Monday, December 05, 2005

Keeping software up to date and secure can be a nightmare

Today, I have been updating my web page that lists over 100 of the programs that I use. I have been trying to find and install updates for all of them, many of which could be security updates. It has taken all day. It was often a frustrating experience and it indicates to me that much of the software industry is still in its infancy in this area. This blog summarizes some of the problems I came across.

Some of the vendors were not able to provide access from their main pages to their software without trying to force me to buy products that I did not want (Adobe and Real Networks for example). Others did not provide information on the latest version of their software, until I had looked several pages deep into their sites, and then only when I saw the name of the download. I often had to update the whole program only after uninstalling the previous version manually. There were multiple reboots to contend with. Some had several programs packaged together, so that I had to retrieve all of them, when I only wanted part. Some discussed updates without actually providing them (vapourware, this used to be called). Some of the updates could only be installed if I manually uninstalled the previous version. QuickTime told me that my system could be unstable if I did uninstall the previous version, so I was not able to install the update I need to deal with a problem running the program. That one, I will just have to do without now.

Very few vendors email me when new versions are released, even though I have registered my copy with them (and used a key that locks the software to one computer) in the vain hope that they would. Fortunately, some have now added update options to the 'Help' tab in their software, but I have to look for them there. A few check for updates automatically and offer to download them. One of these 'clever' programs keeps telling me, incorrectly, to get an update. Some software has changed name, without making this clear. Many web sites have altered their update web pages, without providing links to the new web sites. Some vendors do not have updates for programs that they should - the user has to buy a full version when he/she only wants an update.

It is a disgrace that the software industry is in such disarray, when it comes to updates. This problem is not limited to applications. All the operating systems that I use are poor at this, as I know from hours spent with Windows, Linux, Solaris and Irix updates. It is rare for any vendor or software manufacturer to send me an email that they have an update. The principal exceptions to this are individuals who have specialized software, but they can offer me updates that are cosmetic or only deal with minor issues, which are not listed in the email, so I have to check at their website first. Commercial software organizations are happy to send me advertizing in emails, but rarely does this contain update information, and it never knows what software I am using, even though I registered it with them and the software can even check back to their website for other purposes. Some organizations require users to pay through their support sites to find out if there is an update.

So, here I am, having spent another difficult day, struggling around the net to do something that ought to take place in the background, automatically, while my computers are idle.
Christopher Spry, 5 December 2005

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