Windows Update versus Ubuntu Update

Windows Update versus Ubuntu Update

Summary: A few months ago, Steve Ballmer publicly noted that Windows Vista was “a work in progress.” That inspired a predictable outpouring of Vista-bashing. After all, look how many updates Windows Vista has had since it was first released. Obviously, it was a disaster, or there would have been no need for that many updates, right? Why couldn’t Microsoft get it right the first time? The reality? All modern operating systems used as mainstream business and consumer platforms are “works in progress” and require frequent updates to fix bugs and resolve security issues (and occasionally to add features). That point became abundantly clear to me over the weekend as I updated a pair of Linux-based virtual machines. Want to guess how many updates each one required after only 51 days?

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A few months ago, Steve Ballmer publicly noted that Windows Vista was “a work in progress.” That inspired a predictable outpouring of Vista-bashing. After all, look how many updates Windows Vista has had since it was first released. Obviously, it was a disaster, or there would have been no need for that many updates, right? Why couldn’t Microsoft get it right the first time?

The reality? All modern operating systems used as mainstream business and consumer platforms are “works in progress” and require frequent updates to fix bugs and resolve security issues (and occasionally to add features). Many of those bugs and security issues don’t surface until the code gets deployed widely, and even then it sometimes takes detective work to figure out where the actual problem is. Presumably, the big issues get worked out within a few months, and the pace of updates drops off (but not to zero).

I thought about this over the weekend when I opened up a Hyper-V virtual machine running Ubuntu Linux 8.04. This was a plain-vanilla install of Ubuntu, with no additional software except what is included with the downloaded distro. I had last used this VM 51 days earlier, at which point the OS release was about a month old. At that time, it was completely current with patches and updates, and I hadn’t reopened it since. (A side note: My Ubuntu and OpenSUSE 11 installations on this Hyper-V server were exceptionally easy and performance is excellent. I'll be migrating my Fedora installation from Virtual PC 2007 to Hyper-V and adding an OpenBSD machine on this platform as well.)

I expected that I would have to install a few updates. But I was surprised to see how many.

When the system finished resuming from its saved state and landed at the desktop, I clicked the Update button and was greeted with this dialog box:

Ubuntu Update Manager restart required

This was surprising. Every time I write about Windows Update I invariably get complaints from people about how how annoying it is to have to reboot after Windows updates and how Linux almost never requires a reboot. That’s often accompanied with a bit of bragging about uptime: “I’ve been running for 210 days without a reboot!” Apparently, I had installed some updates the last time and had hibernated instead of restarting. My mistake. After shutting down and restarting the virtual machine, I opened Ubuntu’s Update Manager and clicked the Check button.

Ubuntu Update Manager 198 updatesThere were 24 “Important security updates” on the list, plus another 172 “recommended updates” and 2 “distribution updates.” All apparently released in the 51 days since I last used this machine. The Update Manager dialog box indicated that I needed to download a total of 231.2 MB, and the whole process took more than 45 minutes. Remember, that was for less than two months’ worth of updates on an operating system that was released only three months ago.

When the update was complete, I got another “Restart Required” message.

Oh, and each time I used the Update Manager the screen background dimmed and I had to provide an administrator’s password in this dialog box:

UbuntuÂ’s version of UAC?

Looks an awful lot like a UAC prompt in Windows Vista, doesn’t it?

After I finished with these systems, I dusted off a VM running Fedora 9 that had also gone unused for 50-some days. Here’s what it needed:

Fedora 9 requires 238 updates in 51 days

Yowza! That’s 20% more than Ubuntu needed. The entire update process, download included, took roughly two hours.

(And yes, I know that the update packages offered here include support for applications that are installed with the OS. Roughly 20 updates were for OpenOffice.org, and two were for Firefox. Some of them were listed as security updates, which I presume means they fix bugs that represent a threat to my online safety. All those applications were part of the default OS installation, and the updates are selected in the Update Manager window by default.)

OS X Leopard has had its fair share of bug fixes as well, with four major updates in its first eight months of existence, or the equivalent of a service pack every two months. The first couple of update packages fixed what appeared to be some fairly serious bugs and performance issues, and every one has been chock-full of critical security fixes. Because the updates are cumulative, they get bigger with each new release, with the June 30 Leopard 10.5.4 update clocking in at 561MB. If you had said yes to each of those four update packages, you would have downloaded and installed more than 1.5GB worth of bug fixes. (By contrast, the standalone installer for the x86 Vista SP1 is 434MB.) With that volume of fixes, I think it's reasonable to call Leopard a "work in progress."

