Invisible Autoupdater: An App’s Best Feature

August 31, 2011

Ben Goodger, writing about Chrome:

Autoupdate is one of Chrome's killer features. It is magical because it continuously updates an entire development platform invisibly, frequently. Supporting it has driven how we structure our development processes. It was also one of Chrome's first features. Delving back into project history long before we launched publicly in 2008, the autoupdate project was one of the very first we started working on. The idea was to give people a blank window with an autoupdater. If they installed that, over time the blank window would grow into a browser. And today, some five years after our autoupdater started updating a mostly blank window that could barely load webpages, it is now an engine for delivering an incredibly sophisticated web technology platform onto our users' computers, which in turn allo

If I could start building ThinkUp all over again, I would've built its autoupdater first. No app should annoy users with the work of downloading and installing a new release; it's a big reason why app stores are a better way to get software. Speaking of, you should download ThinkUp beta 15 right now.

Amen, Chrome auto-updating is not only awesome for the users, it’s also great for web developers, since they don’t have to rely on users to update their buggy browsers, and therefor can rely a bit more on having the latest and greatest.

One of the reasons I love web apps so much is because there’s very little install (bookmark, initial load) and auto-updating whenever I start the app. I’m convinced that well-cached web apps are the future of all apps, including games and productivity workhorses like Photoshop or Office.

Pies [+11]
Aug 31 11 at 11:11 am

However, I think Auto-update should never install an update without expressed permission from the user.

Not to mention, a new version may alter features, and you may want to stick with an older version, Or one could be concerned about bugs in newer versions that would have to be worked out.

For example, if Lion on the MacOS was an automatic download instead of a choice to install., and suddenly you were stuck with all the interface changes with no option of staying with Snow Leopard.

For all the cries of “Walled Garden” true and false about iOS and MacOS, at least nothing installs via the app stores or system software update process unless you give permission.

Shawn Levasseur [+1]
Aug 31 11 at 11:22 am

“If I could start building ThinkUp all over again, I would’ve built its autoupdater first.”

This is intriguing. What this suggests to me is that a very useful tool for programmers (eg a framework or starter project) would be a well-designed autoupdater.

You start with that, and then your develop-test loop consists of visiting an installed instance of your app and triggering the autoupdate, to make sure that not only does your feature work, but it works after being deployed through the autoupdate mechanism.

Charlie O'Keefe [+1]
Aug 31 11 at 11:42 am

While Chrome is – and I do mean – *brilliant* design in a WEB browser, under to circumstances whatsoever, not by any means whatsoever and by no sense of the imagination, whatsoever; would I allow an automated process to install and/or change anything on my Macbook without out my express permission.

Robert Bigelow [+49]
Aug 31 11 at 11:56 am

The problem with auto-updating is the same as allowing beta software to ship–if you know that the worst thing to happen is that an issue will be auto-update fixed, you’re not as concerned about getting your software to a pure Gold state.

At least a few times, auto-updates of Chrome have mucked things up for me. Sometimes the only solution has been to switch to the beta or dev release for a little while.

nocturnal9 [+1]
Aug 31 11 at 1:43 pm

Gina, what are your thoughts on how the autoupdater would work on a web app like yours? Would you notify the user before? or would it be something like wordpress, where it notifies you, but you have to take action to update?

an
Sep 1 11 at 8:53 am

Not sure how it would work. Ideally it would work like Chrome does. Checking out prior art now.

Gina Trapani [+195]
Sep 1 11 at 9:04 am


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