Microsoft wants its users to have Automatic Updates enabled in their computers. They want it so much that they made it a lot more difficult to disable automatic updates on their latest operating system. It used to be that Windows 7 allowed automatic updates to be disabled completely, but the only thing Windows 8 and 10 allows users to change is the schedule of when the actual patching occurs. The download will still happen unless you go through the trouble of digging into the registry or meddling with the Group Policy Settings in order to disable updates, which admittedly requires more tech savvy than the average user can muster.
In their defense, Microsoft has a valid reason for enforcing updates on their operating system. Chief of which is that they can patch exploits and vulnerabilities when discovered, which should help protect even users who are too lazy to manually update and those who are completely oblivious to the concept of updates. But the problem with Automatic Updates is that it throws the proverbial baby out with the bathwater – in an effort to protect a small part of Windows users, it takes away choice and freedom from users who want to avoid or temporarily hold back updates.
One will wonder, why would any user choose to disable Automatic Updates on their computer when it is supposedly meant to protect them from exploits and bugs? It turns out that there are a number of perfectly valid reasons, such as:
Regular users of Windows 10 have probably noticed this already. Windows will hog your bandwidth when it is doing updates. For most people, this is not a problem because they have blazing fast Internet and updates are done before it becomes bothersome. But the rest will notice that browsing will become sluggish, videos will start buffering, and heaven forbid that you’re currently playing an online game, because that’s going to lag while the computer is updating in the background.
There is also the matter of bandwidth caps. Contrary to what some people believe, even well developed countries like Australia have ISPs with bandwidth caps. It’s bad enough for those on metered plans where they are surcharged for excess data usage, but it’s worse for those on plans where the ISP cuts off access once the data allocation is used up. You wouldn’t want to be in the middle of something important like a Skype call with your employer when the Internet suddenly cuts off. In cases like this, it will be really useful to have the ability to disable automatic updates so you can choose to manually update your computer using all of your leftover data allocation at the end of the month.
Updates Can Be Very Disruptive
The fact that Microsoft doesn’t push out updates on PCs that use Windows’ Enterprise editions and allows deferring of updates for as long as 4 months is telling. As mentioned earlier, the update process can hog all of the bandwidth and disrupt programs that require Internet access. But more importantly – when the updates are fully downloaded and patching starts, you are required to restart and would not be able to use your computer until it’s done. Small patches only take a few minutes but large updates could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how fast the computer is. And that’s only when the update goes smoothly and there are no patching problems. Many users have encountered patching that went on overnight or didn’t even finish.
Microsoft understands that users of the Enterprise edition such as businesses, schools, or medical institutions cannot afford such lengthy inconsistent downtimes. At best, it’s a reduction in productivity and profit but in a medical institution’s case, the downtime could even cost someone’s life.
Now, just because you’re a normal computer user with only a single PC to look out for does not necessarily mean that these disruptive updates aren’t a concern – you might be using a computer for work or doing your taxes on a specific day, but If you had automatic updates enabled, you won’t have time to find a replacement or reschedule a project before the updates come and decide to leave you without any PC to use.
Third Party Software Can Be Rendered Useless by Updates
There’s also the matter of updates sometimes resulting in broken and incompatible third party programs. Microsoft can’t account for all third party software being made for Windows, particularly those that are developed in-house by businesses, so there is always a chance that an update will lead to a lot of perfectly functional software being unusable and requiring a patch. This could be anything from software developed in-house for businesses, to third party games, or even built-in Windows Apps that Microsoft accidentally breaks or intentionally retires.
A user should have the option to disable updates so that in cases like this, there is time to find a replacement or create a patch for the affected programs. Worst case scenario, a user should be allowed to delay updates indefinitely in case the computer is only being used for a single legacy program that would not get any more patches.
Significant Updates Will Change How Your Computer Functions
A great example of this is Windows 10’s Anniversary Update, under which Microsoft changed the Task Manager so that the list of Processes will now list every single program that is loaded onto memory, as opposed to the old behavior where some programs are just ambiguously grouped under “SCVHOST.EXE.” This change has the benefit of finally allowing users to pinpoint which processes are taking up resources when there are problems, but it also has the knock-on effect of slightly increasing the amount of RAM that the OS uses.
The change won’t affect people on high end systems that have RAM to spare, but for majority of users who are skirting the bare minimum (particularly those on laptops and netbooks fitted only with enough RAM to meet the minimum requirements), this could be a noticeable change and may affect the performance of their system. If automatic updates are enabled, a user would have no choice but to suck it up. Someone who has disabled the automated updates, on the other hand, can choose to defer upgrades until he or she has finally upgraded to meet the increased system requirements.
Control When Updates Are Installed, But Do Not Avoid Them
Finally, it goes without saying that we are not encouraging any one from completely avoiding future updates. They are provided for a very good reason, and it is not smart to avoid them indefinitely. This means you have to be diligent and learn to keep up with announcements on whether there’s an update coming. If you’re part of a small business or large firm, you can even secure managed IT services so that you will have people ensuring that your computers will get updates if (and when) it is needed.
You don’t want to be blindsided by a malware that takes advantage of bugs present in an unpatched version of an OS, or you don’t want to miss out on beneficial, exciting new features (such as the Game Mode feature included in the Creators’ Update, which provided minor performance benefits for gamers using low and mid-end builds.) Remember, the point is to have freedom and choice, not to leave your computer vulnerable.
Author: Jan Chapman
Jan Chapman, the Manager and Co-Founder of MSP Blueshift, is a professional in the IT/ networking industries with over 20 years of experience in the field. He believes in the inherent power of simplicity to enable businesses to manage systems and repair problems easily.