Quarter of users see no benefit in updating software

Adobe, Microsoft, Symantec push 'International Technology Upgrade Week'

Several major software companies, including Microsoft and Symantec, today kicked off what they called "International Technology Upgrade Week" in an attempt to persuade users to keep their code current.

Upgrades have been hotly debated of late: Several weeks ago, Jono Xia, a former Mozilla employers, blasted updates in general and those for Firefox specifically, as productivity sinkholes.

Xia called on developers to more heavily weigh users' concerns about dealing with constantly-changing software before they issued updates.

Most of Xia's criticisms were focused on updates that altered the user interface (UI) of a program, or in some other way changed how it operated.

Skype, acquired by Microsoft last year for $8.5 billion, Symantec and GPS device maker TomTom touted their upgrade week brainstorm in different terms at times, claiming that a poll conducted by Skype showed three-fourths of people surveyed identified security as the reason why they did upgrade software.

But the three companies, along with others who chimed in with support, such as Adobe, also cited the very things that Xia had condemned about updates.

"Only by regularly upgrading, are consumers able to enjoy the benefits of improved voice and video calling quality, longer mobile battery life and bug fixes," said Skype in a statement issued Monday.

Users resist updates and upgrades, acknowledged the companies, which pointed to survey results Skype published today.

Those results showed that 25% of the respondents declined updates because they saw no benefit in doing so, while 26% noted that they didn't understand what the updates or upgrades were meant to accomplish.

Four out of ten adults admitted that they do not upgrade software when they're first prompted, and of the 75% who said they received such prompts, half acknowledged that they needed to see an upgrade notification between three and five times before they downloaded and installed the new code.

Adobe and Symantec both argued that their updates were easier to deal with than in the past. The former has made aggressive moves in the area, in large part because of the target its Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash Player have become to hackers.

In a blog post today supporting the upgrade week push, Wiebke Lips, a senior manager in Adobe's corporate communications department, highlighted the automatic, silent updates that both Reader and Flash now employ on Windows.

"If you are using Adobe Reader or Acrobat on Windows, you can literally 'set it and forget it,'" said Lips. "Once your update preferences are set to update your software automatically, Adobe Reader and Acrobat will automatically check for new updates, download and install available updates -- you won't have to think about it again."

However, her analogy to other kinds of maintenance -- for automobiles and homes -- was less effective.

"Why is it that most of us don't think twice about getting our cars serviced regularly, giving our bikes the occasional tune-up or being vigilant about keeping our homes in top shape, yet we are hesitant when it comes to keeping our computers and software programs up-to-date?" she asked in the blog.

Xia answered that weeks ago when he first took updates to the woodshed.

"[The software industry] is full of people who think their next Internet widget is going to be the salvation of humanity," said Xia of frequent updates and upgrades. "It's not; it's just a tool we're offering to people in the hopes they find it useful. And a tool isn't very useful if the way you used it yesterday suddenly doesn't work tomorrow."

Automobiles and houses don't, of course, suddenly change how they work after a minor tune-up or a simply home repair.

Not surprisingly, the companies backing the International Technology Upgrade Week urged users to update their software and computers, and those of their friends and family members who relied on them for informal support.

"Take the time during this special week to update your devices," pleaded Symantec in a blog post of its own today. "And go around to all the family computers, tablets, gaming systems and devices and help your family do the same."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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