Mac downloading Install-Monterey app, when I did not ask for it…

Nope. This is the only place I’ve seen this, however I went into the Date & Time Control Panel, deleted the Short Date layout and re-entered it (since that was how the messed up dates seemed to be formatted). When I closed the panel, the dates adjusted themselves properly. So you were right that something had gone buggy on that preference.

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… and a few weeks later, Apple blew away my read-only text file and put yet another copy of the Monterey installer in my /Applications folder.

This game isn’t fun. The people at Apple who think it is should have their collective heads examined. Going to war with your customers is not the way to convince them to use your product.

How does Apple actually achieve that? Does Software Update operate as root?

Maybe. Or it runs from an account in the “admin” group - which has write access to /Applications.

It probably needs to be in that group, since it installs software.

In addition to the chmod, try:

$ sudo chflags uchg,schg "/Applications/Install macOS Monterey.app"

I haven’t tried that (my system doesn’t seem to download it, just natter about it) so no guarantees, but worth a shot.

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The problem with flags like this is that they don’t prevent deletion of the file. The permissions on its containing directory (/Applications) control that, and I really don’t want to make that entire folder read-only.

If by “prevent” you mean that Software Update can’t override them, you’re right, it could easily turn them off just like it overrides a 444 mode, but it might not. If you mean the flags don’t prevent deletion if they’re on, they seem to (on Mojave at least):

$ echo hello >x
$ rm x
$ echo hello >x
$ sudo chflags uchg,schg x
Password:
$ rm x
override rw-r–r-- blm/staff schg,uchg for x? y
rm: x: Operation not permitted
$ rm -f x
rm: x: Operation not permitted
$ sudo rm -f x
rm: x: Operation not permitted
$ sudo chflags nouchg,noschg x
$ rm x
$

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I accidentally downloaded Monterey on my laptop a while back, but thought it it went away of was deleted. Now I found a Install Monterey on the laptop dated April 27, when I know I didn’t download it. The new date implies something new happened yesterday. Weird!

I’ve had at least one more Monterey download in the past month (though I can’t find the installer app any more so they’ve hidden it) or 12GBish of disk space has just mysteriously been used by something else. So that’s 5.

This is actually making me not install Monterey, just to be contrary. I mean, I normally skip alternate Macos versions anyway so don’t want Monterey on that basis, but apple is pushing my ‘you can’t make me!’ inner 12 year old buttons.

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Not exactly surprising since all macOS software updates are initially completely downloaded into a /private/var/folders/zz/…_n0000000000000/ temporary folder before being moved to /Applications. Note that you won’t have visibility into the temporary folder, which is why you can’t find it.

Find Any File can search through all folders, including system and hidden ones. It can also search based on size instead of (or as well as) name, so you could look for files larger than 10GB.

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