Linux Mint Update Notifier

The Linux Mint folks are a tad better at usability than most distro maintainers. The Mint Update Notifier is useful and easy to use. The Notifier does not support automatic updates, but at least the tool is reasonably straightforward to use.

That is, at least for geeks and the technical savvy.

The Mint Notifier uses a system of levels. The levels are somewhat comparable to the Windows mechanism. In Windows there are security updates, important updates, and recommended updates.

While the Mint Notifier’s level system is explained in the app’s help documents, they are confusing to non technical users. The numerical rating and color code help, but still require a user to learn the level system rather than just use obvious terms like “security,” “important,” or “recommended.”

To non technical users these distinctions are irrelevant. Non technical users lack the skills and expertise to decide what to update. Nor do they care to learn. So they just update everything or they update nothing, both approaches born out of a “head in the sand” attitude.

The developer influence is noticeable with the Mint Notifier. Not just the numerical levels and color coding.

In a previous generation of the app, the Notifier conducted checks and informed users of updates after logging in. In the current form the Notifier does not check until a much longer delay. The reason for the change was to prevent an overload with desktop startup events.

The change caters well to users who are connected 24/7 or at least connected most of the day. The change does not bode well for nominal computer users. The much longer delay is also seen when the user opens the Notifier. The Notifier will inform the user the system is up to date, which is not necessarily the case as a Refresh often reveals. The effect is users could go days or weeks without updating security patches.

I work with people who are not connected 24/7. I know people who power on the computer only every few days. They check email and perhaps a Facebook page or two and then shut down. The computer is not a high priority in their lives. Just a tool and a nominal tool at that.

The solution is straightforward. Support both update behaviors.

A simple check box: “Check for updates upon startup.”

The term startup is more appropriate than the technically correct term login because many home and non technical users prefer auto-login. Thus they never “log in” to their computers. When enabled in this manner the Notifier reverts to the former behavior and checks for updates when starting the desktop, which includes auto-login. For non technical users, who rarely change the defaults, there is no overload during the desktop startup. Non technical users are then immediately informed of updates.

When the option is disabled the Notifier uses the current behavior and waits a much longer time to check for updates.

In Fedora and CentOS the yumex --update-only option checks for updates with the user’s defined startup delay preference, which defaults to 30 seconds. A second option determines how often thereafter to repeatedly check for updates. The default is 3 hours. This is how the Mint Notifier should function.

Developers are prone toward either-or decisions when making changes in software rather than supporting multiple options. These either-or decisions create inflexible software that enables one group of users at the expense and sometimes anger of other users. Often fellow geeks are the enabled users and non technical users are ignored.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General, Mint

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