On every second Tuesday of the month, Microsoft releases a bundle of security updates to all Windows versions. Patch Tuesday is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, vulnerabilities are sealed up; on the other, updates carry the risk of introducing unforeseen issues.
On older Windows versions, users have full control over Windows Update; they can review descriptions for each update and choose which updates to install.
With Windows 10, Home users are force-fed all updates immediately. Until recently, users didn’t even have access to detailed information about updates. In February, Microsoft finally gave in to persisting demands for transparency and is now offering release notes for all Windows 10 updates.
We’ll show you how to find out about updates in Windows 7 through 10, with Windows Update setup tips along the way.
How to Access & Control Windows Update
Between Windows XP and Windows 8.1, Windows Update hasn’t evolved much. Windows 10, however, brought significant changes. Not only did Windows Update move from the Control Panel to the Settings app, it also received a complete makeover in regards to its functionality. Let’s compare.
Press Windows key + I to launch the Settings app, then navigate to Update & security > Windows Update. Per default, Windows will automatically download and install any available updates, whether they’re security patches or feature upgrades. You can press the Check for updates button to manually check whether anything new is available.
Under Advanced options you can tweak how updates are installed and View your update history. If you’re using Windows 10 Professional, you can Defer upgrades relating to new features for a limited time; security updates will still be applied automatically.
Under Choose how updates are delivered you can decide whether your computer can download updates from sources other than Microsoft, for example from PCs on your local network, which could save you bandwidth.
We have previously shown you how to manage Windows Update in Windows 10. Please refer to this article for advanced instructions on how to defer or uninstall updates. In case you’re struggling with drivers, read our guide on how you can control driver updates in Windows 10.
Windows 7 & 8.1
To open Windows Update in Windows 7 or up, press the Windows key, type Windows Update, and select the matching result. Depending on your current Windows Update settings, your system is either up to date or updates are in the queue to download or install.
Under Change settings you can choose how you wish updates to be downloaded and installed. These are your options:
- Install updates automatically,
- download updates, but choose when to install them,
- check for updates, but choose whether to download and install, or
- never check for updates.
Generally, we recommend the first option because it means your system will always be up to date and safe. If you’ve been having issues with updates in the past, you can go with the second or third option. Remember that this puts the responsibility of checking for updates and installing them on you! You should aim to install security patches immediately after they become available.
Given Microsoft’s recent tendency to push Windows 7 & 8.1 users into upgrading to Windows 10 and provided you don’t want to upgrade yet, we strongly recommend to disable Recommended updates.
For advanced information on Windows Update in Windows 7, please browse our dedicated article.
How to Learn More About Individual Updates
Now that you have an idea about how Windows Update is set up on your machine, let’s see how you can review detailed information about specific updates.
An unwelcome consequence of the Windows Update redesign in Windows 10, is that it has become harder to gather information about individual updates. Still, you have several options.
1. Windows 10 Update History
Under Settings > Update & security > Windows Update you may have noticed the prompt Looking for info on the latest updates?, also shown in the screenshot above. Click the Learn more link to open the Windows 10 update history page.
About new Windows 10 features and deferring upgrades, Microsoft writes:
“We introduced new operating system features in November after having previewed, or ‘flighted’, them with our Windows Insiders between July and November. Most customers have already been moved automatically from the July branch to the November branch. Windows 10 Professional, Enterprise, and Education edition customers can defer the update to the November branch and stay on the July feature set longer — as long as 10 years for some Enterprise customers. For more info, see Windows 10 servicing options.”
Below the lengthy introduction, you’ll find a summary of the cumulative update packages delivered during Patch Tuesday. The list is sorted by Windows 10 branches, which presently includes the initial release version from July 2015 and the November update.
At the bottom of the list, a link leads to the respective knowledge base (KB) article, which will reveal further details.
2. Windows 10 Release Information
A similar, but more detailed overview is available on Microsoft’s TechNet Windows 10 release information. The page lists current Windows 10 versions by servicing option, as well as knowledge base articles for all cumulative (Patch Tuesday) updates since Windows 10’s initial release.
We find this overview far more useful than the Windows 10 update history page. For details about the contents of a Windows 10 update, you can refer to the respective KB article.
3. ChangeWindows Logs
A third-party resource for tracking Windows 10 builds is ChangeWindows. Scroll through a visually pleasing interface for an overview of the different Windows 10 desktop and mobile builds. Click on Full log for release dates, and a detailed list of specific changes, fixed and known issues.
At this time, the site is focusing on build and hence does not provide links to individual Windows Update KB articles. However, below the current version details you’ll find a link back to Microsoft’s official announcement for the respective build.
Windows 7 & 8.1
On older Windows versions it’s much easier to get information about installed updates.
1. Windows Update History
After you launched Windows Update, either through the Control Panel or through a Windows search, you can click on View update history to see a list of recently installed updates.
Right-click on an update and select View details to access a summary of the respective update. For more information, click through to the KB article linked to at the bottom.
2. Installed Updates
Under Installed Updates you can review the complete history of updates installed on your computer and sort updates by name, program, date installed, and more. Select an update and you’ll find a link to the respective KB article at the bottom.
Here, you can also uninstall Windows Updates; the option comes up when you right-click an update.
3. Available Updates
The big advantage of older Windows versions is that you can preview and exclude updates before you proceed with the installation. From the main Windows Update window, click on the important or optional updates available for download and installation.
In the next window, you can go through the list and view a summary on the right-hand side. At the bottom of the summary, you can follow a link to the in-depth KB article for each update.
If you don’t want to download and install a specific update, remove the checkmark. You can also right-click and select Hide update, so it won’t be shown again or accidentally installed in the future. You can of course view and restore hidden updates any time you want.
Up-to-Date on Windows Update
Whatever Windows version you’re running, you should now understand how you can inform yourself about current updates. We’ve also shown you how to manipulate the most basic Windows Update settings. Please review the articles linked above for advanced information.
Now that you’ve seen how Windows Update works in different Windows generations, which one do you prefer? What features or options do you think are missing from Windows Update in the different Windows versions? If your Windows Update isn’t working right, see our article on fixing a stuck or broken Windows Update.