Must-have feature for web-apps: auto-update.

It’s been a pet-peeve of mine for some time now that creators of web-apps (like myself) haven’t been holding ourselves to the same standards as creators of desktop apps. One of the major justifications for calling our products “applications” (as opposed to just “really good web sites”) is that we’re claiming you get the same level of functionality as a comparable downloadable desktop version.

Currently this just isn’t the case. When is the last time you went through the following process to update a program on your desktop:

  1. Check the creator’s website frequently to see if there are updates
  2. If there is an update, cialis 40mg go through a directory of a bunch of different versions and figure out which one you want since “most-recent” and “stable” are almost always different versions
  3. Download the files
  4. Unzip the files into a separate folder
  5. Make backups of your existing installation if desired
  6. Copy the files from the new folder into your existing installation

Seriously? This may look absurd to most users (I hope it does), diagnosis but this is exactly the status quo for updating web-apps. I don’t know of a single web-app with acceptable update abilities. The closest thing is the DreamHost one-click-installs/updates of applications, but that’s something they have to write themselves for each app and isn’t part of the applications themselves.

I recently found out that I’m not alone in desiring this: it is currently the most-requested idea on WordPress Ideas site (which is like Motive Suggest for WordPress).

It’d certainly be complex to write an auto-updater since there are so many different systems the apps can be installed on. However, desktop installers were never easy to write either and we’ve come to expect them. My suggestion is that web-apps have one setting that allows complete auto-updates (but this option is disabled by default). The more normal use-case would be that the app checks a webservice to figure out if it’s up to date. If not, a very visible “upgrade now” button would be shown to the administrators when they log in. This button could be highlighted yellow for normal updates and red for security-critical updates. For extreme security-crucial updates, the app could actually email its administrators to notify them that there is a critical update and should have a link to kick off the upgrade. Since each version of the app itself is sending this alert, the administrators don’t have to join anyone’s mailing list to get these alerts (so they maintain their privacy).

Just a thought. I’m anxious to release a downloadable framework now just so I could include updating and hopefully start a trend (OffhandWay, MotiveSuggest, SiloSync?). Also, if you see instances of this type of feature in the wild, please let me know!

One thought on “Must-have feature for web-apps: auto-update.

  1. For what it’s worth, WordPress (which definitely isn’t the pinnacle of software development) is moving towards integrated update capabilities. It exists now for plug-ins, which is a move in the right direction. It also currently notifies you when there is a new version available as well.

    Personally, I’d rather do the install manually taking all possible precautions than have my web-app try and do it for me… only to find that it failed and needs to be done manually anyway.

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