When software updates, do you question it?

In the world we live in, software is ubiquitous – and I presume that most people use it without question. But why is this? Why do not more people question the validity of software updates, or indeed, how it functions. The simple reason may be that the average person doesn’t care to understand how software works. In the consumer electronics industry, we have all become lemmings, blindly allowing software “updates” to occur, partially due to the belief “nothing can go wrong”. Software practitioners know that software updates are somewhat of a minefield. Minor updates to apps may be palatable, because the worst that can go wrong is that the app no longer works – no *big* deal. Updates to the operating system however, well they aren’t so trivial, so shouldn’t be attempted before allowing for a “cooling off” period, say 3-4 weeks. Why? Because they may contain things that don’t work which may take a while to fix, and restoring a device isn’t exactly a load of fun.

A case in point? Our friend the Nest Thermostat. Now the Nest is one of those devices that does automatic updates, so unless the “user” is clued into the upgrade cycle, they may be  incognizant of the update actually happening. So in January the Nest software was updated (update 5.1.3) – unfortunately the software contained a glitch which made the batteries drain, and the temperature drop – many users woke up to find no heat. The software had been updated in December, but the bug didn’t emerge until two weeks later. The first problem lies with the inability if the user to choose an update – they can’t question what they don’t know about. The bigger issue though may be what is obviously a lack of testing. Rule #1 – NEVER update mission critical software in the middle of a mission. The mission here? Heating in winter. If you are going to update heating software, do it on the season shoulders, *before* it gets really cold (or after it has been really cold). Nest is probably just lucky it wasn’t a cold winter like last year.

But maybe it is ultimately about the Internet of Things. The more we add “intelligent” devices to our houses the less control we seem to have.


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