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Yesterday, I was installing F.lux on my Mac (cool-looking program by the way), and when I ran it, it asked me if I wanted the program to automatically update. How am I (or any average user) supposed to make that decision, before I have a chance to use the program?

I would imagine that most users just want to use the thing, and don't care about updating, so the programmers could pick some choice and make it the default (either update or don't update). Even users who do care about updating would not be able to make a reasonable decision.

I am not specifically picking on F.lux. I have seen many programs do this same thing and I don't see why. My question is this: What advantage is there, if any, in making the user choose whether to enable auto-updating before (s)he has a chance to use the program, over making the choice just another option in the preferences dialog that can be enabled or disabled at any time?

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I found this post (useit.com/alertbox/workflow.html) by Jakob Nielsen about this issue (actually, any sort of push notification, but I would guess the same principle applies). He argues that this is not a good time to ask. –  Elias Zamaria May 5 '11 at 18:12
    
In my apps I ask the users on the third run. This way they have used the application twice, so they can probably decide if they want to update it when an update is available. –  rightfold Jul 10 '11 at 15:32
    
@WTP: I really like that solution, at least at first sight. An alternative might be to show a (passive) notification in the application when the first update is actually available, that notifies of the update and offers to install the available and future updates automatically. –  André Jul 12 '12 at 10:10
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4 Answers 4

The reason that they do that is because they really want to get as many people as they can to use automated updates (leads to fewer support issues) but they really shouldn't just have automatic updates on by default. Google has actually taken quite a bit of flak for this with Chrome.

They ask becase most of the time, the user will say yes, automatic updates are fine. And if the user says no, it's probably because they have a specific reason not to. And I'm sure that every one of these programs does have the ability to change your preference in the settings at a later point.

I really don't see what your problem with doing it "before you have the chance to use the program". Why does that matter one bit? Automatic updates being on or off has nothing to do with whether or not you like the program. You don't like it, uninstall it; problem solved. It really isn't any different than the questions that an installer asks you when the program is being installed (location, optional features, etc.).

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You should always ask permission before altering the users computer - and that includes updating your own application. –  ChrisF Apr 14 '11 at 22:22
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It makes the user feel loved.

More seriously, auto-update has broken stuff for me in the past. So I am leery of it. I like being able to time my upgrades so that they don't overlap important work, and so I can back up beforehand.

Automatic upgrades are also a way to completely remove functionality, or have the company unilaterally change the implicit contract that things will still work after you upgrade. Apple does this all the time--remember when iTunes would let you share tunes over the network? And then suddenly it wouldn't.

Giving the user the option of opting out of automatic upgrades gives the illusion of control over this sort of thing. I say illusion because sooner or later their old device or software is going to be so out of date that they, or the company updating it, will force them to upgrade or discard it. ("Sooner or later" seems to be about two years, right now.)

As for why RIGHT NOW?

  1. Marketing. If you're just settling in, you don't have a chance to hate the app. You want to jump right into using it. "Yeah, whatever, finish set up, go for it." Skips over the thinking that might occur and make you not opt in.

  2. It also means the app can turn around and immediately try to get its own latest version. This eliminates a lot of support headaches. ("You're using what version? which you got off a Compute floppy from when?)

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Doing auto-updates automatically may be problematic for various reasons

  • It leaves traces of you / your computer / your application on the net
  • it may kick in in situations where you e.g. have only very limited bandwidth
  • It may be against some company policy that mandates an exact version of programs (e.g. for easier trouble shooting or because they have special add-ons that may become incompatible after an auto-update.
    Just take FireFox, that is scanning for updates of its plugins after self-update and most of the time disables one, because the plugin has not yet been updated.

So it is a good idea to allow to not auto-update.

On the other hand though, not offering any auto-update will result in the end in many security issues (as the net has seen with Win* versions and so on).

So giving the user to decide is a good idea.

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There is nothing wrong with letting the user decide whether to auto-update. My question is about why to make the user decide while installing or running for the first time, and why to pop up a dialog box instead of making it configurable in the same way as other settings. –  Elias Zamaria Apr 15 '11 at 21:40
    
Yeah - I guess that is what I wrote in the 2nd last paragraph. –  Heiko Rupp Apr 16 '11 at 7:04
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Going beyond the issue of whether 'auto-updating' is a good thing or a bad thing, the issue is about asking users to make decisions on cryptic technical issues while running a program installer.

Given that many users won't understand the question, and will just be randomly clicking on an answer in order to actually get to the end of the installer, I'd suggest the least choices the better. (And if you really have to ask a question, provide some on screen help on the possible answers).

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