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Strategies to Manage Software Updates: Auto -> Manual


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#1
NoelC

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I find that many applications (and the operating system itself) want to automatically update themselves.

 

Trouble is, if your use of your computer is for more than just frivolous entertainment, auto-updating behavior can happen at a bad time and really throw a monkey wrench into things.

 

For example, let's say you really need to get some work done right away, and at the moment you boot up your computer you find Windows Updates start going in, delaying the bootup.  Or once you're up and running Office updates itself.  Or maybe Windows Update delivers a printer driver that unexpectedly leaves you unable to print - or your monitor color profile was updated unexpectedly and now your colors in your photo editing software are messed up.  The list goes on. 

 

The worst time to have to deal with the side effects of an unexpected update is right when you need your computer the most.

 

The best answer seems to be:  Set everything so that you're notified of available updates, but they're not installed automatically without your giving the go ahead.

 

Unfortunately, software makers are catering more and more to the "computing for dummies" audience, who really don't want to be bothered with computer maintenance chores.  Or maybe the "lazy" audience who somehow never gets around to applying updates unless they're forced.

 

Whatever the reason, I know I find automatically applied updates exactly wrong, and prefer to choose when to apply them.   Right now the only thing that auto-updates on my system without my go-ahead is my anti-malware database. 

 

Trouble is, setting up a system to work this way this isn't trivial, so I thought maybe a thread on how to manage update behavior would be good.  Let's discuss everything from Windows Updates to application updates here.

 

Here's an initial suggestion...

 

Windows Updates

 

  • Set Windows Update to use one of the alternate settings other than "Install updates automatically (recommended)".  I personally use the "Never check for updates (not recommended)" setting.
     
  • Optionally, use a 3rd party tool such as WUNotify to check for updates and notify you in a less intrusive fashion when updates become available.  WUNotify tells me via a System Tray notification when updates are available; I never get a complete screen overlay warning me to install updates from Microsoft.
     
  • When notified of an available set of updates, look over the number of them and their sizes to give you an idea of about how long and intrusive the process is likely to be.  Maybe it's not appropriate right now, since you have work to do, or maybe your backup isn't up to date.  So you can plan when to apply them.
     
  • I also suggest, when notified, that you use the "More Information" links provided for each update to know what's going in for each update.  It's good to know when you're getting a whole block of bugfixes or a security fix or a new version of a component like the browser, and you may choose to exclude some (e.g., a display driver release where you know you're up to date from the video card maker's web site already).  Some knowledge is always better than guessing what they're updating.

 

Similar things can be done for most every application, though setting this up can be non-trivial in some cases.  I'll put more in subsequent posts about how to manage updates for browser add-ons, desktop accessories, etc.

 

-Noel




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#2
NoelC

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Whenever you install software, it may offer "helpful" settings that allow you to choose to let it update itself.  Consider choosing NOT to allow it.  Chances are deselecting those options will cause fewer services or background programs to be run when you log in.

 

People complain that "Windows slows down over time".  Accepting all the "handy" default settings and letting extra background applications run is a key reason why.

 

I suggest downloading and running a freeware tool called Autoruns and looking over all the programs set to start when you start your system and log in.  Surprisingly, a MAJORITY of such programs are not normally necessary for the correct functioning of a system.

 

Autoruns allows you to disable an item (by unchecking a box), so that not only is it not run, but at some future time you can see that you've intentionally disabled it.  That may matter, because you can easily know if a newer version of the program has installed it's background program yet again, and at that point you can disable it again with confidence (or just delete it).

 

Consider the number of startup items I have disabled...

 

DisabledStartupItems.png

 

Many of these things can be handled either manually (i.e., by occasionally going out and checking for updates yourself), or by a semi-automated process by which another program checks to see if updates are available.  There's one such program, Avast antivirus, which has one feature that's actually useful:  The Software Updater.  It can be configured to look for updates to a growing list of programs it knows about, and let you know (via a system tray notification) that an update is available.

 

SoftwareUpdater.png

 

-Noel



#3
JorgeA

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I used Secunia PSI some years ago for a brief time. While it's an interesting concept, and no doubt helpful for people who aren't technically oriented and who don't much care which version of a program they use, personally I found it a bit annoying to be reminded (tut-tut) that some of my applications were not up to date. "Yes, I know, and I want to keep it that way!"

