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Browser Auto Updates is it a Good Or Bad thing.

Written by: Peter Fisher on July 11, 2012
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The leading three browsers (Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla FireFox) are now rolling out updates automatically to desktops and laptops.  This means that if these updates are enabled you will no longer control when your browser is updated and  to what version the browser is updated too. In this post I question if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

As a developer

I can only see this as a good idea.  If you think back to the amount hours spent building workarounds for legacy browser versions, think about how much time you wasted building user agent sniffers and how much hair you pulled out when you discovered that your CSS will work on IE8 but not in IE6.   I’m not saying that all these issues will be resolved by auto updates, we will still have differences between browser vendors but my hope is that the differences between browser versions will be few and far between.  I say this because everyone (who has auto-updates enabled) will have the latest and greatest browser version automatically installed. This will result in less fragmentation in the browser world and happier coders.

As a consumer

I’m against any software being automatically upgraded on my computer without my knowledge or consent.  The whole concept of a fat cat company altering my PC while I’m sleeping sends shivers down my spine.

My questions are:

  • Where will the line be drawn.  If your browser is pulling silent updates then what is to stop Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop to do the same?
  • Will we see a time when the whole Operating System gets upgraded without prior knowledge?
  • Are we seeing a culture shift and will we just  come to expect and accept this as a software feature?

Some would argue that by pushing out updates in this manner everyone will gain in security as every browser would be patched up. However this argument is a double edged sword. If you have a bunch of servers sending out automatic updates to millions of computers then these servers will become a bigger target then the everyday computer. Instead of targeting one computer the malicious script kiddie would target a set of servers that would ultimately  influence millions of computers. This this the same concern that large companies have regarding  Linux and open source software.  If the repos get damaged, ambushed or taken over then the possibilities are beyond scary.

There will always be people who never upgrade no matter how shiny and professional the upgrade prompt is.  I know people who only update their computers when I or another computer geek is around to perform the dark art. So this is a  win for them. However they have chosen not to upgrade and I think this ‘choice’ should still be made by a human being.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day it boils down to trust and convenience. With the developers hat on I can see this as the way forward and a new trend in online software.  If I know that my clients have the latest browser installed then I can code using the latest agreed standards.  However as a consumer I am concerned that we are giving  up our choice to a machine/company.

As long as we don’t loose the choice to opt out of these updates I am happy

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Peter Fisher is a web developer working in Gloucester UK. Founder of the digital agency Websomatic, author of this blog and the HowToCodeWell Youtube channel. Peter has over ten years of web development experience under his belt

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