Is Windows Update enabled on your PC? If you don’t know the answer to that, you should — Windows Update keeps Windows, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Office up-to-date with the latest security patches and bug fixes, ensuring your computer is as secure as possible. However, Windows Update can also cause problems — particularly by nagging you to reboot when you’re trying to use your computer and automatically restarting your computer overnight.
While Windows Update can be obnoxious, it keeps your computer secure and is well worth using. It can also be made less obnoxious with a few quick settings changes.
Access Windows Update
To open the Windows Update Control Panel tool, press the Windows key on your computer, type “Update” without quotes, and click the Windows Update shortcut that appears. On Windows 8, you’ll have to click the Settings option before you see the Windows Update shortcut.
If you’ve set updates to not happen automatically, you can click the Check for updates link in the left pane to check for new updates and click the Install updates button to install any available updates.
Microsoft releases most Windows Update patches on “Patch Tuesday” — the second Tuesday of each month. This allows system administrators to schedule updates all at once. However, if a security flaw is being exploited in the wild, important security patches may be released immediately. Patches for Windows could show up at any point in the month.
Enable Automatic Updates
To enable automatic updates, click the Change settings link in the left pane of the Windows Update window. Select one of the following options:
- Install updates automatically: Windows will automatically check for, download, and install updates at the time you choose. You’ll get your PC automatically update without requiring any of your attention, but Windows will start harassing you to reboot your computer after installing the updates. If you want to leave your computer running overnight, you may find that it was automatically rebooted while you were away.
- Download updates but let me choose when to install them: Windows will check for new updates and download them in the background, displaying a notification in the system tray when new updates are found. When you’re ready to update, you can click the system tray icon, install the updates, and reboot your computer. Windows won’t install updates until you say so, so you can select this option and choose to only install the updates when you’re prepared to reboot.
- Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them: Windows will only check for updates and display a notification in your system tray. This can be useful if you want to save bandwidth and only download updates when you’re on a specific connection — for example, this could prevent Windows from automatically downloading updates on a tethered Internet connection and consuming your mobile data.
- Never check for updates: Windows won’t automatically check for updates, forcing you to manually check for updates or not update Windows at all. You shouldn’t use this option, as you’ll miss out on important security updates.
From here, you can also choose whether you want to receive recommended updates (updates that aren’t as critical for security), update other Microsoft products in addition to Windows itself, or see notifications about new Microsoft software, such as Bing Desktop.
Stop Windows Update From Nagging You and Rebooting Your Computer
On Windows 7 and previous versions of Windows, Windows will start to nag you after installing most updates. It will pop up and inform you that it’s restarting your computer in fifteen minutes unless you postpone the shutdown. Even more obnoxiously, you can only postpone the shutdown for up to four hours at a time. If you need to use your computer all day without rebooting, you’ll have to keep clicking the Postpone button. If you step away from your computer or leave it running overnight, Windows may automatically restart your computer, halting whatever it was doing.
To fix this, you can change the value of the NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers registry key, forcing Windows to not reboot if a user is logged in. We covered this when we looked at examples of useful registry hacks. You could also just set Windows to “Download updates but let me choose when to install them” and only install updates when you’re ready to reboot.
Windows 8 improves things by giving you a three-day grace period to restart your computer, although it no longer displays this information on the desktop. After installing updates, you’ll see a notification on your welcome screen asking you to reboot. If you want to see a Windows 7-style notification on your Windows 8 desktop, you could install the free Windows Update Notifier utility. If you don’t reboot in three days after installing updates, the nagging and automatic reboots will start.
You could also change the same registry key or set Windows 8 to only install updates when you choose to work around this, just on Windows 7.
Control What’s Updated
If you’re updating manually, you can click the “updates are available” text in the Windows Update window and see what updates will be applied. Click each update to view more information, if you like. Uncheck an update and it won’t be installed. To have Windows ignore an update in the future, just right-click that specific update and select Hide update.
Troubleshoot Windows Update
In most situations, Windows Update shouldn’t need any troubleshooting. If you’re having problems, ensure your computer is properly connected to the Internet and has some free disk space. If you do run into an odd issue and Windows refuses to install updates, you may want to reboot your computer and try again.
In some rare cases, Windows may install an update that causes an unusual, rare problem with your computer’s software or hardware. You may investigate the problem and find that a Windows update is to blame.
If you notice this, you can uninstall updates from the Windows Control Panel. Open the standard Uninstall or change a program window that lists all your installed applications. In the sidebar, click View installed updates. Locate the update you need to remove and uninstall it like you would any other program.
You can then open Windows Update again, check for updates, and hide the update to prevent Windows from installing it in the future.
If you’re a Windows user, you should probably have Windows automatically install or at least automatically download updates. The “automatically download updates” option gives you a good combination of automation and manual control, automatically downloading updates and letting you choose when to go through the reboot process.
Whatever you do, don’t disable Windows Update completely — it’s important to have the latest updates to stay secure online.
Do you have any other Windows Update tips? Did we miss something everyone should know? Leave a comment below!
Image Credit: comedy_nose on Flickr