[vlc-devel] Future of the update mechanism

Rippit the Ogg Frog rippit at oggfrog.com
Thu Jul 30 09:30:45 CEST 2009


I usually lurk quietly in the background on this list, never uttering a 
word lest I reveal my hiding place, but I just *had* to speak up about this.

Automatic updates drive me absolutely bananas, and piss me off no end 
until I manage to figure out how to completely disable them.

Thunderbird and Firefox both update automatically by default, but don't 
say that they are doing so until it's too late to prevent it.  They only 
tell you that the update has *already* been installed and will run on 
their next launch, and not that they are about to download or install 
the update.

There are several problems with automatic updates:

Some people still have very limited, unreliable Internet connections. 
Consider someone using dialup from a remote rural location, with noisy 
telephone lines.  Their modem will have to run at a lower speed to 
ensure the reliability of the data it transfers.

If VLC decides to download an update for such a user, they will 
experience very poor network throughput during the download, without 
understanding what is going wrong.

In my particular case - and I do acknowledge that my situation is an 
uncommon one - I take care to download and permanently archive the 
installers for every single downloadable software package that I *ever* 
use.  I even download and permanently archive the installers for 
versions that I don't expect to *ever* use.

I still have some installers from the early 90's, that ran on the 
Macintosh System 7, for example.

The reason I go to all this trouble is that as a software developer, I 
have experienced all manner of bugs and incompatibilities in many of the 
programs I've used over my two-decade career.

Archiving all of the installer versions not only allows me to fall back 
to a previous release if I need to do so to avoid a bug that appears in 
a new version, but it also allows me to help out the community by 
testing for the bugs in each version, so as to determine when such bugs 
first appeared.

But an automatic download *won't* be downloaded to my archive!  When I'm 
notified that an automatic update has just taken place, once I pull my 
fist back out of my computer screen, I have to go and download the 
update *again* - but manually this time - so as to be able to archive it.

Finally, a situation that is unfortunately very common is that an 
automatic update gets distributed to end-users only to later discover 
that it contains some fatal flaw.  When that happens, the user's 
computer might be totally borked, and they don't have any obvious way to 
fall back to the previous version.

This has happened at least once with Windows Update, and Apple had to 
create and distribute a QuickTime "down-grader" because some new 
QuickTime version broke something really important.

Because there was no way for the user to manually remove the new 
QuickTime and re-install the old version, Apple had to go to all kinds 
of trouble, expense and embarrassment to create a package that would put 
the old version back in place.

I feel that it would be just great to notify the user that updates are 
available; I suggest that you implement that by providing an RSS feed 
from VideoLan.org, that contains only update notifications, with VLC 
itself being the "RSS Reader".

Each RSS entry would contain the download link, so that if the user 
*does* want to download the update, they could click a button - and have 
the update downloaded with their preferred web browser, rather than 
directly with VLC.

An added benefit of supplying the notifications as RSS is that one could 
subscribe to them with any RSS reader, and not just VLC.

That's what I plan to do with my own application, Ogg Frog.

I'll send you my bill in the mail. ;-D

Rippit the Ogg Frog
rippit at oggfrog.com

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