Monday, March 22, 2010

The Whys and Whats of Updates

I have mentioned that it is important that your computer gets updates, but I have not mentioned what updates and why they are so important.  So lets get to it.

The Why

Updates fall into four major categories:

  1. Bug Fixes.  When there is a glitch in a program, device or your operating system that gets past final testing, the only way these can be fixed are through updates.
  2. Security Enhancements.  As programs get more widely used, they also get more widely abused.  Security enhancements remove any known vulnerabilities in your applications.
  3. Performance Improvements.  If you want things to work faster, some updates are put out to do just that.
  4. New Features.  If application developers are feeling generous, they may even add new features to your programs through updates.
The What

More things in your digital life probably need updating than you realize.  Pretty much anything that has batteries or a plug probably can be updated these days.  Some happen automagically, but others require a bit more work on your part.  Here are a few key ones to consider:
  1. Operating System Updates  Whether you are a Mac, a PC or a Linux user, OS updates are extremely important.  The good news is that many of these are automatic, but check to make sure they are bing done.  Updates can be found in all three of the major operating system's utility areas.  These updates are often security enhancements and bug fixes.
  2. Driver Updates.  Drivers are the software that allows your computer to communicate with everything plugged into it.  Driver updates can be found either on a specific device, such as a printer, manufacturer's website or many come through your operating system's update utility as well.  Your computer manufacturer will have up to date drivers for all of the parts inside of your computer.
  3. Program Updates.  Just about every program you install gets updated.  Sometimes you may have to pay for a new version of the program, such as Quicken.  Other times, there are free updates on the program's website or available inside the program itself.
  4. Plugin Updates.  Browser plugins such as Flash, Java and Acrobat are incredibly important.  These are often the main target for security threats when you are browsing websites, so get them updated.  Visit their respective websites to install the latest version.
  5. BIOS Updates.  BIOS stands for basic input/output system and it is the software that starts up your computer and keeps things running.  This is only available on your specific computer manufacturer's website and should be the first place to look for troubleshooting lockups and other major problems.
  6. Firmware Updates.  Many portable devices and peripherals have firmware.  Firmware is the basic software on devices that make them work.  These are often bug fixes, performance improvements and feature additions.  Everything including  cell phones, portable media players, routers, fancy mice and TVs can have firmware updates.  My stereo in my family room even had an update to fix an issue I was experiencing.  If you have not figured out the patter, check the manufacturer's website for firmware updates.
So the rule of thumb about updates is to do them.  If you are having problems with any device or program, restart it.  If that does not work, check for updates.  If that does not work, head back here and keep reading the Bare Geek Blog.

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