Take control of your Windows updates
The method for taking control of your updates varies depending on which version of Windows you’re using.
Windows 10 doesn’t include the ability to turn off Automatic Updates. Unless you go to extraordinary lengths, you get ’em whether you want ’em or not, unless you’re attached to a Windows Update server (WSUS, WUB, or some other variety) and somebody else makes the patching decision for you. Sometimes life ain’t fair.
There are tricks, however, that let you take control over Microsoft’s forced updating. Check my Block Windows 10 forced updates without breaking your machine, in InfoWorld’s Woody on Windows, for details.
Windows 7 and 8.1
For those of you using Windows 8.1, 8, 7, or Vista, I strongly recommend that you set Windows Automatic Update to “Notify but don’t download.” If you can remember to manually check for updates from time to time, you can even turn Automatic Update to “Never check for updates.”
Windows 8: While looking at the old-fashioned Windows desktop, hold down the Windows key and press X, then choose Control Panel. Then follow the instructions for Windows 7.
Windows 7 and Vista: Using an administrator-level account, click Start, Control Panel, and then System and Security. Under Windows Update, click the Turn automatic updating on or off link. (Note: If you have Control Panel set to View by icons, click Windows Update, then on the left choose Change Settings.) In the drop-down box, select Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them, then click OK. If you can remember to check for updates from time to time — following the MS-DEFCON system on this site, for example — choose Never check for updates (not recommended).
You need to apply security patches from time to time. But you can and should do it at your own pace, waiting to see if the patches cause massive problems before allowing them onto your machine.
While you’re looking at the Updates settings, turn off Recommended updates. Once upon a time we could trust Microsoft to “recommend” some patches when they would really help. That trust — that credibility — has been completely destroyed. Microsoft has, and presumably will, use “recommended” updates to change your machine in ways that benefit Microsoft, not you.
To disable recommended updates, uncheck the box marked Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates.
If you’re using Windows XP, you’re just begging for problems. Get rid of the machine. Replace it with a nice Chromebook, an iPad or, yes, shell out the $200 for a new Windows 10 computer. Life’s too short.