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Our application (running on Windows, but not a traditional application with menus and toolbars) has a feature that it can check for updates of the application, or of the firmware of the attached (medical) device that the application is controlling. We're having a difficult time deciding where to put this functionality.

In other applications that have a traditional menu bar, we often see the function under the Help menu. We don't have such a menu bar, but we do have a side menu with some buttons with icons that represent the main actions, some of which fold out into a menu with several options. There is a help menu among these. However, we feel that the Check for Updates it out of place with the About... option and the actual Help option there.

We also have a settings dialog, where you can tune all kinds of preferences. However, again, checking for updates is not a preference, so it does not really belong between there either.

Last, we have a status-bar like area where we display things like the currently logged on user name with a logout button, and a status display of the devive (connected/disconnected). Perhaps it could find a place there? Or, perhaps we should check for updates automatically, and only display something in that status area if there if an update has been found?

I would love to get some other suggestions of where auto-update functionality belongs in an application.

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Check for updates automatically, I mean, why would it need user control? I'd be curious how many people actually click on the Check for Updates menu versus the number of people who update after they get a notificaion. However, beware that industrial users might not want to update / want to know what is in the update. After all, a medical device, even if just diagnostical, is a matter of life and death... a wrong diagnosis because of an outdated firmware or a new buggy one is more responsibility than "adium crashed, let's update".. –  Aadaam Aug 9 '12 at 10:57
    
I would promote Aadaam comment to an answer. –  Bartosz Rakowski Aug 9 '12 at 11:25
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is there a reason to update manually? Sometimes there is –  Ben Brocka Aug 9 '12 at 23:14
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4 Answers 4

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Check for updates automatically, I mean, why would it need user control?

I'd be curious how many people actually click on the Check for Updates menu versus the number of people who update after they get a notificaion.

However, beware that industrial users might not want to update / want to know what is in the update.

After all, a medical device, even if just diagnostical, is a matter of life and death... a wrong diagnosis because of an outdated firmware or a new buggy one is more responsibility than "adium crashed, let's update"..

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I'm accepting this as an answer. We're discussing if indeed an automatic update check (not install!) is acceptable. It seems like the most logical solution. –  André Aug 13 '12 at 16:03
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How about application startup? You can make a background check from the application to see if a new version is available and then prompt the user to upgrade.

If a dialog prompt is intrusive, you can passively display the "update available" information in some part of your app.

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I agree with the comment from Aadaam re: medical device. Approach this one with caution. Perhaps get input from your expected userbase, too?

What I personally would suggest is on startup, offer the OPTION to enable automatic update checking and a checkbox to "never ask this again". This way you put the choice in the hands of the end user (or their IT department), while still offering the automatic update functionality. You could also in the same dialog offer some simple options to choose update check frequency, and/or action to take on update available. (Possibly even a short sentence explaining where to find these options again if they want to update/change them in future.)

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I agree both with Aadaam and Ben Brocka.

Check for updates automatically. Don't present a dialog, but display availability of the update in an unobtrusive way. I really like the way Beyond Compare does it a clickable link at the far right of the main menu bar (yes, they had to jump through some hoops to do it, but there you go). I am sure there are other ways, similar to the notification bar in web apps, that can be dreamt up for a desktop that are both noticeable and unobtrusive.

That said, also provide a manual check for updates. As Ben Brocka says sometimes there are reasons for a manual update. Internet access isn't always available at start up and I'd really hate to have to exit ands start the app again when internet is available.

In answer to your question about where it should go: on the help menu of the application. That's where most applications put it and that is where people now expect it.

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