My Mac runs two to five browsers at any one time. One of the is Apple’s Safari, which sees the most use. Second is Google’s Chrome. A new version of Chrome was made available today. Remarkably, it was already running on my Mac. Ditto for a bunch of new extensions in Safari. What’s going on? Auto updates.
From Automatic Updates
It used to be that we’d hear of new versions of the apps on our Macs only when we checked sites such as MacUpdate. Then along came automatic update notifications.
An app would, once a week or once a month (or, sometimes, daily), check for its own update. Even Apple does it for Mac OS X via System Preferences and Software Updates. It’s a handy way to be notified of the latest updates.
Safari 5.1, included in Mac OS X Lion, comes with a feature that automatically updates extensions. I forgot about it, but so does Google’s Chrome browser, starting with version 12.
I noticed that Chrome version 13 was available and I wanted to check to make sure I wouldn’t be downloading a beta version. Remarkably, Chrome had already updated itself to the latest version on my Mac. Why? How? Because I gave it permission by clicking (or ignoring) a setting in preferences.
To Automatic Overlords
Is it wise to trust our apps to update themselves without even giving us notice? After all, an app is checking a remote server to compare versions, and if a new one is ready, it downloads and installs it without asking (at least, I don’t remember being asked—I would remember that, right?).
Can Apple be trusted with completely automatic updates? After all, our Macs download new updates and then notify us after the scheduled check in, but doesn’t do the update automatically.
Because Safari extensions can be installed without rebooting Safari, extensions don’t seem to apply to that rule. Most application updates go without a hitch, so my concern is mitigated by the lack of serious problems with auto updates.
But, still, there’s this nagging vision of Skynet growing overnight as a collective consciousness of Macs and PCs into a world ruling botnet, all caused because we let the apps decide when to check and when to update.