Microsoft generally allows users to exercise a reasonable level of control over when and how updates are checked, downloaded and installed. However, most other software vendors have so far not followed Microsoft’s lead. Many will check for updates at the time of their choosing, regardless of what the user is doing at the time. This can be disruptive to a user who is trying to use their computer for productive work at the time, or who may be using the computer with a limited speed dialup or wireless connection when the update process is triggered.
For example, my personal firewall program now incorporates a spyware scanning facility that checks for updates daily. When this occurs, a performance hit can be felt and sometimes my cursor will disappear from the active window. When Microsoft releases its anti-spyware application next year, I’ll probably be running that too (since one anti-spyware program is not generally thought of as being enough) although hopefully its update function will be integrated with Windows Update.
One of the worst offenders, at least of the programs I use, is McAfee’s Anti-Virus which can significantly degrade performance when it runs. I can’t figure out why McAfee doesn’t: (i) provide an option to allow users to schedule updates during times of the day that may be less disruptive, (ii) wait until the computer is idle before commencing the update process, (iii) limit updates to just a small file which contains “updates” rather than re-downloading additional files which may have not changed, or (iv) check the connection speed to make sure I’m not on the road or otherwise have limited bandwidth when the update process is triggered. I don’t want to appear to be picking on McAfee as other antivirus vendors are not necessarily better at this.
Software vendors need to get their act together.