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Why use Windows Update?

PCMD recommends users use Windows update and briefly explains why.

Windows Update

The Windows 10 update screen.

Screen capture of Windows 10 Windows Update.

Windows 10

Windows 10 has changed how Windows Update behaves. The days are gone when one could simply turn off updates and leave them off. Microsoft has decided that devices that attach to the Internet via an Ethernet cable must get all Windows updates, and that only devices that connect wirelessly can be set to metered. Any computer can set Windows Updates to be deferred, however, this is limited by the version of Windows, and there is not much one can do after the time limit runs out. Metered connections still receive security updates, but do not receive operating system updates or upgrades. However, metered connections are restricted and limited within the operating system, so certain applications like remote support, and programs like Outlook will have issues regardless of your connection speed. I am only speculating but I feel this has to be Microsoft's way of preventing people with fast connections from using a metered connection. None the less everyone keeping their computers up to date helps us all.

Updating Windows

Updating Windows operating systems is very important, and so often ignored, leaving known security holes ready to be exploited at any time. Do you really need to update Windows? We tackle this issue and explain why we feel you should update all operating systems to their current versions.

Keeping Microsoft Windows of any version up to date substantially reduces the risk of getting viruses and malware. Windows Update also installs bugs fixes, closes security holes, and sometimes brings operating system improvements. A good example of this would be service pack 2 for Windows Vista which makes Windows Vista much more stable and reliable. We recommend that everyone using Windows Vista install service pack 2. However, there are risks when using Windows Update and pcmd takes no responsibility of any kind for your decision to use it or not, but don't get scared the benefits out weigh the negatives at least most of the time.

Users want to simply use their computer's and have no time or desire to maintain them. The expectation is the computer should maintain itself and not bother them with notifications or shut down requests. Maybe someday Microsoft will get it right and Windows version X will do all of its updates silently with no user interaction at all. Windows 8 has improved Windows update behavior, but it still needs a bit more refinement.

Risks of using Windows Update

Windows Update has gotten a bad rap over the years and rightly so. Some people developed a fear that goes back to Windows XP service pack 2 released in 2004 which was known to crash the computer leaving the user with a blue screen or the blue screen of death (BSOD) as it became known. The fix was not released quickly, and word spread. In response to the problem people were told to turn off automatic updates so they did and some never turned it back on. Many left themselves vulnerable even after the problem was resolved for years. The people who create viruses and malware exploited this and took full advantage of those who did not update their computer and still do. An unpatched computer can be seriously infected in a matter of minutes even with updated antivirus software installed.

Windows Update is not perfect by any means and using it requires one to accept some risk. Microsoft Update has the ability to check for hardware drivers and could easily install the wrong driver version which could cause the computer to crash and/or display a blue screen. Other things can go wrong as well like Windows installing an update that requires prerequisite updates to be installed. That can lead to Windows failing to install an update that is already installed. So, it fails and Windows notifies you of this and on shutdown it tries to install the update. This can be repeated over and over again. There are more risks, and we could provide more examples yet we here at pcmd feel it is simply better to set Windows Update to automatically install updates. An unpatched Windows operating system is very vulnerable to drive by downloads. A drive-by download happens when you visit a malicious or corrupted website that attacks your PC with malware and or viruses.

A little about Windows Update

Updates are released monthly on the second Tuesday or patch Tuesday for currently supported versions of Microsoft Windows, so expect to have updates installed at least once a month. There really is not a lot to Windows update but it needs to run in order to keep your computer from being exploited by known security holes. To do this simply make sure your Windows based computer is set to automatically download and install Windows updates. Each version of Windows does this a little bit differently.

The main reason for setting updates to automatic is to conveniently install minor updates with limited user interaction. However, there is a problem with Windows Update since it does not automatically install major updates, such as service packs. These updates need to be installed manually. Large updates such as service packs require some interaction to install, since Microsoft will have a new End User License Agreement (EULA) that must be agreed to upon prior to the service packs installation. So, every now and again, or every month or two manually check to make sure that Windows is actually downloading and installing all required updates. To set the Windows update to automatic manually update Windows 7 then on the update dialog box select change settings. The settings in the image below are what pcmd recommends. Some options may not be available.

Windows alerts users of updates. However, depending on the operating system version, or the computer settings one may not see the alert, and be completely unaware for years that their personal computer is at high risk of infection. Usually when one of these unpatched computers gets to pcmd it is to late. The virus and malware infestation is so bad that the end user is basically locked out of their own personal computer. The taskbar notification area image to the right shows the Windows 7 Update icon, it is the first icon on the left. It is telling me that Windows Updates were installed successfully. Which is great. Out in the wild there are numerous Windows icons that are fakes.

Many people ask how do you know if the icon is real or not. Is there an easy way to tell a real one from a phony? Not really, but there are subtle clues such as it wasn't there before, or maybe its more colorful, or it pops up notifications when it didn't before. Most do not want to click on these icons in fear of installing a virus and rightfully so, but it could be real, and an action need to be completed for one reason or another. However, if you see an icon or pop ups in the notification area that usually means a virus or malware has already installed. The Windows notification area has been used by malware programs to emulate icons from various manufactures for a long time and it can be very tough to tell them apart. It is helpful to get to know and recognize the real icons of programs running on your computer and its notification behavior.

The Windows 7 update screen.

Screen capture of Windows 7 Windows Update.

Malware effects on Windows Update

Checking for Windows updates manually is also a good way to check for certain types of malware. If Windows update does not run properly, it can be an indicator of an infection or corrupt system file. Many malware programs target Windows Update to prevent installation of patches or to prevent the running of Microsoft's malicious software removal tool that could stop the malware from running on your computer. Microsoft has created a simple online tool called Microsoft Fix It, this tool is very effective at repairing many problems associated with Windows update, and other Microsoft Windows problems.

Windows 7 Microsoft's best so far

Since the release of Windows 7 Microsoft has created an operating system that doesn't need a whole lot of attention. That doesn't mean that one can simply use it and do nothing. Maintenance still needs to be done just like all previous versions of Microsoft Windows. Before Windows 7 was released Microsoft had suggested Windows Update restarts would not be required when installing updates, sadly that did not happen. So, if a pop up pops up saying your computer is going to restart in 10 minutes do not ignore it or you may lose data. Hopefully, Microsoft will put an end to Windows Update notifications and make it transparent to the end user and never crash a computer. We can only hope.

Windows 8 Update

Microsoft improved Windows behavior when updating with Windows 8 by giving the computer two days before automatic shutdown. This is better than Windows 7 which shows a pop up box stating ten minutes till shutdown, or postpone it for up to four hours. Don't spot this message and it is possible to lose data. Updating in the next version of Windows hopefully will not require any shutdown or restarts ever. Microsoft has changed direction with Windows 8.1 now Windows 8.1 offers only 1 day until shutdown. The idea of no reboots when updating Windows may never be realized.

The Windows 7 settings dialog.

Screen capture of Windows 7 Windows Update settings.

Microsoft Update

If you use other Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Office it is helpful to Install or enable Microsoft Update. Even though the names are similar they are very different. Microsoft Update works with Windows Update to keep Microsoft programs up to date. It is available with Windows Update. To install it manually check for updates and look for the Microsoft Updates link. After that when you install updates they will be for all Microsoft products.

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