Take back control of Windows updates
Find out how Windows Update works, plus learn how to take back control of the update process and fix update-related problems.
Struggling to understand how Windows Update works? Frustrated because it’s not working the way it should? Then you’ve come to the right place. In this feature we’re going to take you on a complete tour of Windows Update in Windows 7, 8.1 and 10.
We open with a close look at what Windows Update does and – critically – how it works. You’ll discover the different types of update it provides, and how it packages them up and delivers them to your PC. If you’re running Windows 10 you may be in for a shock, but we reveal how to take back control of how updates are delivered from Microsoft.
Speaking of taking back control, we’ll also reveal how to manually stop Windows Update from forcing updates down your throat if you’re running Windows 10 Home Edition, and take an in-depth look at how to update and control the process if you’re running Windows 10 Pro, or an earlier version of Windows.
Last, but by no means least, we’ll take a look at troubleshooting those pesky Windows Update problems you’re almost certain to run into. You’ll find out how to fix most problems using a combination of Windows and third-party tools, track down solutions to stubborn updates refusing to install and even take steps to get your PC working again should an update render your PC unbootable. Enough talk, let’s start taking control.
HOW UPDATE WORKS
Let’s start by discovering exactly what Windows Update does – and how it works
The clue is in the name: Windows Update is designed to keep your copy of Windows up to date through the delivery of special files that patch Windows in various ways. The most obvious updates are security hotfixes, which patch vulnerabilities and security holes in the operating system that could be exploited by malware, as well as bug fixes that aim to resolve specific issues.
Windows Update also delivers bigger updates, too – what once were Service Packs and then point releases (Windows 8.1) have now evolved into feature updates, delivered bi-annually to add new features and change the way existing features work in Windows 10. The latest feature update is the April 2018 Update (version number 1803), set to be superceded in spring by the as-yet-untitled 1809 update.
Microsoft also provides what are known as ‘optional’ updates, which include other Microsoft tools, such as the .NET Framework, as well as signed hardware drivers, which have been rigorously tested and verified to work well with Windows. Some updates are ‘recommended’ and so sit alongside important updates by default. All optional and recommended updates can be clearly found in the Windows Update tool in Windows 7 and 8.1, but they’re hidden from view in Windows 10. We’ll show you how to find, review and install optional updates easily on pages 74-75.
Windows Update can also be extended to include updates for other Microsoft products – such as Microsoft Office, or software for controlling Microsoft keyboards and mice.
HOW UPDATES ARE PACKAGED
These days, updates are packaged up and delivered to reduce their size and number, based on what’s already installed on your PC.
A ‘Full’ update contains all the updates released since the last major version of Windows (such as Windows 8.1 or the Windows 10 April 2018 Update). This is typically required after you’ve just installed or reinstalled the latest version of Windows.
‘Delta’ and ‘Express’ updates work in a similar way – so much so that Microsoft will be retiring Delta updates as of February 2019, so we’ll focus on Express. Express updates are differential – they’re generated on demand after Windows Update examines your PC’s current state to contain only those updates not yet installed. This means they’re smaller files, and so are faster to download and install.
Since 2016, Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 have received updates on a monthly basis – ‘Patch Tuesday’. These consist of a single, cumulative or ‘rollup’ update that contains all security and bug fixes developed over the past month along with any updates missing from your PC from previous months.
Windows Update no longer delivers each update as individual files – cumulative updates are faster.