How does Windows Vista compare using the same metric? I found a Hyper-V VM that had last been updated on May 18, the same week as the two Linux machines. This virtual machine, running Windows Vista Ultimate, had Service Pack 1 installed but had missed two full months’ worth of Patch Tuesday deliveries from Microsoft. When I ran Windows Update, here’s what I saw:

Windows Update offers 11 updates in 53 days

I found it noteworthy that only Important and Recommended updates are installed by default. Those 43 optional updates were just that - optional - and they would not be installed without my explicit selection If that number seems high, there's a reason: This machine is running Windows Vista Ultimate edition, which allows the installation of support for other languages. Of those 43 updates, 38 consisted of language packs and Ultimate Extras (a poker game, the DreamScene screen saver, and so on). If this machine had been running any other edition of Windows Vista, there would have been no more than five optional updates, including the Windows Junk Mail filter and a couple Media Center fixes.

I originally set up this system on April 2, using installation media with Service Pack 1 integrated into it. In the 100 days since then, the Windows Update log shows I have downloaded and installed every available Important and Recommended update, 46 in all. Of those, 8 were definition updates for Windows Defender, 3 were updates to the junk mail filter for Windows Mail, and 5 were monthly updates to the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool.

My point here is not to bash Ubuntu or Fedora (or OS X, which, unfortunately, I haven’t tested because Apple will not allow me to install it on any computer I own). Far from it. I found the update process in both of these Linux distros to be fairly straightforward and clean, with just a few confusing options that I was able to figure out after minimal research.

I think it’s perfectly reasonable for a modern operating system to require frequent updates and to improve over time. In the case of Windows Vista, a year’s worth of updates and hotfixes and driver updates, many of them rolled into Service Pack 1, have resulted in an operating system that is markedly better than the one that was released to retail customers on January 30, 2007. The pace of updates has slowed, as expected, and as I assume it will with the two Linux distros I looked at here.

In short, the “work in progress” has actually produced results.

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Open Source, Software, Windows

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327 comments
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  • They'll find some reason why Windows is worse.

    Just watch and enjoy their spin.
    ye
    • You have to concede...

      Having an update system that updates every application is superior to the ecosystem where every application has their own update mechanism (and often lack thereof).

      Now, on the volume, well, that's the nature of open source. It is being developed at an incredible pace, and as patches are available, poof, they are pushed out. Is this superior to patch Tuesday, both have their merits. (incremental daily vs larger once a month).

      Another two points, most people use their computers more than once ever couple of months, so the large number of patches is not as obtrusive and Ed probably had a kernel update requiring the reboot. Alas, Linux can't hot swap the kernel. I tell my users however, you don't have to reboot now, it (to date, 11 years) is fine to just reboot/shut down at the end of the day.

      Is the above spin, I don't think so, I have never been on MS or Open Source or Apple for updates, updates are good.

      TripleII
      TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
      • No, I do not.

        [i]Having an update system that updates every application is superior to the ecosystem where every application has their own update mechanism (and often lack thereof).[/i]

        I think there are pros and cons to each method. Likewise "every application" is defined as those the community as a whole has decided to include.

        [i]Another two points, most people use their computers more than once ever couple of months, so the large number of patches is not as obtrusive[/i]

        I don't believe his point was to imply the number was intrusive. The number was given to show that Linux is a work in progress.

        [i] tell my users however, you don't have to reboot now, it (to date, 11 years) is fine to just reboot/shut down at the end of the day.[/i]

        The same applies to Windows as well.

        [i]Is the above spin, I don't think so, I have never been on MS or Open Source or Apple for updates, updates are good.[/i]

        Then you're not the one my comment is directed at.
        ye
        • Then who is the comment directed at?

          [i]Is the above spin, I don't think so, I have never been on MS or Open Source or Apple for updates, updates are good.

          [b]Then you're not the one my comment is directed at. [/b][/i]

          Most Ubuntu users are aware of the number of updates they receive since almost every piece of software on the system is updated through the same channel. As a matter of fact one just popped up while I'm typing this.

          You click the icon take a glance and click update. It runs in the background and you can go back to work. I don't think I have seen anyone talk about Windows updates except Windows users complaining that something broke or some update that they denied was applied anyway. Most Ubuntu users are happy to see bug fixes and new features being installed.
          storm14k
          • It's aimed at those who will spin a difference between the two even...

            ...though there isn't one.
            ye
          • Re: Then who is the comment directed at?

