I need to set this up briefly. I don’t just hang around in MV forums, I hang around in a lot of different forums. My latest venture was to the usenet forum microsoft.public.internetexplorer.general where people go to get advice with problems with IE. The mentality of the people providing responses there has just floored me. It makes me take a step back and consider this monster that we’ve all created called information technology – a monster that expects grandma to read manuals.
So what set me off to write a blog? Someone identifying herself as "Grandmother" (hey, might be a 17 year old guy, but that’s not important) posted a note saying IE was no longer acting right after installing Windows XP Service Pack 3. One of the responses was from a guy asking why she installed SP3 in the first place. It’s a fair question if you ask an I.T. manager or consultant, but Grandma? Let’s put this in context, here is exactly what the guy said:
Read the overview notes on SP-3 so you’ll know what changed. List of fixes in Windows XP Service Pack 3. So what in those descriptions of new functionality was a must-have in your computing environment? If nothing, why install SP-3?
Again, let’s assume that my defense of grandma here is as legitimate as the question to her about why she installed SP-3. We’re obviously not talking about some 90 year old lady in an apron. She is after all talking about software releases and loading OS updates in a public forum. I know women who have become grandmothers while still in their 30’s (not tough). The point isn’t "grandma". For the purposes of this discussion, grandma is my niece, my brother in law, my godson, your younger sister… So here was my response which goes way beyond the immediate situation. I’m not really responding about this one situation, I’m commenting on the whole market that we’ve collectively created. (Rather than quoting I’ll put a line between the quote and this blog commentary, and just change the color of the quotes.)
Sigh, did you notice this person might be a grandmother who might not be inclined to read through technical material? Ever notice how most home users have Windows Update set to automatically download and install the "latest and greatest" software from Microsoft? So when that software doesn’t work is it really fair to ask the user why they installed it in the first place?
Advice for other people installing Microsoft Updates: Our internal policy is to not install anything from Windows Update until it’s been in circulation for at least several weeks. While it’s good to get the latest security updates, those aren’t really necessary if you’re only going to reputable sites, and there’s never anything else in the updates that is a "gotta have it right now" feature. If the risk of visiting nasty sites is minimal then there’s no harm in waiting a while to let other people be the guinea pigs for first-release software.
As was told to me just today, though it’s already our practice, never default-install anything, always Custom install. With Windows Update, my advice is to never let it auto-install, but manually check for updates, and rather than using the Express install always us Custom / Manual installation and select updates that are at least a few weeks old. As a sometimes leading-edge sort of developer I’m very wary of leading-edge software and am by nature a late-adopter of product updates to major packages like Windows, Office, and IE. So we always custom install here after checking forums like this one. We wait for the great wailing and gnashing of teeth to die down, and often Microsoft issues minor patch releases – so by the time we finally do selective installs here the software is mostly stable and other users are off wailing in forums about some other issue that we’re monitoring.
I doubt there will come a time when everyone waits to see what everyone else has to say about the latest updates. There are always going to be the first adopters who auto-install everything because they don’t know any better – and then some of them find their way to forums like this to ask for help while others call their friends, family, or co-workers. So this wait and see policy has worked pretty well for us for many years and I encourage others to be a bit less eager to do updates, and to get familiar with places on the web to get information about software that other people have installed so that you can be a better informed consumer … before consumption.
Minus the repeated quote from above, his response and my subsequent response follow on the next page.