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Why Bother to Upgrade?

If you’ve already installed the Mac operating system a dozen times over the past few decades hoping for a faster and more amazing Mac only to find that the process has kept you inside on a sunny day and left you with a slower or more unstable Mac, or a Mac that can’t connect to the Internet, or a printer that won’t print, or a copy of iTunes that hides its sidebar, or just plain fuss and bother, you probably aren’t looking forward to yet another upgrade. You’ve got better things to do.

Take Control reader David L. expressed this in email yesterday, saying, “However, I haven’t updated to Yosemite yet and after seeing the crappy user interface changes we got when I updated my wife’s Macbook from Mountain Lion to Yosemite, I doubt that I will. Her system is more cranky and less useful with Yosemite than it was with Mountain Lion. What would be more useful for us than a ‘how to’ would be ‘a should I?’ or a ‘why upgrade?’ article in TidBITS.”

As we ponder the idea of a TidBITS article about this topic, I wanted to share with you what TidBITS Publisher Adam Engst had to say about the matter, in his email reply to David:

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, actually. On the one hand, I sympathize entirely — I think these upgrades are coming too fast, and providing too little user benefit. But here’s the downside. If you wait too long, you can end up with a difficult upgrade, or, in the worst case, lost data.

I still hear from people still moving away from the email client Eudora, and it’s gotten really hard to do now, since the software that was new in 10.6 Snow Leopard days hasn’t seen any development since, and the developers themselves may have moved on or taken it down. And the community knowledge has evaporated — it takes me a long time to remember anything useful about Eudora now.

Another guy (a tech journalist, even) just wrote in with a problem where he’d waited too long to update iPhoto, and now his iPhoto library is too old for Photos to import it. And he can’t easily update iPhoto because it’s not for sale any more.

The other problem is that Apple does introduce niceties for developers in each release, so developers have to make hard decisions about how far back to keep their code working. A lot of the time it’s not feasible to maintain backward compatibility, so people who don’t upgrade begin to have trouble keeping their devices up to date with third-party software. And that in turn forces developers to keep older versions around and to answer questions, which costs them money without generating any upgrade income.

Beyond what Adam has said, another reason to update is when you have more than one Apple device (any combination of a desktop Mac, laptop Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Apple Watch, or Apple TV) — when it comes to any sort of cloud-related connections, these devices do work better together if they are all running the latest system software. If you don’t keep the system software current on your devices and you then buy one new device, that purchase can trigger a domino effect, requiring all of your other devices to be updated so that the new device will work properly with the others. That’s not to say that you should update your devices the moment a new Apple operating system is released: a prudent user may want to wait about 4 months to give Apple time to smooth out glitches. For example, if Apple normally rolls out big new changes in, say, October, then February might be a good time for you to jump on the update bandwagon.

Then there’s security. Security enhancements are usually a big focus of pretty much any operating system upgrade, and the more current you keep the systems on your devices, the more likely it is that their systems, and the communications they participate in, will be secure. To that end, if you were to follow my advice and upgrade everything in February, I would also suggest staying on top of upgrades within that operating system version. So, if you upgrade to El Capitan and iOS 9 in February, I would recommend promptly installing all subsequent updates to El Capitan and iOS 9, so your devices can benefit from any security fixes and any remaining bug fixes.

Finally, a lot of upgrading pain is the fuss and bother of things not working right, or not looking right. My primary motivation as editor-in-chief of the Take Control series is to provide people with helpful information about how to get more out of their Macs and related gear. I can’t promise that one of our books will make your Mac experience perfect — or that you will benefit from it without a certain amount of effort on your part — or without additional RAM installed in your Mac — but the Take Control ebooks do look at how to avoid or solve all manner of problems, and at how to customize your computing experience to your liking.

It would be easier if computers never changed. They’d be our faithful companions where we store our receipts and recipes, where we compose love letters and novels, and where we enjoy our streaming videos and cat photos. We’d spend our computing time on scientific calculations, composing orginal music, and printing broken appliance parts to our 3D printers…

… but that’s the rub: If our computers never changed, we’d not be storing receipts, because we wouldn’t be able to afford a fast scanner and there would be no cloud to download them from. We could compose a love letter or novel, but there would be no self-publishing to Amazon and a 300-page manuscript would still be nearly impossible to load into our favorite word processor. There would be no streaming of anything, except conventional TV and radio. We could do scientific calculations, but not with anything close to the big data crunching that we can do now. GarageBand and its ilk would not exist. And we’d still have to go to extra lengths to print a curly quote.

But is the advance of computer technology all digital nirvana? No it’s not, nor is it even close. It’s a completely human endeavor: messy and half-broken, flawed and half-baked. As a consequence, we stare at progress bars and spinning gears. When we want to get something done, we have to remember to use the View menu to see our sidebar, or wonder why the word “More” has turned into a … button. Tech companies are re-engineering and re-designing everything, it seems, and they are reinventing our most intimate digital spaces as they go, flinging around buttons and changing colors willy-nilly to suit themselves. If you’ve already upgraded your computer’s operating system more than a dozen times, you’ve seen first-hand how slowly computers seem to change from year to year, but how much they change from decade to decade. By writing this blog post, I can no more turn this tide of change than I can make the moon leave its orbit.

Should you upgrade? Yes, you should. This is because life goes on. Will the process be annoying? Probably. Will your jaw drop the first time you take a video call from your grandson on FaceTime? Or the first time you skip a long line by waving your wrist at a scanner? Or the first time your smartphone gets you to the right place in a foreign city by multi-leg public transit? Probably.

Posted by Tonya Engst (Permalink)