            [i]I don't think I have seen anyone talk about Windows updates except Windows users complaining that something broke or some update that they denied was applied anyway.[/i]

            I called my ISP's tech support over the weekend. There was a canned message about a Windows update that broke connectivity and recommending turning off your firewall.

            BTW - Ye doesn't direct his comments at real people, but at some imaginary composite of fringe anti-Windows bigotry and zealotry.






            :)
            none none
          • Ye looking for red herrings where they don't exist...

            [i]BTW - Ye doesn't direct his comments at real people, but at some imaginary composite of fringe anti-Windows bigotry and zealotry.[/i]

            True that.

            What would be more substantial would be to compare the amount of XP patches vs. Vista patches over the same period of time and see if there are substantially fewer of them.

            Work in progress is irrelevant when you consider Vista is supposed to be the 'superior' OS and we would all like to believe the amount of patches for it would be lessened.
            hasta la Vista, bah-bie
          • You mean like this?

            http://blogs.zdnet.com/Bott/?p=320

            "What would be more substantial would be to compare the amount of XP patches vs. Vista patches over the same period of time and see if there are substantially fewer of them."

            I did exactly that. Go read it!
            Ed Bott
          • October 31st, 2007??

            C'mon Ed...


            ;)
            hasta la Vista, bah-bie
          • Nine months after release of Vista

            Seems pretty reasonable. Maybe I'll repeat for the nine months since then, but I suspect the results will be the same.
            Ed Bott
          • Well you're about due, Ed...

            It's now the middle of July.... Let's see if you're right

            ;)
            hasta la Vista, bah-bie
          • But Microsoft doesn't bother with patches

            There are many known flaws in Windows that Microsoft has not patched for months, sometimes years. Keeps the number of patches down for Ed.

            Linux and Unix (OS X) have a commitment to security, so they produce patches as soon as a flaw is found. They have a reputation to maintain for security, and take it seriously.

            Microsoft also has a reputation, but unfortunately, it is for insecurity. They are doing their best to maintain it.
            jorjitop
          • Shellshocked...?

            I'd just like to make one comment on Mac's updating policy. Look at the below links, specifically their edited dates.

            http://support.apple.com/kb/HT6495
            http://www.ubuntu.com/usn/usn-2362-1/

            Mac DIDN'T EVEN LET ITS USERS KNOW WHAT SHELLSHOCK WAS until AFTER they released the patch and waited a little while.
            OK, my rant is over. Overall, Mac is pretty good at updates -- except crucial security ones.
            Atutouato
          • And that sums it up.

            [i]
            BTW - Ye doesn't direct his comments at real people, but at some imaginary composite of fringe anti-Windows bigotry and zealotry[/i]

            It looks like ye and Ed were both trolling for flames on something the "zealots" never talked about to begin with. It looks more like their finding their own faults and trying to beat people to the punch lmao.
            storm14k
          • Oh they're real alright.

            [i]BTW - Ye doesn't direct his comments at real people, but at some imaginary composite of fringe anti-Windows bigotry and zealotry.[/i]
            ye
          • The update process with Ubuntu is far more

            comforting than Window Vista. It is easy and straight-forward. Window Vista updates often go into black screen for longer than 30 seconds or more at time and this would definitely instill unnecessary anxiety for those who are not used to the procedure.
            yschoo1
          • No, WU does not go to a black screen. (nt)

            .
            ye
          • Update Processwith Ubuntu...

            Whose Windows Vista are you using. I have never had my screen go black during updates. A wise person would set updates to automatic and at a time when he/she is sleeping, or what ever. Before I went with automatic up dates with windows Vista (just like Ubuntu) I got a notice icon/button/area,etc. In Vista I clik on the button, confirm I want the update, and the button automatically restore to the task bar, and I can continue what ever i was doing.

            I Ubuntu, I have wait until the updates finish. I like vista updates best!
            eargasm
        • Look at the framework, not just the repository

          [i]Likewise "every application" is defined as those the community as a whole has decided to include.[/i]

          If you are an application developer and one or more Linux distros won't include your application in the main repository, the framework exists so that you can create your own alternate repository. Then the user just has to have their apt-get, rpm, portage, or whatever update program they use to look at the alternate repository as well as the main one.

          Microsoft Update does not have such a mechanism to allow third parties to set up an alternate repository and allow users to use them at their discretion. I don't see how that can be spun as a "pro" if adding repositories is done at the user's discretion.
          Michael Kelly
          • Microsoft has a framework too.

            I see no reason why Microsoft couldn't use WU to supply 3rd party updates as well. As a matter of fact they already do so to a degree with driver updates.
            ye