The holy trinity of constant updates: Adobe Reader, Java, & Flash. It’s like having three baby birds inside your computer constantly chirping, mouths open, wanting endless feeding.

What are they and do I really need to update them?

Let’s take them one at a time shall we:

Adobe Reader – The omnipresent PDF document or Portable Document Format. We’ve all seen them, read them, printed them, heck even created a few, and that’s just in the last 30 minutes. They are digital paper and they make the world go ’round. Contracts, leases, loan docs, brochures, menus, manuals, books, all in digital format, generally un-editable by design, and easy to email. If your fax machine hasn’t rung in a few years, thank PDFs. Adobe cornered the market on this idea many years ago and thus became the Kleenex of the virtual document world. Microsoft has tried to gain a toehold in this arena with its own XPS format but like on Discovery Channel after Shark Week, no one’s biting.

So when you are the main producer of of a certain type of file, you need to give everyone an easy and free way of opening them. Could you imagine the world with no bottle openers? It would be kinda like that. So our friends at Adobe have seen too it that their own Adobe Reader is implanted in every computer you buy.

Now when your the world’s only supplier of digital paper, and you make the premier tool used for looking at it, you have a big responsibility. Your stuff needs to work and be safe. The bad guys are always figuring out ways to load PDF documents with malicious scripts or nasty links and Adobe is constantly figuring out how to prevent that. That’s it in a nutshell. Around and around they go, when the updates will end, no one knows. But probably not any time soon. So I do like to keep my Adobe Reader fairly current, but please go to www.Adobe.com to do it. Don’t take candy from strangers and click on a popup window claiming it will update your reader, it won’t, and then you’ll be reading my posts about malware, or rather you won’t because your computer will become a very fancy paperweight.

 

Java – Does not come as a Venti with extra foam. In short it’s a programming language that a lot of developers use to make, well, programs. Now let us differentiate “Java” from “Java Script”, two different things here. Java Script is a website thing that your browser needs to worry about. Java is a programming environment that runs locally on your computer. This is the little orange box that cries at you from the lower right corner of the screen. Developers like it because it allows their programs to be cross platform, meaning a Java program can run in a Java environment on a Mac, PC, or Linux operating system. It’s like a plant bringing its native soil around with it wherever it wants to grow.

You might be saying “Well that sounds nifty but what real program runs like that?”. Ever hear of Minecraft? If you’ve been around anyone under the age of 14 in the last 5 years you have. OpenOffice is another biggie, a lot of local and web applications use it, maybe you use one, maybe you don’t. Some folks consider Java the bane of modern computing as it is a target for hackers, the installer comes with little jewels like Ask Toolbar, and the security patches are as frequent as a left turn at Daytona. Other computer types even recommend uninstalling it all together, and you certainly could, but first go Control Panel —> Java Control Panel —> Advanced Tab and disable Java first. Then take the computer for a spin and see if any of your programs or websites you usually use throw a fit, if not then you might do well to uninstall it.

I know that started touching the fringes of geekydom but for the brave I thought I should have gone there.

For most folks a periodic visit to www.Java.com and clicking the big Download Java button and installing it should suffice. Do un-check the “Also install Ask Toolbar” option please, we like our Java straight up, no foam.

 

Flash – Some of us expect to see the word Gordon after that, red capes and blond hair flowing in the space wind aboard cosmic jet-skis. Others may assume Dance comes next featuring a drenched, leg-warmered Jennifer Beals, what a feeling. This Flash will not inspire a musical anytime soon but it certainly has made the Internet more entertaining. Another entry from our friends at Adobe, Flash made a big splash on the web around the year 2000ish. Basically anything that moved on a website back then or looked “flashy” was probably Flash.

It was / is a proprietary format that allowed for some very sophisticated animation (vector based for us nerds) in very small file sizes. That was important back when our band was not that broad. Computers everywhere were still making sounds like an R2D2 mating call every time a modem fired up to check Radio Shack’s stock price.  Remember when every website you went to had an “exciting” intro screen? That was a must have in the day. If you didn’t peopled looked at your site like it’s fly was down. And it wasn’t just gussying up websites, Angry Birds was using it to knock pigs off buildings as soon as our cell phones became smart enough to waste even more of our time. Ok, enough nostalgia, you may have noticed the “was / is” several sentences back. I am alluding to the fact that Flash as we all came to know it is being slowly dismantled and replaced. Flash was becoming the media presentation format on the web and Apple among others did not like that, so they put their foot down, no YouTube videos of cats falling off tables for anyone with an iPad! The gauntlet had been thrown down. No real drama though, YouTube just switched to a new format called HTML5, iPads rejoiced, cats fell, on their feet, mostly.

Alas, the splashy, revolutionary new way to serve up eye-candy has been relegated from main course content to paltry side dishes of weight loss ads and “click here to reduce your mortgage” banners. Lately, not unlike leg-warmers, Flash has more fallen into the “fluff” category. But still, anything that get people’s attention on the web is sure to be used by bad people to do bad things. So updates come with the territory. Notice a common theme here? Adobe has its hands full I would say. As Windows and Apple keep “improving” their operating systems, and bad guys keep being bad, all of these ancillary programs have to keep compatible and safe if they want to hang on for the ride, even if the ride isn’t an awesome space jet-ski.

 

So what’s the take away here? Are these three mouths worth feeding? I think so. There is still a little more for them to do as technologies change and developers innovate. Keep them current but do not engage any update messages you see on your screen, rather get the updates from their respective websites:

  1. https://get.adobe.com/reader
  2. http://www.java.com
  3. https://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/

So feed them for a while longer, to me these three little birds are not yet ready to be kicked out of the nest just yet.