Updating in Windows 10 Version 1703? You Win Some, You Lose Some

Posted on March 18, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 80 Comments

Once you’ve upgraded to Windows 10 version 1703 with the Creators Update, you’ll notice some major changes to the ways you can configure software updates. Some of those changes are welcome and even necessary. Some, not so much.

As you may know, I’ve been critical of Microsoft’s Windows as a Service (WaaS) strategy: I believe Windows 10 to be too monolithic, too stuffed with legacy code, to ever reliably support such regular updating. And our collective experiences have thus far borne out my opinion on the matter.

But regardless of how you feel about Microsoft forcing users to keep Windows 10 up-to-date, things are indeed changing in the Creators Update. To understand the impact of these changes, we need to understand what updates are in Windows 10. And examine how updating works today, in Windows 10 version 1607. (To be clear, I am only focusing on how this works for individuals. Businesses are getting much better update install configuration capabilities in this new release.)

Microsoft provides two types of updates for Windows 10: Feature updates, which literally add new features, and “other” updates, which are quality improvements that can include security and bug fixes only.

Feature updates are delivered once or twice a year, and because they upgrade Windows 10 to a new version, I think of them as upgrades. For example, the Anniversary Update was a feature update, or upgrade, as it upgraded Windows 10 to version 1607 and added many new features.

Those “other” updates—what I just call updates—typically appear once a month on Patch Tuesday, bundled in groups called cumulative updates. But they can appear individually, and at any time.

All of these updates are delivered via Windows Update. Both upgrades and cumulative updates typically require the PC to reboot so that they can be installed offline—which means “while Windows 10 is not running” in this case—which is of course one of the many problems with WaaS: Many users have experienced this forced rebooting overnight, losing data in the process. But others have actually had Windows 10 just reboot on them while they were actually using the PC. Smaller updates often do not require a reboot.

Today, those on Windows 10 Pro can defer feature updates for up to four months by checking that option in Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > “Advanced options.” When configured this way, Windows 10 Pro will still download updates, which is to say “other” updates. But not feature updates.

Windows 10 Home users, however, do not have the ability to defer feature updates at all. So their only recourse is to configure their Wi-Fi adapter as a metered connection, as I described recently inWindows 10 Tip: Get the Creators Update on Your Own Schedule. Unfortunately, doing so will also prevent non-feature updates from installing too. So this isn’t ideal, except perhaps as a temporary workaround.

There are all kinds of issues with the situation I’ve outlined above, and a few I didn’t really mention, like the configurable active hours setting that Windows 10 sometimes doesn’t actually respect. Not to mention the fact that Windows 10 updates have been inexcusably buggy, undermining the very premise of WaaS. But the point to this post is that Microsoft is changing things with the Creators Update. For better and worse.

For starters, the ability to defer updates is going away. Instead, you will be able to pause updates, and only for up to 7 days. This may sound like semantics—aren’t defer and pause basically the same term?—and of course we’re losing that four-month window. But this new pause feature is arguably more useful in that it pauses all updates. So if you want to work uninterrupted for days at a time, you can actually schedule that and be sure you won’t be surprised one morning by a clean desktop and lost work.

Second, Microsoft has expanded the active hours window you can configure, to up to 18 hours each day. During this window, Windows 10 will not reboot to install updates. And during this window, Windows 10 will now check with you to see if you are in fact using the PC. And if so, you can “snooze” the pending update so you can keep working. So that’s a net win.

Finally, Windows 10 Home users will be treated even more poorly after installing the Creators Update. That metered connection workaround I mentioned earlier is being defanged in Windows 10 version 1703 so that such a network will still allow for the install of “updates required to keep Windows running smoothly,” by which I assume Microsoft means critical security fixes. What this means to you is that, yes, some of these updates may trigger a PC reboot. (Not to mention that those really paying for bandwidth—which is the point of a metered network—will have to pay to download these updates.)

Basically, what Microsoft is doing here is addressing the complaints while sticking very resolutely to its pledge to keep Windows 10 up-to-date by forcing users to accept its updates. We all have our opinions about this, of course. But that’s where we’re at.

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