It’s happened to all Windows users. You’re using your computer and Windows decides you need to reboot, hassling you with pop-ups that continue to bug you all day long. If you step away from your computer and miss the pop-up, Windows will automatically reboot your computer. You may come back to your computer and find that all your open programs are gone, as Windows decided to reboot without your permission. This can be maddening.
There’s a good reason for rebooting after updates, as rebooting ensures that security updates actually take effect. But Microsoft has gone too far — they shouldn’t be hassling Windows users and rebooting their computers without permission. Windows 8 handles these forced restarts with a longer grace period, but still pesters you and eventually reboots your computer automatically.
Note: This article was written for Windows 7 and 8. If you’re curious about how to do this in Windows 10, please read our article on How to Manage Update in Windows 10.
Disable Forced Restarts With a Registry Hack
You can prevent these automatic restarts from happening by performing a quick registry hack. This trick will work on all versions of Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and even Windows XP. Windows will update normally if you perform this trick, but will not automatically reboot when you’re logged into your computer. You should still reboot after an update, but you can do it on your own schedule.
First, you’ll need to open the Registry Editor. Press Windows Key + R to open the Run dialog, type regedit into it, and press Enter.
When the registry editor appears, navigate to the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate\AU registry key.
You’ll likely find that the last two parts of the key — the WindowsUpdate\AU parts — don’t yet exist. You’ll need to create them yourself.
To do so, right-click the Windows key, point to New, and select Key. Type WindowsUpdate and press Enter. Then, right-click the WindowsUpdate key, point to New, and select Key. Type AU and press Enter. This will create the correct registry key structure.
With the AU key selected in the left pane, right-click in the right pane, point to New, and select DWORD (32-bit) value. Type NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers and press Enter to name the new value.
Double-click the value you just created and type 1 into its value data box. You can then click OK — you’re done in the registry.
You can now reboot your computer and your policy changes will take effect. However, you probably don’t want to reboot your computer! Luckily, you can make these changes take effect without rebooting.
First, open a Command Prompt window as Administrator. On Windows 8, press Windows Key + X and select Command Prompt (Admin). On Windows 7, open the Start menu, search for Command Prompt, right-click the Command Prompt shortcut, and select Run as Administrator.
Run the following command to make your changes take effect immediately:
Disable Forced Restarts With Group Policy
If you have Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise version of Windows, you can make this tweak in an easier way. Most Windows users won’t have this option and will have to use the registry-editing method above. Both of these tweaks work in the same way, but the group policy editor is a bit more user-friendly.
First, open the Local Group Policy Editor. Press Windows Key + R to open the Run dialog, type gpedit.msc into the dialog box, and press Enter to open it.
Navigate to the following folder in the left pane: Computer Configuration\Administrator Templates\Windows Components\Windows Update
In the right pane, double-click the “No auto-restart with logged on users for scheduled automatic update installations” setting. Set the setting to Enabled and click OK.
After changing this setting, either reboot your computer or run the gpupdate /force command in the way we mentioned above.
Manually Install Windows Updates
Rather than using the Windows registry or Group Policy, there’s a low-tech way to prevent updates from automatically rebooting your computer. All you have to do is change your Windows Update settings. Simply open the Windows Update control panel window and set Windows to “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them.”
Windows will inform you of updates via a system tray icon and notification bubble. When you’re ready to install them, you can click the icon and have Windows install them — they should install fairly quickly, as Windows will download them in the background ahead of time. When the updates are done installing, you’ll be prompted to reboot.
With this method of installing updates, you can have Windows install only updates when you’re actually ready to reboot your computer. If you see the update notification, you can ignore it until you’re ready to reboot — Windows won’t automatically install the updates and start nagging you or restart your computer without your permission.
Why Microsoft Made This So Hard
Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t make this easy — in fact, they buried this option deep in the registry and group policy editor where only Windows system administrators will normally be able to find it. The automatic-rebooting “feature” was added to Windows XP in the darkest days of Windows security, and Microsoft was desperate to ensure people who installed updates rebooted quickly so more nasty worms like Blaster and Sasser wouldn’t spread. We live in a different world these days, and Windows is secure enough that we can afford to wait a bit before rebooting if we’re in the middle of using our computers.
Microsoft attempted to make this less of a hassle with Windows 8, but they didn’t go far enough as Windows 8 will still automatically reboot your computer. At the very least, this setting should be much easier to change.
This isn’t the only headache in Windows, either. To make Windows hassle you less, consult our guide to getting rid of other Windows annoyances.
Image Credit: Pete on Flickr