Q. Most technical advice always seems to include “make sure you’re running the latest version of the operating system,” but I’ve sometimes done just that and the update has rendered my device inoperable. How does this happen, and is there a way to tell what updates aren’t going to hurt my system?
A. Software updates are released to plug up security holes, add new features and fix bugs in earlier versions. The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and Apple’s November iOS 11.1.1 patch (to fix an autocorrect glitch that turned the letter I into the letter A next to a symbol) are just two recent examples of the code that developers regularly push out to customers.
Updates gone wrong have plagued users across most software platforms over the years. A misbehaving update can be pinned to a number of reasons, including insufficient testing by the developer or sloppy coding. Variables on the user end — like a certain combination of existing software apps and hardware conflicting with the update — have also caused significant problems.
While it is impossible to predict exactly how a specific update will work (or not) on every single computer or mobile device out there, there are some precautions you can take, even if your system is set up to install updates automatically. For one, keep your computer or device backed up regularly. That way, you always have a fairly recent copy of your files and software in case you have to revert if an update bricks your hardware.
As a recent Tech Fix column suggested, starting fresh by backing up all your files, erasing the drive, installing an operating system update and then restoring your files to the new system (also called a “clean install”) can sometimes help you avoid problems. Older files or bits of previous systems can hinder an update if you just installed it on top of everything else. A clean install takes more time and is not as convenient, but it does give your system a new start.
When updates, especially major ones, are announced, holding off for a few days and reading the user experiences posted in online technical forums and blogs can help you get an idea of how well an update works. Thurrott.com, iLounge and AndroidPIT are some of the many sites that report on the technical issues concerning software updates.