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Ask the MACist - Compulsive Updating?

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Welcome to the latest edition of 'Ask the MACist', the column where I answer your Macintosh and other technology questions. Our question this week comes from Will in North Hollywood. He asks: I know there's a method for updating Mac OSX all the time and sometimes I get the window popping up saying I have updates. Should I always update when it tells me to?

That's a good question and an important one to keep in mind as a user of Mac or Windows. Users of computers, especially Windows users or recent switchers to the Mac, are most likely used to a pretty consistent stream of updates from Microsoft. In fact, over the years many of Microsoft's updates have been released on Tuesday -- and thus the infamous "Patch Tuesday" was born.

In most cases, updating the computer is an important step and the updates will provide added features, security or other improvements and various enhancements that will benefit the user. However, and this is more the case with Windows than Mac, the patches or updates can actually cause other issues on your computer while they are trying to fix something. Thats not to say updates on the Mac to the operating system never have problems or cause issues. For some users they do.

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In the majority of cases, however, Mac users can feel pretty confidant that when an update is released it has been pretty-well tested and will fix problems instead of causing others. Still, caution is not a bad thing and nobody wants to be, nor should be, an inadvertent beta tester for a software company -- be it Microsoft or Apple. So even when updates become available, I always advise users to wait at least a week or so before downloading and installing them. That way, if there are issues with the update, you will hopefully hear about it before you update your computer and run into trouble. Really, if your computer is working fine, waiting a week or so to update won't hurt.


Fortunately, there are compulsive updaters out there who will apply the updates immediately the moment they are available. So, let them help Microsoft and Apple by testing out the updates before you do to make sure they work. For me, I always update immediately but never on a machine I use for every day work. I only update a test machine first to see what, if any, problems arise. As most of you probably don't have an extra Mac and Windows machine around to test these things out, using a little caution and waiting to see what happens, if anything, is your next-best option.

Sadly, both Apple and Microsoft don't do much to help you out here -- and Windows is particularly bad. On the Mac, the option to check for updates is automatic on every new Mac. However, it will tell you updates are available but not download and install them automatically without asking first. You have to agree to download and install all updates and also enter an Administrator name and password. So, there are some safeguards to prevent installing updates you don't want or are waiting to install.

Generally, however, I have users turn off automatic checking as well because triggering it manually every few weeks to check is very easy. To do it, go to the Apple Menu at the top left and select Software Update. If you have an internet connection the computer will check with Apple to see what, if anything, is available. If there is anything, follow the guidelines we've already established here.

On Windows, by default, this is not the case. You need to turn automatic update off for it to stop updating on its own. In fact, when you turn on your Windows machine it will automatically download and install updates in the background and then tell you they were done afterward. That is , if you are connected to the internet at the time. To be safe though, I advise users to turn this feature off completely. To do so in Windows XP, click Start , click Control Panel , and then double-click System. Next, click the Automatic Updates tab, and then click 'Turn off automatic updating. I want to update my computer manually.'

This way, you can go to the Windows Update site yourself every few weeks and see if there are any new updates. If there are, check back again in another week to see if they are still there. If so, download and install them. Yes, this takes a little more work on your part but in the long run, it will pay off in more trouble-free computing on both your Mac and your Windows machine.

Ok, that's it for this week's 'Ask the MACist.' But remember, if you have a question about anything Mac, Mac-related, or even something about other tech like TiVo, Blackberry or even Windows, send it to me, The MACist, at: themacist at gmail dot com.

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