If you’re using any of the modern browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Edge, your browser is probably set to automatically update by default. Do these browser updates enhance or weaken user experience? It all depends on what the update includes. Such is the life of being a developer on the web.

browser udpates button

Automatic Browser Updates at ZingChart

I’m a Software Engineer at ZingChart. Our product is a JavaScript charting library that our customers use to render their charts and graphs on the web. Sometimes we’ll receive an issue reported from a customer saying, “Your charts stopped working on our site! What happened? Fix it!”

Naturally, we test the config the user supplied to us that did not render properly on their site. Many times, it works on our end. Why? It’s because Google, Mozilla, Microsoft or whoever just pushed an automatic browser update that borked our JavaScript code. Most of the time, the browser engineers remedy their bug rather quickly, but sometimes they simply do not and it is left to us, the web developers to find a way to work with browser quirks.

Tradeoffs of Auto-Updating Your Browser

signs to convey the tradeoff of automatic updates

Auto-updating your browser has pros and cons. Pros may include:

  • New features
  • Bug fixes
  • UI improvements

Cons may include:

  • Broken features
  • New bugs
  • Crippled UIs

As a user, I find it frustrating to install an update that breaks something that was previously working. And a developer, I find it frustrating to hear users complain about a broken website or feature (like charts) due to something out of the developer's control.

User's Point of View

As a user, the reaction of getting a browser update could be something like:

Yaay! My browser just got some bug fixes and maybe some new feature(s).

But the potential bad news for the user is that now when she navigates to her favorite blog channel the site could be down or disabled. Does the user consider her recent browser update as a reason for the malfunction? Probably not. Anecdotally, it seems like most users assume it is the content provider who is responsible.

Developer's Point of View

As a developer the good news is:

Great! Maybe now this will move some more users away from IE <= 7.

Bad news for this point of view is that without proper warning, you can be left cursing the browser developer.

Two Schools of Thought

Now that we’ve considered the pros and cons, the question is: to update or not to update?

This question is certainly not new. Some people love getting updates to their software, while others dread it or put it off for as long as possible. A typical view might say users must be the lovers, and developers the haters. But, there's a problem, I love getting updates, and I’m a developer. In fact, every morning I routinely do two things before I literally get out of bed:

  1. I read and/or delete all my emails so that my inbox size is zero.
  2. I check for updates and install them.

I love getting updates. To me it's like getting an expansion pack or DC for free.

I conferred with my fellow developers here at ZingChart and the results are split. So it might be less a question of point of view, and perhaps more a question of novelty. By novelty I mean that the non-updaters are prone to say things like:

If it ain’t broke, don't fix it.

or

Why should I change anything when I'm already comfortable?

The updaters are attracted to the novelty of getting shiny new things. As I said earlier, I love getting updates because it makes me feel like I'm upgrading or getting something new for free.

ZingChart Updates

Here at ZingChart we push updates every month or so. Sometimes, these updates fix issues caused by browser updates. But the point of this discussion is not to establish blame, rather to accept responsibility. As web developers, we sometimes lose touch with user perspective and the reverse is also true.

The Take-Away

What’s the point of this browser update discussion? Responsibility. While the responsibility falls on the developers to provide a website/application that is highly useable, it is the user's responsibility to understand that their browser affects the usability of that site or application.

To developers: ‘Embrace the ever-changing web climate’
To users: ‘Be mindful of the ever-changing web climate’

How do automatic browser updates make you feel? As a user or a developer. Share your favorite reaction gif with us in the comments below. To get the ball rolling, here's mine:

reaction giphy