I have a new part-time, non-paying job as professional software update specialist. The hours are flexible and the work is entertaining, which compensates for the benefits, which don't kick in right away.
It is also a pretty absorbing job. For example, lots of times I find myself just sitting back, watching my PC grab updates from the Internet itself, when I really should be doing something more productive, like tending to paying customers.
Why do I do it? Well, it wasn't entirely by choice. A growing number of software companies want to reach out and touch my hard disk, and it is getting harder to manage them.
It all started when I installed Microsoft's Windows 98. I didn't just want to just load a new operating system and leave it at that, now would I? Of course not. So Microsoft added the optional Windows Update feature. Whenever I choose, Windows will first scan my system and then go search the web to see if I need to download a new patch or driver. If all goes well, this software will download and install itself. Kind of the way a virus works, don't you think? The only difference is that Microsoft is doing this, not some misguided, arrogant geek.
Speaking of viruses, it's a good thing I noticed two weeks ago that I was running a very old version of Norton Anti-Virus (NAV); I ran out and got the latest copy just in time to battle Melissa.
Symantec too, of course, has a feature called Live Update that will scan the Net for the latest protection software and download it to my disk. Don't want to be behind the times on virus protection, so I set this up to run periodically. And wouldn't you know it, there is even an update feature for the Live Update software itself, so I can stay current with that as well. While I was at it, I installed NAV on three machines.
My new NAV software immediately detected a few Word macro viruses lurking in files that my correspondents had emailed me. (Luckily, none called Melissa.) That was reassuring. And I am glad that I continue to use Wordpad to open these files (which can't run macros).
But then I realized that my copy of NAV was probably out of date, so I should try and use the auto-update feature. The download went smoothly on two out of three of my PCs.
Since the update was already on one of my machines, how hard would it be to transfer it to the other? Moderately hard: before proceeding, I needed to download something called Intelligent Update. Forget this, I might as well wait and get through to the Symantec Live Update site instead.
Netscape has also gotten into the update act with its Smart Update, which will go out and see if there is a newer version of the company's browser or plug-ins and download it for you. Since I always manage to download their browser a day or two before they announce a new upgrade, this would be nice. So I have that running too. Real Player has its own update service as well, and I've seen about a half dozen other software companies offering a similar service.
All this has taken some getting used to. Because one of my guiding philosophies is never to touch my production machine once I get everything working. Now this philosophy is no longer valid, given that automatic update programs are making changes willy-nilly on my hard disk. Without realizing it, my philosophy of never touching the machine has changed to managing all these automated update services. What if they don't update properly? What if my machine stops working now because of one of these auto-updates? What if I'm out of date?!
In fact, to tell you the truth, I've become obsessed with staying current, especially when it comes to viruses. And that got me thinking about what corporate IT departments must be going through with all these updates. Can't imagine many IT managers who like the idea of their network connections clogged with program updates. (I believe we visited this issue once before, when Pointcast first came out.)
So what am I supposed to do? I don't want to disable these update services. And I don't want to set them up so that they go off all on the same day, unless it is a day that I am not planning on getting anything else done. I don't know what to do. Maybe while I try to figure this out I'll check and see if Netscape has a new version released since I last checked only yesterday.
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