How to Automatically Update Your Software

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Don’t you wish software makers would change that “remind me later” button to “leave me alone”?

That’s certainly how I feel every time a little box pops up in the corner of my computer screen telling me to update software. I’m doing important things – I don’t have time to update! According to a new survey released by communications company Skype, that’s how most people feel…

While three quarters of adults received notifications on their computers telling them to update their software, more than half said they needed to see a prompt between two and five times before downloading and installing an update.

That’s why Skype, along with antivirus company Symantec and GPS maker TomTom, declared this International Technology Upgrade Week. Focusing on the positives of updating (security, fewer crashes and bugs, free new features) they explain how to update each of their signature products. They also highlight users’ concerns about upgrading: worries about fake/malicious downloads, seeing no real benefits from an update, and long waits to download and install.

My biggest concern isn’t listed: how frequent these updates are – especially on my iPhone, which has tons of apps. What I wouldn’t give to hide that little red number notification. But I don’t know any way to do it without updating or hacking the phone.

Instead, let’s focus on what we can fix. How can we enjoy the positives of better security and performance while avoiding the negatives of interruptions and fake downloads? Simple: Automate as much as possible.

How to automate Windows updates

There are two things that, for security reasons, you want updated ASAP: your operating system and your antivirus software.

Windows Update is very easy to set up if you don’t already have it on – the only downside is that after updating, your computer will nag you every four hours (the maximum reminder delay) until you restart, and restart without permission if you’re away from the computer for a few minutes after the reminder pops up. Here’s how to set it up on Windows 7…

  1. Click Start (the Windows icon in the lower left corner) and type ‘Windows Update’ or ‘wuapp’ in the search box at the bottom.
  2. Click the top search result. In the box that appears, on the left side, click ‘Change settings.’
  3. From the dropdown menu under ‘Important updates,’ choose whether updates should be installed automatically or at your choosing. A little further down, you can set the time and frequency.
  4. (optional) Disable that pesky automatic restart with method 2 of these instructions from Microsoft.

If you use Microsoft Security Essentials as your antivirus program – it’s free and we recommend it – it’ll also keep that up to date.

The free program Secunia PSI can help you keep track of other programs that need security updates and automatically update many of the common ones. If you’re more concerned about feature updates than security ones, try FileHippo.com’s free update checker – but it’s not automatic.

How to automate Mac updates

Macs can also automatically update themselves. In OS X, here’s how you make sure it does that…

  1. Go to the Apple menu (in the upper left) and click on ‘System Preferences…’
  2. Go to the ‘Software Update’ pane, where you can schedule an automatic check/download for updates daily, weekly, or monthly.
  3. To check for updates immediately, go back to the Apple menu and click ‘Software Update…’
  4. A list of available updates will appear with checkboxes. You can find out details about each update by clicking on them, and uncheck any you don’t want. Then click ‘Install.’

For other program updates, Mac users tell me AppFresh is the way to go. In fact, AppFresh will incorporate Apple’s Software Update utility in its own check of other apps, and can automatically update all of them.

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