Make Windows Update behave itself
Discover how to use Windows Update, and wrest back control of the update process from Windows 10.
Updating Windows is an incredibly important part of your day-to-day maintenance, but many people put off the updating experience if they can. This isn’t laziness — Microsoft has quite the reputation for releasing patches before they’re ready for general consumption, and there are horror stories of Windows installations falling over.
Despite this, in most circumstances it pays to ensure you’re at least up to date with the latest security hotfixes, so opting out of updates altogether — even where possible — isn’t practical. Let’s see what you can do about ensuring the Windows Update process works with you and not against you.
TAKE BACK CONTROL
When Microsoft released Windows 10, it took control away from the end user running Windows 10 Home, and now forces updates to be installed as soon as they are available and downloaded. At this point, Windows will tell you that updates are pending and prompt you to restart your PC.
It’s configured to force a reboot to install updates outside your ‘active hours’, in other words, when you’re not typically using your PC — which is 5pm–8am by default (click ‘Change active hours’ from the main Windows Update settings screen to change them). It means you can’t delay an update indefinitely simply by refusing to shut down or restart, but you can defer it slightly: click ‘Schedule the restart’ next to the ‘Restart now’ button, flick
the switch to On and you can choose to push back the restart by up to seven days. It’s fine as a last resort, but can you really go for seven days without needing to restart or shut down your PC?
You’ll have an easier time if you use Windows 10 Pro: Head over to ‘Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update’ and click Advanced Options. You’ll find a Pause Updates switch, which allows you to pause updates for up to 35 days — handy if you hear of an update causing problems and want to put things off.
A better way to prevent updates from getting on your system before they’re ready is to scroll down to ‘Choose when updates are installed’. You can delay feature updates by around four months after their release by switching from the Semi-Annual (Targeted) channel to Semi-Annual via the drop-down menu. You can defer this for up to an additional year (or 365 days) via the Feature Update Defer drop-down menu. It’s also possible to defer quality updates — patches and security hotfixes — for up to 30 days via another drop-down menu. That way you can avoid exposing your PC to an update that’s later pulled for stability reasons.
What if you’re running Windows 10 Home? The step-by-step guide below reveals a technique for manually disabling Windows Update that works for the latest April 2018 Update. Note, you should still periodically check for updates — launch the tool and reenable the service to do so, then disable it again after use.
WINDOWS 7 AND 8.1
If you’re still using Windows 7 or 8.1, then you remain in full control of the process. Open ‘Control Panel > Windows Update’ where you’ll see a screen telling you how many updates are waiting to be installed. Click ‘Check for updates’ to refresh this search at any time. Updates are divided into two types: important and optional. You’ll be shown how many of each are available — click the relevant hyperlink to view and select which ones to install using the tick boxes. For more information about a specific update, select it for a summary, then click ‘More information’ for a full description online.
You’ll also see a status about whether the update has been downloaded or not, and whether it’s ready to be installed on your PC. This status ties into how you’ve configured Window Update. Click OK to return to the main screen, then click ‘Change settings’ to control when and what updates are deployed to your computer.
By default, updates are installed automatically either at a set time or when you next reboot, but if you want to pause before installing them we recommend choosing ‘Download updates but let me choose whether to install them’. You can also review available updates before downloading them or switch the feature off entirely. We don’t recommended doing this, however, since both Windows 7 and 8.1 are still supported by security hotfixes, and so should be kept up to date.
You’ll also see a box allowing you to opt out of automatically receiving ‘recommended’ updates alongside critical ones. Unticking this box basically means recommended updates like the .NET Framework Tool are moved to the Optional category, where they’ll be italicised to make them stand out (see the ‘Optional updates’ boxout opposite).
Windows 10 Home users can postpone the inevitable forced restart by up to seven days only.
Windows 10 Pro users are able to put off security updates for up to 30 days; feature updates up to 16 months.
Windows 7 and 8.1 users enjoy complete control over how and when updates are delivered.