Mountain Lion's software updates are performed by the Mac App Store. When you select Software Update from the Apple menu in Mountain Lion, the Mac App Store will open and take care of the update process for you. So far, that's not a huge change, but Apple always adds a few surprises.
With the new Software Update system, you can not only specify whether your Mac should automatically check for updates, but also set up automatic downloads of the updates. You can even let your Mac install system and security updates on its own.
I'm glad to see Apple give users control over these new features. I like the idea of security updates being installed automatically. One of the big problems with security updates is that users forget about them, or put them off until later, and many Macs remain unprotected long after a security patch is made available. Having the option to install security updates automatically should lessen that problem.
I'm less enthralled that Apple included system updates in the same group as security updates. While I'm willing to let security patches be installed automatically, I'm not sure I want minor system updates pushed to my Mac and put in place at the same time.
Here's a simple example of why I'm concerned. A while ago, a printer update caused me to lose my ability to use a multifunction printer on my network. The printer is quite old (but it still works great), and the printer manufacturer has stopped supporting it. If I hadn't updated the printer driver, everything would still work. The problem was easily fixed by reinstalling the previous version of the printer driver; that's why I perform frequent backups, especially before I install system updates. But at least I can turn the auto install feature on or off. In Mountain Lion, it's all or nothing.
All of Mountain Lion's update options are available in the Software Update preference pane. I recommend taking the time to set it up to best serve your needs.
Software Update Settings
To control how updates are performed, do the following:
- Launch System Preferences, located in the /Applications folder, the Dock, or the Apple menu.
- Open the Software Update preference pane in the System area of the System Preferences window.
- You will find a few choices for handling updates. You make selections by placing or removing a check mark from the appropriate box.
- To make changes, you will need to open the Lock icon (if it isn't already open) by clicking the lock and providing your administrator password.
- Automatically check for updates: This is the default setting, and will allow your Mac to check once a week to see if there are new updates available. This option should be checked, to ensure your Mac is always up to date.
- Download newly available updates in the background: This allows updates to be downloaded to your Mac without asking for permission first. The updates aren't installed, only downloaded. When the updates have finished downloading, you will be presented with a notification, using Mountain Lion's Notification Center. I don't have any specific recommendation for this option; it's a matter of what you are comfortable letting your Mac do on its own.
- Install system data files and security updates: This option allows your Mac to install all system and security updates automatically. I wish Apple had handled system data files and security updates separately. Since this option allows the system to be updated even when the updates aren't security-related, I've turned this feature off. If you share your Mac with others, and you can't be sure how careful they are about browsing web sites or downloading items from the web, then I would leave the auto-install option enabled.
- Automatically download apps purchased on other Macs: I like this option. Since the Mac App Store opened, users have been allowed to install any app they purchase on any Mac they own or control. Putting a check mark in this box automates the process, and ensures that your Macs all have the same Mac App Store apps installed.
- Show Updates or Check Now: This button will display "Show Updates" if during the most recent update check, new updates were found to be available. Clicking "Show Updates" will open the Mac App Store and display the updates that are available for you.
The button will be labeled "Check Now" if during the last check no updates were found. Clicking the "Check Now" button will cause your Mac to check the Mac App Store for any new system, security, or app updates.
Make your choices, and then close System Preferences.