Reader question: Every once in a while I get a message saying I need to update this or that on my computer. Do I need to update every single one?
Suzanne says: The short answer is yes, you usually should update your software when you get a prompt asking you to update. That’s because most software updates are designed to either add functionality or improve the performance, stability and security of a program.
Some updates are optional and are clearly labeled as such. You can safely ignore these, but you might want to read through the features they add to see if they’re of interest. If you’re ever unsure about installing an update, a quick check on Google should reveal whether there are any issues. Keep in mind that even if software is updated correctly, your software may not run the same way it did before.
The most important software to keep updated is your operating system. Windows users can choose to have their software automatically updated with important updates. I recommend that you set this to daily. You can check your settings in the “Control Panel” under “System and Security” and then “Windows Update.”
For Mac users, OS X is set to automatically check for software updates every week. Or, you can select “System Preferences” from the Apple Menu and then “Software Update.” There you can choose how often your computer will check for updates and whether they’ll be downloaded automatically.
Beyond the operating system, your web browser should always be kept up to date. Fortunately, Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox all default to automatically update themselves on your machine, although all three let you opt out of automatic updates. And Java, Adobe Acrobat Reader and Adobe Flash have proven to be popular targets for web attacks. So, when prompted, make sure you update these programs.
Most programs, including iTunes and Skype, will automatically check for updates, but a few don’t. Consider using a program that will keep all of your programs updated. I like Secunia Personal Software Inspector (free on secunia.com) for Windows PCs. It will not only tell you if your software isn’t up to date, but also if there are any security risks associated with leaving it updated. It also provides links to where you can update older software.
For Macs, you’ll want to use the “Software Update” utility and check for updates in the App Store. You’ll find step by step instructions on Apple.com.
Keep in mind that no software update checker tracks every program. Maintaining your operating system and keeping tabs on high risk programs can go a long way to keeping your personal data and computer safe.
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Suzanne Kantra, Founder & Editor-In-Chief of Techlicious.com, has been exploring and writing about some of the world’s most exciting and important science and technology issues for almost 20 years. Most recently, Suzanne was the Technology Editor for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, where she also hosted the radio show “Living with Technology” on Sirius Satellite Radio. Previously she served as Technology Editor for Popular Science Magazine. She has also been featured on CNN, CBS, and NBC. Suzanne lives in New York City with her husband and three children.
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