Saturday, November 14, 2009

Things that piss me off: the way computers handle updates

I rarely comment on computer issues in this blog, because my company's business includes a great deal of computer hardware and software testing for technology vendors. We work for all sorts of companies, and we don't take sides. As I often explain, we endorse results and facts, never products.

I feel it's fair to write this post, however, because all the computers I've used fail in this area.

The situation that annoys me is quite common: You're working away, and your computer (PC or Mac or whatever) announces that updates are available. Being a good citizen of the computing ecosystem, you tell it to install them. More times than not, at some point during the process the system will inform you that to complete the updates, it must restart. That demand is fair enough, because you're almost certainly running code that it needs to change.

At that moment, however, most of us have a lot going on. For me, at almost all times at least the following apps are running: email, word processing, file explorer/finder, chat, and a Web browser with multiple open tabs. Quite often, many more apps are live.

After the restart, basically nothing will be running (this varies slightly by OS, but no key apps return).

This behavior is completely avoidable. Every OS and every well-behaved application should be able to work with an API (application programming interface) that allows the OS to say to the app, "Save your state, because I'm restarting." The app should do that and tell the OS when it's done. When the computer has restarted, another call in the API should let the OS say to the app, "We're back, so restore your state." The app should then put you back right where you were. At the end of the process, the OS should put the focus where it was before the restart, so that you could literally resume typing from where you last were.

The win for users would be enormous. Sure, you might have to go get something to drink while the updates finish and the system restores itself, but you already have to do that. What you wouldn't have to do is open all your apps, open the active data files, and so on. When the computer returned, it would be ready for you to work.

All of this is possible. Updates are not going away anytime soon, so OS and computer vendors should make them as painless as possible.


J. Griffin Barber said...

I detest setting up the reboot and updates, then going to bed and returning the next morning to find it still has to do three more updates, sucking twenty minutes of my time down the compu-wormhole.

Mark said...

I completely agree. That sucks.


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