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Software Updates (Still) Need An Upgrade

A couple of weeks ago, my Help File column noted the arrival of a new, Microsoft Vista-ready version of the free OpenOffice productivity suite. OpenOffice has long one of my favored open-source applications, and I'm glad to see it's keeping up with the times.

But updating a copy of OpenOffice 2.0 to the new 2.2 release reminded me of how this program--and others--still make it unnecessarily difficult to stay on top of software updates.

First, there was no update installer available; I had to download a complete copy of the program and install that over my existing copy. This installer--almost 97 megabytes!--arrived as a compressed file, not the usual installer program. Double-clicking it only led to a prompt asking if I'd like its contents to be unpacked to the desktop or someplace else (like I care; just put them in a new folder in the same spot that I saved the first download to, OK?). After a notable wait for this unpacking process to complete, I was left with a folder full of separate files, which was only four megs bigger than the original compressed file.

The OpenOffice installer then asked where I'd like to install the new version, but ignored where I'd put the older copy and instead suggested creating a brand-new " 2.2" in my Program Files directory. This has been an annoying habit of previous OpenOffice installers--the developers seem to think that we should put each new release of this program, no matter how minor, in its own folder--so I changed that to keep the program in the same "OpenOffice" folder as before. (Yes, I can be a little obsessive in my computing-neatnik habits, but most software updates are polite enough not to move things around on me.)

Oh, and the installer itself happened to be one of the slowest that I've had to sit through.

At least my next OpenOffice update will be simpler in one way--it now includes an automatic update checker to let users know when a new release is available. (Actually, that feature debuted in OpenOffice 2.0.4, but I missed out on that release and the subsequent 2.1 version because this computer's copy of 2.0 didn't have any such auto-update notification. I might have overlooked the 2.2 update as well, but its Vista support made it noteworthy enough to be covered in a few tech-news sites.)

All of which is to say that it continues to be a pain to keep your computer's non-system software current. So in a future Help File, I'm going to cover ways to ease this burden. Got any suggestions or tips on how you do that? Please share in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 23, 2007; 12:22 PM ET
Categories:  Gripes  
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The Update Checker is great. You don't have to install it, just run it. It checks your computer, then checks, and advised you of any updates. It also tells you about Beta updates, but in a separate list, so you can always tell the difference between what is supposed to be a stable version and a beta.

The update checker is itself a beta, and it requires .NET 2.0, so the usual caveats for both situations apply. I tried it, I like it. It's fast, too.

Posted by: catester | April 23, 2007 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: catester | April 23, 2007 10:19 PM | Report abuse

Yesterday, I learned (because I made a crash report) that there was an updater for QuarkXPress for the Mac (7.1 -> 7.2). To do the update, you had to register on Quark's site, wait for an email with the location of the download, then download the compressed file (an incredible 300+ Mb), decompress it, and then go through the installation process, which wrote almost 18000 files to the disk. The QuarkXPress binary alone is 131 Mb, which means that the updater replaced a large percentage of the files in the application. Not a good reflection on their engineering process....

To the best of my knowledge, we have Netscape to thank for this situation. They discovered that they could issue buggy software (15 versions of Netscape Navigator 4 alone), patch or update it as needed, and then put the burden of downloading the update on the user. Before that, software vendors had to incur the cost of manufacturing a disk (floppy or CD) and sending it out to the customer when they issued a patch or update. Netscape was among the first (if not the very first) to use the power of the Internet and the online download to drive down their cost for the update and thereby shift the cost to the user.

Posted by: Tony W | April 24, 2007 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Some folks find useful for monitoring updates.

Posted by: HoCoMD | April 25, 2007 7:48 AM | Report abuse

iTunes makes you download the whole installer, too......

Posted by: Logan | April 25, 2007 12:37 PM | Report abuse be a linux user. My Ubuntu laptops automatically checks for updates to all my software, notifies me when available, and then lets me download them with a quick click and password. Easiest system update model in the world.

Posted by: GreenHawkIA | April 25, 2007 6:53 PM | Report abuse

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