 

So now I use a mixed update system. No one is allowed to install updates automatically, but I let my programs tell me upon launch if there is a new version. I let Windows, Flash, and Java tell me when there's an update, but I decide if and when to install it.

 

You wrote above that,

 

Surprisingly, a MAJORITY of such programs are not normally necessary for the correct functioning of a system.

 

Is there a website that explains which programs can be safely unchecked from Startup, and which processes can be safely disabled? I figure (not very scientifically) that, if I can't tell from its name what the program or process does, then it's probably not a good idea to disable it or to remove it from Startup.

 

--JorgeA

 

 

 



#4
NoelC

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Sorry, was busy elsewhere much of today.

 

The nice feature about the Avast Software Updater is that if you do have a version of an application you'd like to keep from updating, you can ask Avast to avoid notifying you about it.  For a while I had a version of the Java Runtime Environment I needed to hold back from updating, so I exercised this feature.

 

 

Is there a website that explains which programs can be safely unchecked from Startup, and which processes can be safely disabled?

 

I don't know of a good reference for what can easily be disabled, though there are some good places to be familiar with (BlackViper comes to mind). 

 

The approach I've taken is this, for a given item starting/running in the background.

 

1.  Research the item.  Sometimes what it does can be easily identified.  Sometimes it takes more digging.

 

2.  If it remains a suspect for being "unneeded extraware", try disabling it with Autoruns and logging off/on.

 

3.  See whether any critical functionality is missing or broken.

 

4.  Every now and then look over the Task Manager.  See if more processes are running than you had before.

 

It's not something quickly done - it's more like a long-term hobby - and it requires confidence that you can recover from pretty much any problem you bring on yourself.  Over time I've found it possible to pare down the list quite significantly as you've seen.

 

However, I can't really imagine non-technical folks doing this aggressively without getting into trouble.  Caution IS warranted.

 

On the other hand, pretty much everyone says Windows "slows down over time", while mine does not.  I have only ever had to have exactly one installation of each of my Windows versions I've used over the years.  It's possible to keep a Windows system lean and functional.  In fact, on several occasions when I've had to replace a computer I just restored my Windows installation from the prior night's backup and kept working on the replacement hardware.

 

-Noel



#5
Soukyuu

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What is the advantage of autoruns over the startup tab in the task manager? ("more details" view)

Personally, I'm always configuring my system to notify, but not download. But that was when windows didn't display the stupid overlay, so thanks for the pointer to WUnotify, I'll take a look at that.

 

The nice feature about the Avast Software Updater is that if you do have a version of an application you'd like to keep from updating, you can ask Avast to avoid notifying you about it.  For a while I had a version of the Java Runtime Environment I needed to hold back from updating, so I exercised this feature.

Now if only the avast team didn't have the habit of re-introducing bugs they fixed in the last few versions (I'm looking at you, web filter)... Made me get rid off avast completely after they broke dropbox upload a second time. And surprisingly, even without an antivirus, my system is still clean (verified by installing -> scanning -> uninstalling once a month), and unsurprisingly runs even faster.


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#6
NoelC

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The Startup tab is another fine tool, but it doesn't show you nearly as much stuff as Autoruns, which is incredibly thorough.  Not only do you see the things in the various Run keys and Startup group, but it shows you services, drivers, shell extensions, and more...  What I showed in the screen grab above is a small part of it.  Note the scroll bar.

 

Avast is still good if you only install the Shields.  I haven't had any problems with things being broken (but of course no two of us runs the same stuff).  There's a bunch of "Fluffware" they include, in the central column of their installer under the heading of "Tools", but all that's easy to deselect.  The only one of about a dozen fluffware tools I use, as I mentioned above, is the Software Updater.

 

AvastFluffware.png

 

-Noel



#7
Soukyuu

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I think the startup tab might only contain per-user autoruns, which is also "safer" if you're not sure deactivating an entry is safe.

 

As for avast, they implemented a new version of web shield which broke dropbox uploads. They then fixed it, and in the version after that everything broke down again (with the same workaround needed to get it to work again). The balance of having to fight with my AV and it protecting me was just not there anymore for me.


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Intel C2D T7250 | 4GB DDR2 | nVidia 8600m GT | Windows 7 x64 Pro | Secondary




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