If there is one computer issue I can name that annoys both Windows users and Mac users alike it would have to be “automatic updates.”

If you’ve used a computer for any length of time you’ve experienced it – annoying messages that pop up telling you that one program or another needs to update and usually the message is worded in such a way as to make you believe that if you ignore the message horrible things will happen. One of the worst offenders has got to be Adobe with their “Flash” and “Adobe Reader” update messages popping up on an almost daily basis.

What gives? Why is it that you can hardly make it through a day without some program interrupting your workflow nagging you about an update and insisting that you need it? Does ignoring update messages lead down the path of doom or are these constant messages just noise that can safely be ignored?

Well, I have some theories that should answer these questions.

First, I like to categorize updates into two slots – the first being “important updates that are dangerous to ignore” and the second slot for “updates that are trivial and safe to ignore (until actually needed).”

Let’s talk about the first category; why ignoring them can lead down the road to peril and what you should do about them. I categorize things like operating system updates and antivirus updates as important – don’t ignore. When you see a message telling you that Windows has “x amount of updates available” or (if you are running a Mac) “important operating system updates are available,” set aside some time to apply these updates because the operating system is the one central part of the computer that governs everything.

Quite often these updates are patches that correct known bugs and often plug security holes that viruses and malware can take advantage of to infect your system. Ignoring these operating system updates can leave you vulnerable to malware or other problems that the updates just may fix. And the fact of the matter is, if your computer is up and running, you are using the operating system so it’s not like it’s an update for a program you never use.

Antivirus updates are in the same category – they are important and ignoring them can leave your system open to attack from viruses that you may encounter as you surf the ‘net. Think of it this way – every day new viruses are released into the wild and it takes the antivirus companies a while to come up with a definition for these new threats. It’s these definitions that are included in the antivirus updates and applying these updates is the only way your antivirus program can recognize (and block!) new threats as you encounter them online. Sure we’re all vulnerable to the new threats that haven’t been defined yet but ignoring the antivirus updates leaves you vulnerable to threats that have already been discovered. If your antivirus software doesn’t update itself automatically ignoring the update messages is just asking for an infection.

OK, so we’ve covered the first category, let’s talk about the second; updates that are safe to ignore.

As I mentioned, I have a theory about this. On every computer there are hundreds of programs installed. Some programs are used daily and some hardly ever get used at all but all programs have one thing in common – they are all written by people and most of them are working 9 to 5 at their programming job. When they write a program and then distribute their program to the masses it’s not over for them. If it were, they would have to look for a new job every time they finished a program. No, what happens is after they release a program when they show up for work the next day they have to do something to justify their salaries so what do they do? They keep working on the program that they’ve already released and push these “adjustments” out as updates.

Now again, this is just a theory but it’s served me well over the years. Keeping that in mind I adopt the attitude of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” and ignore the cacophony of update messages that all the “other” programs on my machine make and only apply “non operating system” or “non antivirus” updates when I’m having problems with that particular program. It’s a philosophy that has yet to let me down.

Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at 888-752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (No Hyphens!)

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