. (I know the patching experience sucks, but horrifically out of date machines are how this stuff spreads…)

      There is a trade-off involved. I don’t think she could have recovered from the kind of problems I experienced this week-end.

      I’ve had a Windows update break Internet connectivity. How do you recover from something like this without driving to her place?

      And should the update change the settings, she is likely to experience this as her PC being broken. It is bad.

      1. I manually run some updates when I visit and I have plenty of time to deal with the consequences. I do not update zip utilities. Honestly, I should probably just remove Java entirely… will do so next time around.

  2. It’s really hard to disable updates in Windows 10. My co-worker was trying to run something overnight, and Windows decided it needed to reboot. Took multiple attempts to tell Windows to really, really disable auto updates.

    Have you tried Linux? My mom is quite happy with it. She mostly uses the browser, and I do the updates when I visit her.

    1. Have you tried Linux? My mom is quite happy with it. She mostly uses the browser, and I do the updates when I visit her.

      My goal is not to change anything, not even how the icons are laid out.

  3. In software companies of my experience, the “A” team create pieces of cool software, deliver, and then move on to a new project. It is left to others to patch and create updates. The biggest problem is not necessarily the quality of the coders, but the fact that those who are patching have little to no experience with the code base they are patching.

  4. Ah this reminds me of my dualbooted laptop. Every once in a while I visit Windows for a quick video game session. Quick coming from steam, Windows and nvidia updating all at once, leaving me little time to play.

  5. Updates are a breeze if you use the stable version of Debian Linux.

    apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade

    Is that an option for you? You do not need to configure anything. Everything works straight out of the box.

  6. Depending on how often you manually update her Windows machine, you might be exposing it/her to unnecessary security risks. Automatic updates are much wiser given the state of OS and internet security in 2018.

    And yes, definitely uninstall Java if you’re not going to let it automatically update. Sometimes a single update addresses a dozen High Severity vulnerabilities. Though browsers aren’t allowing Java plugins anymore, so the attack surface is limited to downloaded programs.

    Windows 10 has a feature where you can set “Active Hours” during which it will never run an update. Windows 10 is pretty good, and anyone running Windows should probably run 10. It has much better security features than prior versions, and a recent update gave it many of the features from Microsoft’s EMET tool that sys admins used – things like mandatory ASLR for programs not compiled with the requisite flag, bottom-up ASLR, Control Flow Guard, validation of exception chains (SEHOP), etc.

    I hate it when MS does anything that changes my settings in general, but I haven’t experienced that in some time. One time, my mouse pointer size settings that I set on a 4K laptop were automatically synced/copied to a 1080p desktop, with ridiculous results. It was stupid of them to sync settings that are dependent on screen size and resolution across machines with different screens. Anyway, the Active Hours settings help with the disruption issue.

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