Silent assassin

updateThere’s an insidious trend within the world of software development, touted as a means of making the end user’s life easier whilst ensuring that products are always at peak performance, but which I’m afraid I disagree with at the most fundamental level.

It is the silent upgrade… Those ‘helpful’ background processes that are increasingly being built into applications designed to update software to the most up to date version without prompting or any intervention from the user, if indeed the user is even aware that it is happening at all.

Ostensibly, it seems a great idea, and you may be a little surprised that someone like me, who is always banging on about people’s seeming inability to keep their graphics drivers and backups current, should disagree with such a logical strategy, but I do and I happen to think that it is one of the more unhelpful design choices that software producers elect to make.

To begin with, such updates are often not optional, or worse still, are forced. Not that I have any particular argument with developers wanting to ensure their users get the best from the product and always have the most up to date version at their disposal, but unless you happen to live in a perfect world where everybody’s computer works in exactly the same way, with the same hardware configured in the same setup, there’s absolutely no way that any given update at any particular time isn’t going to break something somewhere. Consequently, a problem created as the result of a silent update may appear from nowhere unexpectedly, leaving the user confused and at a complete loss to explain what has happened. Unfortunately, this is precisely the route that Linden Lab have chosen to take with the official viewer: So unless you’ve specifically turned off automatic updates (which makes no difference to forced mandatory updates), you can be landed with a viewer that no longer works on your system, and even if you uninstall and revert back to the previous version, it’ll just update again leaving you back up the creek without a paddle! At least there are alternative viewers, and in fact Firestorm, to their credit have stated that they’ll resist the automatic update route for precisely this reason.

imesha_001The problem lies with computers being such complicated beasts – no two are exactly the same, and so no two will ever react exactly the same to something new being shoe horned in. It’s one of the fundamental problems that developers constantly find themselves having to deal with… You can build a fine viewer that works perfectly across every platform, but then Crappysoft.com releases Mad Dog Diary Manager 3.54, and suddenly everyone who upgrades finds they can no longer log in to SL unless they’re wearing odd socks and have disabled any programmes beginning with the letter C. It’s a constant battle to ensure that your own application stays up to date and bug free, whilst also ensuring that it remains compatible with every other piece of software in the world! Who would have thought for instance that MS Skydrive would clash horribly with the SL viewer? Yet such weirdness occurs all the time.

And it’s a recent bit of weirdness that prompted today’s post, because all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, my viewer has started crashing whenever I open any other application. I don’t yet know exactly what is causing this particularly irritating issue, but my prime suspect is Google Chrome, which thanks to its habit of silently updating with no hint that it’s making any changes at all, is free to bugger up whatever it fancies without warning. I’ve had endless problems with the viewer and CEF, and there’s little doubt in my mind that this is where my sudden onset problems are springing from.

In my opinion, it should be the end user who decides when and how to update their applications. This, of course, can lead to problems, but no more so I would suggest, than forcing people into system changes without their knowledge or even permission… You wouldn’t want someone opening up your car engine overnight and fitting new parts that make it handle in a completely different way without your knowledge, neither I feel, should we permit it to happen on our computers.

Even so, developers are becoming ever more persuasive in their efforts to make us place our trust, and ultimately or machines, in their hands. Anyone who tried to tell Micro$oft that you really, really didn’t want Windows 10 can attest to that! The next step, of course, is to completely divorce the end user from any choice in the matter entirely… With products like Office 365, and Adobe Creative Suite being completely cloud based, I think it’s only a matter of time before most applications go that way, and it’s probably a good thing too: At least that way when things go wrong, it’s somebody else’s problem, not ours.

Although, even then we won’t be happy. Remember when we switched from the V1 viewer interface to V2? Boy were people unhappy about that, but at least we had the chance to ease ourselves into that particular change. In the future, when the Lab completely redesign the viewer and give us V5, it’ll happen overnight and, like it or not, we’ll be stuck with it.

Enjoy the good times while they last!

s. x

Prophesised, brainwashed
Tomorrow’s demise
All systems failing
The placards unroll
The Skids – Into The Valley

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2 Responses to Silent assassin

  1. Paypabak Writer says:

    Don’t get me started on the planned obsolescence of Android OS! My beloved tablet keeps prompting me to update programs or games, but for every two that work, one stops working, pushing me toward the inevitable purchase of a new tablet that handles the new OS.

    • It’s a vicious circle, which unfortunately is growing ever smaller as technology gets ‘simplified’ for the mass markets. If I ruled the world, it would be the law to have a ‘expert settings’ switch on every device that allowed us to choose exactly how our tech behaves. Of course, you take the risk that you’ll screw up, but rather that than be at the mercy of those who know ‘better’.

      s. x

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