Tutorial :When should you force automatic updates?


Here's an interesting question - when should you force automatic updates? I was thinking about application updates recently, how software like Google Chrome forces automatic updates, how Microsoft uses automatic updates but doesn't force them if you don't really want them, and how some leave it up to the user entirely.

One one hand, forcing automatic updates can be good, for reasons of:

  • Security
  • Stability
  • Breaking changes happen for everyone at once
  • No need to service older releases
  • Everyone's got the latest and greatest all the time
  • "I don't want to upgrade because I don't think I need to" whereas the user's judgement may be flawed in this case

Imagine if IE had forced automatic updates - the number of users who had hacked away in order to use IE6 would be so tiny we wouldn't have had any of the problems we did because of it (and still do and will for a small while longer).

On the other hand, forcing automatic updates can be bad:

  • Might break things
  • Some users feel it invades their privacy
  • Using system resources the user might not have/want to use at the time
  • "User knows best" (or do they?)

Do you think forced automatic updates are good or bad always? Or does it depend on the situation (I think we can all agree they are never ALWAYS good, but are they ALWAYS bad)? In what situations do you think they should be used?

CW'ed since I think this is fairly subjective.


Minor revisions and security update are fine to force. So long as the gui and general proformance of the program doesnt change. By force I mean tell the user "Updates are ready" or something like that. Or "application will update next startup"

Major version changes that include gui changes and proformance changes should always be the end users choice. Although strongly suggesting updates may be ok depending on the application.

the are exceptions to this ofcourse. Games usually get updated to the latest version for online play. Web browsers should always be the the latest version and only really let the user choose fora major update. If that was more enforced the internet would be a better place.

Adobe I admit is a bit obnoxious but its just a bit better to get it over with. Or you can just block the applications from accessing the internet then they stop complaining.

Its also nice when updating doesnt get in the way of using it. Like it update while your using it but those updates only take effect when you restart the application. Something like that. Firefox is a good bad example. I hate starting it up only to learn this add on needs to be updated, I can understand it from a security view but I just find it irritating.

A setting somewhere is probably the best way to go. Let the user choose to let the application automaticly update or ask them before updating.


Never unless all the users of the application work for your own company and you have some authority over which version of the software they need to be using.

On the other hand, asking me 3 times a week to update the app is also obnoxious, DO YOU HEAR ME ADOBE????


I think Google's philosophy is that they see Chrome as no different to, say, GMail. In GMail, everybody gets the "updates" as soon as they're uploaded to the server. There's no possibility for you to use older versions. So they automatically update Chrome so that the experience is similar to that.

It requires a lot of care on Google's part. I'm also pretty sure that forced automatic updates would not fly with many larger corporations who need to administer 10s of thousands of desktops (just imagine the additional bandwidth it would require for 10,000 people to all updated their copy of Chrome at the same time: 17MB* x 10,000 = 170GB of data!)

In some ways, I wish Windows had a standard central repository of software like the various Linux distros have. I can imagine the legal headaches that would cause for Microsoft, though, and can understand why one doesn't exist...

* According to this.


Another perspective to take is that many many apps are moving to the cloud as web based apps. In this case everyone gets updates at the same time. Obviously, there is a difference between web apps and native apps, but in some ways the differentiation is arbitrary. So I think the notion that auto updates are bad always is stuck in the "installed app" paradigm that is fading away.

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