Banish briefly flashing Adobe update window in OS X

Background updater services showing up may be from duplicate launch agent scripts being used to handle them.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
3 min read

If you have installed Adobe software on your system, then you likely have installed various accompanying updaters that periodically check for updates from Adobe's support servers. These updaters should run seamlessly in the background; however, there are times when an odd configuration of them may result in annoying distractions.

This may particularly happen if you have updated your system with additional Adobe software, uninstalled and reinstalled (especially after restoring from a backup), or otherwise have modified your Adobe software installation. If affected, the problem may manifest as a brief display of an Adobe-related updater, and may even affect the focus of applications or otherwise interrupt your workflow.

MacFixIt reader Ed recently ran into such an issue:

While I am working in some application, a window pops open and quickly disappears. It looks like a Flash Player installer or a read-only installer disk image mounts and dismounts. It is there and gone so fast that I can't see well enough to read the item's file name. It is clearly a Flash Player icon. If I'm using an app like Word, typing something, it switches me to the Finder, then disappears and I find myself typing in the Finder. I have searched all over for the item with no luck.

Of course following notable malware outbreaks such as Flashback that have disguised themselves as Adobe software, whenever Flash- and Adobe-related oddities show up on a system, one suspicion folks might have is that some new, related malware may be at play. While not an invalid concern, another more likely issue is that some configuration error is resulting in the problem.

If for some reason the installation or updating of software goes awry, the system could be left in a configuration where it attempts to perform some final cleanup steps, and could be regularly launching a tool or helper to do so. Therefore, first I recommended to Ed to try reinstalling any recently installed Adobe software, including the latest version of Flash. However, this did not work, and the problem continued.

In looking closer at the problem, it was clear that the problem was being triggered on regular intervals and not in response to any specific task. At one point Ed could be using Word and have the problem appear, and at other times the problem could happen when using another program.

This behavior indicates that the problem was likely manifesting itself through launch agent scripts, which are methods that Apple and third-party developers can use for periodically running updaters and other routine tasks in the background.

Therefore, the next step was to check the contents of the following Launch Agent folders to see if any items in it looked suspicious or out of place:

Macintosh HD > Library > LaunchAgents
Users > username > Library > LaunchAgents

In addition to using the Finder to view the contents of these folders, the following Terminal command can quickly list them:

ls /Library/LaunchAgents ~/Library/LaunchAgents

After listing the contents of these folders, it was apparent that Ed's account Launch Agents folder (~/Library/LaunchAgents) contained three files of the following names:


These files are installed by Adobe Reader to run the automatic updater that's included with that program, and in checking the contents of each file it was apparent that they were all doing the exact same thing: targeting the program "Adobe Reader Updater Helper" and having it run every 12,600 seconds (3.5 hours) to check for updates.

Adobe updater helper launch agent script
The contents of the launch agents show they are all targeting the same "Adobe Reader Updater Helper" program and are doing so every 12600 seconds (3.5 hours). Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

While running this updater program under normal circumstances should not cause an issue, having three launch agents running it simultaneously will cause the system to schedule attempts to open and run the updater program at the exact same point in time.

Since the system will only allow one instance of this program to run at a time, the three simultaneous attempts may result in odd errors and perhaps could lead to the system switching application focus and flashing brief instances of the program's interface onscreen.

To fix this problem, all Ed had to do was remove two of the Launch Agent scripts, leaving only one to manage the updater, then simply log out and back in, or restart the computer. After doing this, the updater still runs in the background as it should, but it no longer switched application focus and interrupted his workflow.

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