Yes, Software Update is important. Apple is constantly fixing bugs and security holes, so if someone has told you that you don’t need software updates from Apple, they’re wrong. Software Update will also give you new features in the new versions of system software and programs.
It’s like getting a letter from GM or Ford saying you need to take you truck into the dealer for an important warranty fix to the brakes or the ignition lock. For the most part, the car manufacturer knows what the problems are and how to fix them. So if there are system or security updates from Apple, it’s best to install them. At a minimum, software update will fix problems and glitches that effect the stability of your iMac. At most, security updates will fix problems that make you vulnerable to losing personal information.
If you need lots of updates, they will take some time to download, especially if you’re on dial-up. But you can start with the most important, such as system software updates and security updates.
And it’s a good idea to restart before you run Software Update to be sure no other programs are running. And don’t run other programs while Software Update is running.
The best sequence is to restart your Mac, run Software Update, restart if needed, and then run Software Update again.
Once you’re in the Software Update window, select the system software updates, such as the updates for that will get your system software up to 10.3.9 , 10.4.11 or 10.5.6. Uncheck all other updates and run just the update for OS X.
You’ll need to restart after those, and you might hear your Mac restart a second time, by itself, but that’s OK. After the big OS X updates, run the security updates. They will all be called “Security Update,” and they’re important to have.
Sometimes a system update will have a security update built in, so you might see fewer security updates after a system update. But run the security updates, and then other updates, such as Java, Airport updates and battery updates.
There can be multiple Java updates, too. Once you install one Java update, there can be another one to do. If you’ve haven’t updated in a while, you’ll need to run Software Update a number of times to get all the system, security and Java updates in the right sequence.
Last, update applications – such as iWork and iLife, Safari, and others. You can even hide certain updates, too. If you’re happy with iTunes, you can choose to not update to the latest. But realize that some applications have security problems, and you can be at risk if you don’t update critical programs such as Safari, Mail and internet related applications.
You can also turn on automatic downloading in the Software Update Control panel. Then your Mac will download updates in the background and let you know when they’re ready to install. If you don’t want to do that, run Software Update (from under the Apple menu) once a month.
If you’re technically adept, you can download the updates by themselves and then start up from your system DVD or an external drive and repair permissions and do other system maintenance before you update. Nothing like that is really required for the casual user. You can download updates directly without using the built in Software Update, but you may miss something; all Apple Software Updates are here.
And, if you know for sure that you don’t need a particular update, you can highlight that update in the Software Update window and go to the “Update” menu and select “Ignore.” You can also download updates without installing them – from that same menu – if you want to install them manually.
Be aware that Software Update won’t help with updating from 10.3 to 10.4, or 10.4 to 10.5. Those require full upgrades of OS X, which require a new DVD from Apple. A full upgrade can be a good idea, too, for an older iMac or Powerbook, for the best in security and working reliability.
If you do an upgrade from 10.3 or 10.4 to 10.5, it’s best to archive your files and erase the hard drive and start fresh with a clean install of 10.5.
But for most users, running Software Update right from the Apple menu is fine and will help with bug fixes, new features and security patches.