Apple and Microsoft — Background Downloads

October 4th, 2016

During the year in which Windows 10 was offered as a free download, Microsoft got itself in hot water with its overly aggressive behavior to convince people to install it. How so? Well, the installer was first downloaded in the background. Nothing wrong with that, as nothing forced a Windows user to switch.

Where things really went astray was when installers would launch without evident prompting from Windows users and begin to do their thing. It’s not about whether you could stop the install in its tracks. It’s whether Microsoft was doing right by its customers to push a new OS onto them without your permission. Indeed, I heard one radio talk show host describe the nasty consequences of Windows 10 spontaneously installing itself on the show’s main PC. It disrupted the ability to take phone calls from listeners,  a very important feature of the show.

Of course, Microsoft isn’t pulling that stunt anymore, since Windows 10 is no longer free. It’s a retail product, a fairly expensive retail product that starts at $119 for a consumer version. True, most people will simply buy new PCs with Windows 10 preloaded. But it’s also true that growth of Windows 10 has now stalled, perhaps as a result, according to online metrics.

Regular readers of The Tech Night Owl probably know this, but I’m summarizing it here as a means of comparison, after Apple announced that it is making macOS Sierra an automatic download on Macs; the process is being rolled out over the next few days. Once the download is complete, you’ll be notified that it’s ready to install. At this point, you can start the installer, set it aside for later, or delete the file. Nothing stops you from downloading it again in the future from the App Store.

In other words, the installer doesn’t install unless you decide that’s what you want to do. The launch process is not at all intrusive, since you can just quit and go about your business.

But what about the automatic download? Does Apple have the right to send it to you? Yes they do, if you choose an option labeled “Download newly available updates in the background,” in the App Store preference pane. It’s as simple as that, and you can always turn it off and go to the App Store app directly on occasion to check for available updates.

I also understand that Sierra will not be downloaded on any Mac that can’t install it. And, unlike what evidently happened on Windows PCs, if your Mac doesn’t have enough free space to comfortably contain the installer, it won’t download, or the download still stop and delete itself.

Unfortunately, at least one unnamed tech site still feels Apple’s deeds in making Sierra a background download are comparable to Microsoft.

It does appear to me that Apple is moving in the right direction to spread the joy about Sierra, but not go overboard to force that decision on you. I especially like the idea that you won’t have an installer run without your approval, and that it won’t stuff a crowded drive with something that will degrade your Mac’s performance.

Again, there’s a simple preference pane option you can uncheck to prevent background downloads. Fortunately, my iMac’s drive is expansive enough that a few extra files do not bother me. Besides, I’ve been running Sierra since the early betas, although I only switched the main partition to it when the original Golden Master seed was released.

Regardless, if you do opt to install Sierra after the installer is downloaded and launched, please treat such upgrades with respect. What that means is that you should have a full backup, or a Time Machine backup, on hand in case something goes wrong. It probably won’t, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.

You should also set aside roughly an hour for the actual installation. I cannot tell you how long it’ll take except that it’ll happen faster on a Mac with an SSD or Fusion Drive. It also depends on whether you’re just upgrading your Mac’s OS, or you are starting from scratch by erasing your drive, installing Sierra, and restoring your stuff from a backup. If you prefer to restore your Mac, you’ll want to devote several hours to the process.

One more thing: Before you install any major OS upgrade, you’ll want to make sure that the mission critical apps you need are compatible. There may be updates, and don’t assume those updates will always or almost always present themselves if an app, not acquired from the App Store, has a Check for Updates option. I ran into an issue of this sort with Sound Studio 4.8.1, which would erroneously report that there were no available updates. One arrived in September, only the update mechanism for that version of the app was non-functional. The publisher, Felt Tip, assures me that, with version 4.8.2, it has been fixed, and I’ll be properly notified of future updates.

That said, it never hurts to take a few extra minutes to check. If the app you need fails to run properly after Sierra is installed, you’ll be forced to stop using it, or to find a temporary substitute. It’s not that it’s easy to roll back a macOS upgrade.

In fact, if I had a wish list for Sierra’s successor, it would be for Apple to add the ability to roll back an unsuccessful upgrade to the former OS version. Apple?

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3 Responses to “Apple and Microsoft — Background Downloads”

  1. David says:

    I know people whose work days were interrupted by Windows 10 starting to install itself. Not knowing better they let it continue and could accomplish nothing for a couple of hours. Then, after machines rebooted, they found a bunch of things that no longer worked, important things like their wireless networking, printer and file sharing. They couldn’t get it all working on their own and had to spend hundreds of dollars for emergency on-site tech support.

    Background downloading Sierra isn’t going to cause any nightmares like that, but it will use a lot of bandwidth. Hopefully nobody’s network will be overloaded as 10, 20 or 100 machines all decide to download Sierra at the same time. That could bring more than a few video conferences to an abrupt halt. There will also be a number of people, probably with small SSDs, who won’t have enough room on their main drives for the installer package. Luckily it’s easily avoided by turning off automatic updates.

    I skipped both Lion and Yosemite after seeing numerous problems at work and wish I’d skipped Mavericks because of what it did to my external FireWire drives. At this point I”m planning to skip Sierra too. The gurus at Rixstep have found several critical file system flaws in the new OS that Apple doesn’t seem to think are a problem. It’s scary to know that Apple thinks Siri is more important than reliable file storage.

  2. DaveD says:

    When I first read about this change the bad thoughts of how Microsoft-handled OS installer download came forth. At first, users had to make a special request to Microsoft for a Windows 10 download. It was later followed with a quiet change to download for all. Then a push to install without regard to allowing users to make a careful plan and time allowance before doing an OS upgrade.

    While I would hope that Apple may be more thoughtful in downloading an OS installer, I don’t see this as a user-desired benefit. I was quite upset when Apple pushed an “El Capitan Upgrade” notification package which was over 400 megabytes. The notification (NBagent) process once started could not be stopped taking all the net bandwidth and I always had the “no downloads” setting turned on (Found a way to stop it by tuning WiFi off and NBagent would resume later at anytime.). An auto multi-gigabytes download asserting itself at anytime is not a good experience for me.

  3. SteveP says:

    Apparrently we have lost the distinction between terms “update” and “upgrade”. I love automatic updates to existing versions of my softare, bug fixes and all, and sometimes even little new features. But an upgrade to a major new version is something that takes a little more thought. macOS Sierra is definitely an upgrade, not an update, so my checking the box for automatic updates should not tell Apple I want them to push a massive download like that at me, taking bandwidth as well as storage space. Just my $0.02, many will agree and many will disagree. 🙂

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