MacTip: Software Updates

Apple Inc., like other computer operating system makers, periodically releases updates to Mac OS X that fix faults (or "bugs") and sometimes add features to the Macintosh operating system and other Apple applications like Safari, Mail, iTunes, the iLife applications and others.

Unlike the major upgrades that are release every couple of years and are given cat code names like Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard and now Snow Leopard (oh, my!), these updates are free of charge to download and are Apple's way to continually improve Mac OS X. Mac users are encouraged to download and install these updates as soon as they are released.

Unlike Microsoft, Apple doesn't hold back on OS updates to one time in the month to release them; as soon as a software improvement is done and tested, it is released. The Software Update utility, which is built into Mac OS X, is designed by default to check weekly for software updates, and if it finds any that are necessary for your Mac, can start the download process automatically, then ask you for your permission to install them, which you give by typing in an administrator's password.

To prevent viruses and other malware from infecting a Mac running OS X, these software updates can't be installed without typing in an administrator's password. It can be a pain, but this is one big reason why no malware has successfully spread to Macs.

Sometimes, however, Apple releases a software update that has unintended negative consequences. It isn't that they don't test their updates extensively before releasing them; it's just that nobody's perfect, and that there are so many myriad ways to configure a Mac, it's impossible to anticipate every possible consequence of a software update negatively impacting a particular Mac.

Many Mac users don't use Software Update to get software updates; instead, they wait for news of the release of a particular update, then go to Apple's software update download page at http://www.apple.com/support/downloads/, then manually download the update and install it. They also check websites like Apple's support forums, macfixit.com and macintouch.com, to view reports submitted by other Mac users. If there is a problem with a particular update, word spreads pretty quickly at these sites.

I hope this information helps you better manage software updates to your Mac.

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