Safari 3.1 and Apple Software Update

with 2 comments

For those who have a copy of iTunes installed on their Windows computers, you’ve probably come across the Apple Software Update application that, by default, automatically checks for updates to your Apple software. With the release of Safari 3.1 for Windows (the first non-beta release of the browser), Apple started dishing out the application to users through Apple Software Update for Windows, regardless of whether the users had an older version of Safari already installed or not.1

What really got people riled up though was that Apple checked Safari off for installation by default, as seen in the above screenshot.

John Lily, CEO of Mozilla, made the following statement about why what Apple was doing was wrong:

It’s wrong because it undermines the trust that we’re all trying to build with users. Because it means that an update isn’t just an update, but is maybe something more. Because it ultimately undermines the safety of users on the web by eroding that relationship. It’s a bad practice and should stop.

Fundamentally, I agree with John Lily’s concerns, but I honestly think that he and the rest of the community have made this a much larger issue than it actually is.

But that’s beside the point. In response to the complaints, Apple released a new version of Apple Software Update for Windows:

As seen in the pic above, the new Safari install is clearly differentiated from other updates by being listed in a different box. The biggest complaint though has still not been addressed: The automatic default ‘on’ value for the checkbox.

Ultimately, I think it doesn’t matter.

In order to explain my position, I need to clearly state the two issues in regards to the old behaviour of Apple Software Update.

A: New installations of software were not clearly differentiated from the actual updates, thereby implying that the users had previous installations of software that they, in fact, may not have had.

B: All items listed in Apple Software Update are checked off to be installed by default, regardless of whether the items are updates to already installed software or entirely new installations of software.

Fixing Issue A requires a UI change that clearly differentiates new software installations from updates. This differentiation could come in the form of a separate pane for new software (as seen in the retooled Apple Software Update for Windows above), or a difference in the way the new software item looks in the list of items to be updated (a badge or coloured highlight), or even a different tab for new software.

Fixing Issue B involves changing one thing: Uncheck a checkbox.

And so here’s my argument: Apple has already solved Issue A, a problem that no user is capable of fixing. No end user can fundamentally change the UI of an app in such a way, and even if they could, it would not be particularly easy or straightforward for end users.

On the other hand, Issue B is in the exact opposite position. Any end user of software can uncheck a checkbox.

In other words, Apple has fixed the issue that only they could fix and has hit the ball back into the user’s court. Fixing the remaining issue is entirely trivial for end users, and it’s completely within their power and ability to do so.


1: This behaviour actually predates Safari. In my own experience, on Windows computers which only had QuickTime Player installed, Apple Software Update would push iTunes in the exact same manner that it’s pushing Safari now. A lot of iTunes users probably never saw this type of behaviour because iTunes requires QuickTime Player in order to work and up until Safari 3 iTunes and QuickTime Player were the only Windows applications Apple made.  


Written by Kumaran Vijayan

April 23, 2008 at 7:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. All I can say is that yes, they have differentiated that it is a seperate and new app, but they also need to not have the box checked by default. Thus, all problems solved and if you really want Safari you can check the box.


    May 4, 2008 at 1:17 am

  2. This is about as bad as those programs that install Internet Explorer toolbars without the user’s permission. I’ve fixed computers with 4+ toolbars; internet content is barely visible, every website is checked for phishing multiple times, targeted popups appear every 10 minutes, and here’s where we realize the problem:

    People do know how to uncheck a check box. Who doesn’t? They just don’t know they should.


    May 6, 2008 at 10:12 am

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