First time checking out this series? You’ll get the most value by starting at the beginning, however you can also use the series overview if you’d like to go buffet style.
Note for regular readers, the already tech savvy, and IT professionals: this series is designed as a resource you can share with those you are helping or for those looking to become tech savvy on their own.
Updating software on your Mac
Background, Expectations, & Best Practices
Staying up to date with software can sometimes be a confusing and frustrating task, these issues are usually caused by the various ways that different software is designed to update and where it was installed from. The good news is that Apple is continually improving how updates happen. With its latest operating system, macOS Sierra, there are some sharp features to make updating software more smooth and seamless. This won’t apply in all instances, but still helps provide an overall improved user experience.
First, let’s define some of the vocabulary we’ll be using. We’ll refer to software as the applications (programs), operating system (macOS) and other operating information used by your Mac hardware. In the last several years using app (short for application) has become more common than using program when referring to software. We’ll define apps as computer software designed and written to fulfill a particular purpose.
There are different ways to install and update apps on your Mac, the most common ways are the Mac App Store, within the app itself, or the web. Less commonly you may see apps that are loaded from flash drives or CD’s.
Concerns about updates
A common concern that is often shared is that updating apps and especially operating systems will cause a problem. Often times this fear is caused by the past experience of an issue after doing an update or hearing stories from others. This is definitely up to personal preference, but here are a couple of things to keep in mind…
App and operating system updates typically provide bug fixes, security updates, and introduce new features. While it’s possible that installing an update may cause an issue, it’s also possible that not installing the update could cause problems. This is a good reminder that anything can fail and you should have a backup strategy in place. Even robust systems that power the internet like Amazon Web Services can and do fail.
As a general rule of thumb, I typically install updates as soon as they are available. However, if you’re a bit more hesitant, you can wait a week or two to see if others run into any problems and then continue on performing updates. Just don’t wait too long as this can cause more security and compatibility issues the longer you postpone.
From my experience there seems to be a bit more anxiety with software updates for iPhones than Macs. This is likely because we rely on our smartphones so much and it can feel crippling to not have our primary communication device functioning normally.
Next week we’ll dive into updating software on iOS (iPhone and iPad) in particular. Another way to think about updates is it’s like driving a car. The possibility of being in an accident doesn’t stop you from traveling in your vehicle, you just likely use your safety belt, have insurance, and drive intentionally to reduce the risks.
Let’s dive deeper and look at updating within macOS and the App Store and then we’ll take a look at updating within apps and through the web. Follow along to build experience, exposure, and confidence with updating apps.
The App Store in macOS
To launch the App Store, click the blue, round icon with the ‘A’ in your Dock (if you don’t see the icon in your Dock, click on Finder → Applications → App Store). As shown in the photo below, you’ll notice the red badge with a number when updates are available.
When you first open the App Store it will show you the Featured page. In the top middle area of your screen, click on Updates. Now your screen should look like the image below.
At the top of the window you’ll see the updates that are available to install. The App Store in macOS will automatically let you know when updates are available, but it won’t install them without your authorization (you can also change these settings, which we’ll get to in a moment).
If you have multiple updates available you can click Update All in the top right hand corner, or choose to update individual apps. Note that the description will share what the update includes, click More to see the full details.
Below your available updates you’ll see Updates Installed in the Last 30 Days. macOS system updates, Apple applications, and any third-party apps downloaded from the App Store will show up here. You can click on Purchased in top area of the App Store window to see all of your purchases (which includes free downloads as well).
To look at or change your macOS and apps update settings, click on App Store in the menu bar and then click Preferences…
You’ll now be able to make sure your settings are to your liking. Even if you check off all the boxes and allow macOS and the App Store to automatically check for and download updates, you’ll still be notified and have to authorize their installation. But again, these settings will come down to your personal preferences.
Below the update preferences you’ll notice a manual Check Now button that you can use in conjunction with the auto-check for updates feature or use on its own if you prefer to turn that feature off.
