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I've been wondering about this for some time:

What is the technical reason behind operating system updates on Windows (XP ... Win7) typically taking much longer to install than updates on Mac OSX?

From my experience, Windows updates take anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour (or more for service pack updates). OSX updates are most of the time done in maximum 5 to 10 minutes, without too much variation.

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I've had this observation too, but I figured it was unfair because my Windows machines are generally older and slower than my Macs. Do you have reason to believe this speed disparity exists on evenly-matched hardware? –  Spiff May 11 '11 at 14:06
    
@spiff: yes, i've found that on a one year old Windows 7 laptop updates are slower than on a 3 year old bottom-en iMac (basically a vertical laptop) –  Rabarberski May 11 '11 at 20:01
    
Can someone who owns a modern Intel Mac comment on relative update speeds on the same computer? –  CarlF May 18 '11 at 19:06

3 Answers 3

One reason is that Windows machines typically create a restore point prior to patching the system, which can impact the amount of time required to update.

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My impression was that this was the main difference - Windows XP updates were not nearly as slow as Windows updates nowadays, as update.exe did not do system restores for each update. –  Nacht Oct 24 at 5:28

I'm not sure if this is a factor in performance, but Apple tends to consolidate multiple MacOS fixes into single OS update items more often, and Microsoft leaves a long long time between service packs, and so there are more individual little updates to do each time you update.

Aside: If your 3-year old bottom end iMac is at least an iMac G5 (released in 2004), then it's a desktop in the one respect that counts: it came with a 7200 rpm 3.5-inch hard drive. Even today's $1000 laptops still usually come with a 5400 rpm drive.

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Mac, being unix based, is broken down into smaller parts then Windows. When a part needs fixed on Windows, therefore, it is a larger download and bigger consumption of time since only parts can be replaced and not just specific fixes in most cases.

You can think of it like a car. If a car is one giant chunk that can't be taken a part it will take a large investment to fix. If, however, the car is composed of many small parts with easy access when something breaks you can quickly and simply replace the small part.

There are other factors, however such as sheer number of fixes as well.

I find the same true with Ubuntu, even though I get a lot of updates for programs and the OS, they are all tiny in comparison.

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Sounds reasonable, though I don't consider the download time in my question. I'll modify it to make that clearer. –  Rabarberski May 18 '11 at 19:45
    
@Rabarberski The point is the size of the patches. It takes a lot longer to move a 1gb file then a 1mb file even if they are both already downloaded. –  Jeff F. May 18 '11 at 19:46
    
On a second thought, I would say that the size of the updates is roughly the same on both systems (just a unconfirmed feeling), so I am not sure about your argument any more... iTunes updates on OSX for example are huge (although not really an OS update). But the security updates on OSX can be very big on OSX as well (100 MB) –  Rabarberski May 18 '11 at 19:47

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