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Not a Day at the Beach

As the heat index in New England once again gallops past a hundred degrees, I am safely ensconced in my basement, where the primary source of heat is my own agitation at yet another round of software upgrades. In this case, it was the Adobe Acrobat Reader, but it could just have easily been any of the several dozen applications I have on my system.

When I launched the Acrobat Reader, I got the notification that there was a new version available, and thought, What the heck, I have a few extra minutes this morning. Well, three reboots, one hung system, and one hour later, I finally had the latest version of the Acrobat Reader on my system. And somewhere in the interim, I rather forgot what I was going to do with it.

The disingenuous thing was that Adobe called two of the updates critical security releases. Sound familiar? (If not, I still have the Windows Genuine Advantage sitting in my Updates cache as a critical update). How could you not install that?

Now, I am not intentionally singling out Adobe; other software vendors engage in similar practices. And Adobe may well respond that the hour I spent upgrading is a trivial amount of time, especially when balanced against a more secure system. And within that company's microcosm, it is correct.

But multiply this experience by the thirty-seven applications I have on my system (I counted), and it has the potential to become a full-time occupation, or at least a significant drag on productivity. Yet it makes perfect sense from the standpoint of individual software companies, because taken individually, the effort is minor.

In 1968, Garrett Hardin published an essay in Science called "The Tragedy of the Commons" (, in which he postulated the then-radical notion that when resources were finite, each person pursuing their own self-interest in maximizing their individual return would in fact not even come close to maximizing the use of that resource for all. Applied to my situation, it stands to reason that software companies are engendering no good will by working to their own individual advantage.

My system is a Windows system, and my applications Windows (or Web) applications. I have limited recent experience with Linux and open source software. I wonder if the open source model is better at addressing the issue of finite end user resources. Any thoughts?

Posted by Peter Varhol on 08/02/2006

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