The current macOS version is Sierra, if you notice that you’re not on Sierra, it is a free update from the App Store. Sometimes with older Macs the newest operating system may run a bit slower, but as an example my parents are running Sierra on a 2009 iMac with solid performance. Apple does a fantastic job optimizing macOS with their hardware.
If you’d like to install macOS Sierra you can check your Mac against the operating system requirements (click on the in the top left corner → About This Mac to see your Macs details). If you’d like to move forward, pull up Sierra on the App Store.
Don’t forget to backup your Mac before installing a new operating system. Click on Featured in the top middle area of the App Store window and then look on the middle right hand side for macOS Sierra.
Now you’ll be able to download Sierra. Note that downloading the new macOS operating system won’t automatically install it, you can do that whenever you’d like.
As you can see, when you choose to download your applications through the App Store it makes the process of updating much easier and more organized. Another benefit of utilizing the App Store is that Apple vets and approves all the apps available so you can rest assured that they are safe and work as described.
Some app developers will offer downloads through their website and the App Store, only the App Store, or sometimes only through the web. Let’s take a look at updating an app that didn’t come from the App Store.
Updating apps downloaded from the web
The first example we’ll look at is a piece of third-party software that I had to download from Logitech’s website for my wireless mouse (far and away the best I’ve used). Because I downloaded it directly from the manufacturer I can’t use the App Store to help with updates. The following will apply to most apps you download from the web but may vary a bit app to app…
Click on the application name in the menu bar (top left) and look for Update Software. You’ll find it there in many applications, but you’ll notice below it’s not showing up for this application.
The next step is to look for settings or something similar in the application window. In this case Logitech has placed the update settings under the More button.
You’ll notice on the right hand side in the image above that I have the option for the Logitech app to auto-check for updates as well as a manual button. When an update is available, here is what it looks like…
Even though the updates don’t come through the App Store, third-party update notifications still come through the macOS system, and give an option to Close and skip or install the update. This particular app update does so directly to the app and doesn’t include any downloads or files in your Downloads folder. Let’s look at one last example where the update process is a bit clunkier.
Adobe Flash Player
Some applications like Adobe’s Flash Player may redirect you to the their website to download an update. This type of update also usually includes downloading a .dmg (disk image) mounting it, installing the update, un-mounting the .dmg and deleting the download.
Taking the time to follow the steps below will make sure you stay up to date with your apps as well as making sure your downloaded files don’t pile up. Here’s what this process looks like:
Once you’ve click the download link or button on the website (make sure it’s a legitimate site) you can click on the down arrow with small status bar icon in the top right corner in Safari (in Chrome it’s in the bottom left corner) and you’ll see the progress of the download.
When the download is complete, you can find it in your Downloads folder. By default this is the right hand side of your Dock. You can also find it by clicking on Finder and then Downloads.
Double-click on the file you downloaded (it will usually have install in the file name and have a .dmg file extension). After double-clicking the .dmg (disk image) it will mount and you should see it appear in the upper right hand corner of your screen and you should see a new window open with an install package/icon.
Double-click on the Install Adobe Flash Player or similar icon that you see with the software you’re updating.
macOS will ask you to verify that you’d like to open the installation application and provide information of the source, click Open.
Next, click INSTALL to complete the update.
The last step of this particular process includes choosing future update preferences. Allow Adobe to install updates (recommended) was the default, but prefer to use the Notify me to install updates option. Click DONE to complete the process. Here are the last two steps…
Right click on the mounted disk image like the picture shows above and click Eject “Flash Player.”
The last step is to delete the installation download. Right click on the file, and click Move to Trash. Alternately you can left click to select the file and then use the keyboard by pressing ⌘ command – delete.
After going through these three different ways to check and perform updates, you should be able to tackle any updates that you encounter. Because you might not have updates to take care of now, it may be helpful to bookmark this article and return to it when needed.