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Just When You Thought Only Apple Does Bad Updates

Apple never heard the end of it when September’s iOS 8.0.1 update went awry. This sorry little episode fueled speculation that the company had taken on far too many projects and needed to slow down and improve quality control. While Apple’s new product introductions were but a fraction of what other tech companies delivered, that must be too much. The theory had it that Apple must be perfect, and there was little room for error.

Of course, 2014 wasn’t the first year where Apple screwed up, and it won’t be the last no matter you think they’ve taken on too much or not.

Over the years, there have been flawed updates, and the need to enhance product warranties to handle persistent problems. Don’t forget the power supply failures on the iMac G5, which was first released in 2004. At that time, the iPhone and iPad hadn’t quite reached the rumor stage, and forget about an Apple Watch.

Some believe the iPhone 4, introduced in 2010, had a fatal flaw that resulted in poor cellular reception if you held it the “wrong way,” which meant that you covered the junction of the two antennas on the lower left side. It turns out that this so-called Antennagate phenomenon applied to other mobile handsets too in various ways, but Apple got the rap and was forced, as a PR maneuver, to ship free cases until the dust settled.

Let’s not forget the Apple Maps fiasco in 2012 as another example of good intentions gone bad, but that may have been more a marketing issue. Google persistently calls new products betas for years to fend off criticism about bugs. If Apple had taken the same approach to Maps, the outcries would have been muted. Apple can’t take the blame if they warn you, already, that a product is not yet considered ready as a final release. Remember how long Siri remained in beta.

More important, Apple is hardly the only tech company to issue flawed updates that went bad. A recent article from ZDNet lists 10 flawed Microsoft updates for this year alone. Some were serious enough to cause seriously impaired performance — or the inability for a PC to boot.

Here’s a key example: “August Windows updates cause systems to go into reboot loops (among other problems).”

Add to that flaws in an Exchange Server 2010 update that would keep Outlook from connecting to the email server, or one that would block the ability of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 (how’s that for a silly name!) to lose their ability to install future updates, but don’t forget an earlier update for these systems that would cause system reboots, which is, I suppose, different from a reboot loop.

Yet another flawed update disables ActiveX controls.

You can check the article for the rest, but this is a real messy situation. What it means is that you just cannot trust Microsoft to issue a reliable update for most any product. It hardly seems honest to attack Apple for one flawed update, almost immediately withdrawn, and not give Microsoft its due for doing far worse.

I do understand that Microsoft’s situation is far more complicated than Apple’s. They have loads of system versions, an incalculable number of hardware variations to support, so it’s inevitable that things will go wrong from time to time. That’s a key reason why IT people in the enterprise will normally monitor a Microsoft update for its efficacy on a test computer before deploying it to company PCs.

The consumer is in a far worse position, because most people don’t have the time to test every single system update to make sure it works before installing it on the family PCs. That would require having a PC that serves solely as a test bed. The best answer is just to avoid Microsoft patches for a while and consult the online chatter to make sure they work before installing. Having to back out of a bad install, or hoping Microsoft will somehow be able to release a quick fix, can result in disaster. Imagine someone with a small business who must depend on each and every PC in the company to operate efficiently.

You certainly shouldn’t assume that all iOS and OS X updates must be perfect. More often than not, though, the flaw is failing to completely fix a problem. A key example is OS 10.10.1, which, in part, was designed to repair Wi-Fi connection glitches with Yosemite. For many it worked, but some Mac users continued to report problems. According to published reports about a forthcoming 10.10.2 update, it appears that Wi-Fi issues are still being worked on.

So if you want to be real cautious, turn off the options to “Install OS X updates” and “Install system data files and security updates” in Yosemite’s App Store preferences. If you opt to install the updates manually, you have time to consult the online chatter about possible flaws before you take the leap.

Honestly, I leave the update options active. I realize I am taking a somewhat dangerous approach, but I am not one to always play it safe.