We sense that lots of our clients regard software updates with great suspicion, based on the number of people who reject them outright or ask us which ones are safe and which are not. Our usual answer is that the great majority of updates are not only safe but also necessary for the secure and efficient operation of your computer.
It is important to understand the difference between upgrades and updates. Upgrades are entirely new versions of the program, with significant differences and sometimes improvements over your current edition. You usually have to pay for an upgrade and this can lead to deliberate confusion in which the publisher tries to convince you to switch from a free version of the software to an upgrade that is so vastly better that you will be extremely grateful to have bought it! Sadly, it is more likely that you will find that the advantages of the upgraded version are subtle or minimal, with added bells and whistles that don’t apply to you. In the case of many software titles it is a smart strategy to skip a few upgrades and then go with the newest version when it truly has new features that will be helpful, or when you replace your computer.
Updates, on the other hand, are relatively simple downloads that provide fixes and patches to the current version of your software. Often these changes are related to security, and you are almost always well advised to apply them to keep the bad guys at bay as well as to improve performance.
One group of programs being updated frequently are the little utilities that enhance the operation of your computer. Java, Acrobat Reader, Flash, office suites, media players, browsers, printer drivers and your anti-virus are examples of software that work best when they are kept up to date. You can and probably should check the box that allows such programs to update automatically, in the background while you are doing something else.
Operating System (OS) updates belong in a different category. This is not because they are not necessary; on the contrary, they are considered so vital that both Windows and Macintosh no longer ask you if you wish to update, and often don’t allow opting out, although there is sometimes the option of delaying to a more convenient time. A fairly recent development in these OS updates is that instead of minor fixes being pushed out incessantly, there are now major updates happening approximately quarterly, with only emergency essentials happening in between. The result to the user is greater inconvenience, but less often.
Because OS updates are now such a big deal, there is a slightly greater chance of them causing their own problem(s). Sometimes, for example, a printer stops working the day after an OS update. Fortunately these glitches are quite rare and usually quickly and easily fixed.
With smartphones and tablets there is one extra dimension to the OS updates. In non-technical terms, there seems to be a closer relationship between the Apps and the OS in mobile devices. This means that when an OS update has happened, you would be wise to check a few days later for potential updates for your Apps as well, in order to ensure compatibility and smooth, efficient operation.