I appreciate the fact that Apple provides a single updater for all their Windows software. It’s nice to consolidate things a bit with the profusion of updaters for what seems like each and every application (sort of like how every mobile device seems to need its own charger). But it has its flaws. I’ve mentioned some broken UI design, but the most annoying thing is that it tries to install new software instead of just updating what you have.

At work, I have QuickTime and Safari for development purposes. I don’t have iTunes. I don’t need it. I don’t even have speakers hooked up to the computer. But every time a new version gets released, it shows up in the Apple Software Update list, and I have to tell it to ignore it until the next time they update iTunes.

Now that Safari for Windows is out of beta, it’s doing the same with Safari*. And people are complaining. People like John Lilly, CEO of Mozilla, who sees it as an anti-competitive measure that dilutes users’ trust in software updaters.

Personally, I think there is a problem, but I hardly expected it to turn into the firestorm it has, with Asa Dotzler, c|net, digg, Techmeme, [edit] and now Slashdot, [edit 2] Daring Fireball and Wired (it just keeps going!), and dozens hundreds of commenters entering the fray.

There’s a simple solution, and it’s one of those rare cases where Microsoft gets something right in their software that Apple gets wrong.

  1. Create a separate section for software that isn’t already installed, and label it clearly. It can be in the same list, as long as there’s a separation and a heading.
  2. Leave the new stuff unchecked by default.
  3. Added: If set to check automatically, don’t pop up a notice more than once for each piece of not-installed software.

That’s it. Done. Apple still gets to leverage their installer to make people aware of their other apps, but there’s no chance of someone accidentally installing Safari (or iTunes) by accident because they didn’t read the list too closely. Take a look at Microsoft Update and how they (currently) offer Silverlight. It’s in a list of optional software, and it’s not checked until you choose it.

That’s all this really comes down to: sensible defaults and proper labeling.

Update: Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

*I have to admit getting a kick out of the title, “Apple pushes Safari on Windows via iTunes updater,” because my problem is that they’re pushing iTunes on Windows via their Safari updater. It’s a matter of perspective.

Reportedly the recording industry is still pressuring Apple to raise the prices on the iTunes Music Store. They don’t seem to understand that a big part of what made iTMS a success was the 99¢ price point. It’s sometimes cheaper than buying a CD, and more importantly, you can impulse buy at that price.

Steve Jobs seems to get it, though. He’s pointing out that higher prices will just drive people back to illegal downloading.

You know, when Napster announced its subscription music plan, I never gave it a second look. Not because I assumed it wouldn’t work with my Linux box or Katie’s Mac, but for one simple reason:

No matter how many songs you “buy” on the plan, once your subscription lapses, they’re all gone.

Want to stop paying $15/mo? Say goodbye to your music.

Napster goes out of business? Say goodbye to your music.

On the other hand, suppose I’ve bought a bunch of songs from iTunes at 99¢ each, and I decide I don’t want to buy any more from them? No problem. If the marketplace changes two years from now and Apple decides to abandon the iTunes music store, I can still listen to songs I bought from them.

Amazingly, some people still need this explained to them. John Gruber of Daring Fireball writes, “I thought this was obvious, but, judging by my email, there seems to be a fair amount of confusion…” Forget the math, do the logic first!

There is one flaw in Gruber’s logic regarding CDs vs. subscription music: while I expect CDs will be playable over the next decade or two, eventually they will go the way of vinyl records. However, if I were to bet, I’d expect my CD collection will be playable long after Napster To Go has, shall we say, gone.