The following is an article submitted by our guest blogger, Dan Wells.

To comment on the following blog post, email Dan at danwellsphoto@gmail.com.

One place where Leopard appears to be a step back from Tiger (among a number of steps forward) is in how nice Software Update is to the user. Apple has made two changes in Software Update, one of them to make it easier on new users (while annoying experienced users), while the other one will annoy everyone, but it may be positive from a stability standpoint – Tiger’s behavior could have been too difficult for Apple to manage.

First, and annoying only to technically savvy users, Leopard no longer tells you what it’s installing in an automatic update by default. If you choose Software Update from the Apple Menu, Leopard acts just like Tiger and presents a series of updates, allowing you to check or uncheck individual updates before you download them. If, however, Software Update runs as scheduled each week, its default behavior is to download all updates, THEN ask you if you want it to install them – without telling you what the updates are (there is a details button you can click to check).

There is a preference in the Software Update section of System Preferences that causes Leopard to behave like Tiger and ask first. I’ve now got both my computers set to ask me first, but Leopard’s new behavior caused me some initial concern until I found the preference.

Unlike Microsoft, I’ve never seen Apple slip a deliberately detrimental upgrade in with a bunch of worthwhile ones. Microsoft does this all the time, most notably with Windows Genuine Advantage, a piece of antipiracy spyware that is capable of disabling your Windows computer. At first, they put Windows Genuine Advantage out there as a non-critical update (that you had to select to download) – they got people to download it by offering other software (I believe it was Internet Explorer 7) along with it.

Of course, nobody who knew what Windows Genuine Advantage was would ever install it willingly (the only “Advantage” it offers is to Microsoft, who can use it to cripple any computer they suspect of containing pirated Windows or Office software), so Microsoft changed it to a critical update (that downloaded and installed unless you explicitly deselected it).

Even as a critical update, many people found it and deselected it. Microsoft’s next move was to hide Windows Genuine Advantage in a group of updates to the Windows Update tool – three updates to the updater itself came as a package, and one of them was the detrimental Windows Genuine Advantage.

First of all, Windows Genuine Advantage is never mentioned by name until the installation was underway – it is only possible to accept or reject the entire package, without being told that one of the three updates is Windows Genuine Advantage. Second, no OTHER Windows update will install until the updates to the updater are installed – even if you know from an outside source that Windows Genuine Advantage is in there and deselect the entire package to avoid it, you will no longer get security updates.

Fortunately, Apple is not that sneaky – novice users can leave Leopard set to install updates in the background without worry. Experienced users may want to set their Macs to ask first, because new OS point releases (like 10.5.1) are among the updates that Software Update downloads. Most point releases are pretty well tested, but one will occasionally cause problems with some unusual hardware or software.

If you have some piece of hardware or software that has caused problems in the past, I’d recommend changing the Software Update preference so you can see what’s being installed, then handling point releases exactly as you have in the past – check with the manufacturer of whatever has caused the problems, or with forums or user groups, before installing a point release. If your Mac is fairly standard, point releases aren’t usually a problem – let Software Update work on its own.

The second new behavior in Software Update is that it no longer installs updates in the background. Tiger’s Software Update would download the updates, then install them, then ask you to restart the computer (which you can do right then or ignore until you’re done working for the day). Leopard’s Software Update still downloads the updates in the background, but it doesn’t install them until you restart.

The difference is that Leopard installs the upgrades DURING the restart, so you cannot use the computer during the installation process. This can be annoying if one of the updates is a huge one that takes 10 minutes or longer to install (this is also not explained in the dialog box that asks about the restart – Leopard does ask if you want to restart, but it doesn’t mention that it might be a 20 minute restart). I suspect that Apple did this to increase stability, because not letting you use the computer during update installation prevents user errors that might crash the machine during the installation.

They now also insist on portables being plugged in during installation – did they have problems in Tiger and make Leopard’s behavior more conservative?

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