Microsoft Makes Major Changes to Windows 10 Updating

Posted on April 4, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 32 Comments

In a stunning and unexpected change, Microsoft will no longer force feed updates on Windows 10 users. Instead, it will adopt a more measured approach that balances the needs of its customers with its desire to keep the userbase secure and up-to-date.

“We are excited to announce significant changes in the Windows update process, changes designed to improve the experience, put the user in more control, and improve the quality of Windows updates,” Microsoft corporate vice president Mike Fortin announced in a most unexpected about-face. “We have heard clear feedback that the Windows update process itself can be disruptive, particularly that Windows users would like more control over when updates happen.”

As you may know, Microsoft has long pretended that it can successfully update Windows 10 as if it were an online service, a scheme it calls Windows as a Service, or WaaS. Unfortunately, WaaS was problematic from the outset: Microsoft has delivered two major feature updates—really Windows version upgrades—every year, and its monthly scheduled quality updates have exploded to include several updates in some months. Users are forced to reboot their PCs much more frequently than before.

But it’s worse than that: A user’s (or business’) ability to defer updates to a later date varies wildly depending on which Windows 10 product edition they’re using. Windows 10 Enterprise and Pro users can defer both quality and feature updates for long time periods, for example, but Windows 10 Home users cannot. Even worse, anyone foolish enough to check for updates—long considered prudent—was deemed a “seeker” by Microsoft, and was then force-fed any available updates, including big and disruptive features updates when available.

I will write separately about my years-long attempts to get Microsoft to change this behavior. For now, I’ll just say that these changes prove that Microsoft was listening. And that it is finally acting.

Here’s what’s changing.

Beginning with Windows 10 version 1903—the feature update for which Microsoft is now calling the May 2019 Update—the software giant will actually allow its customers to decide when updates are installed.

“We will provide a notification that an update is available and recommended based on our data, but it will be largely up to the user to initiate when the update occurs,” Mr. Fortin explains. “All customers will now have the ability to explicitly choose if they want to update their device when they check for updates or to pause updates for up to 35 days.”

This confirms a suspicion I had back in March, that Microsoft would finally let Windows 10 Home users defer updates just like the adults using Windows 10 Pro. Now, all individuals using Windows 10 will be treated equally, as is correct.

For feature updates, you’ll see text in Windows Update explaining the update and a link will let you download and install it. All users can now defer both kinds of updates for up to 35 days, 7 days at a time.

Microsoft is also working to ensure the quality of this feature update, which is important given the disastrous two feature updates that Microsoft and its users experienced in 2018.

“We will increase the amount of time that the May 2019 Update spends in the Release Preview phase,” Fortin continues, while not pointing out that the previous feature update actually skipped the Release Preview phase, contributing to its reliability issues.

And yes, the May 2019 Update is now complete; this is what we used to called RTM. It will be made available to Windows Insiders next week in the Release Preview Ring. Microsoft plans to begin the public availability of this update in late May for commercial customers, those who choose to install it via Windows Update, and for those customers whose devices are nearing the end of support on a given release.”

That last bit is kind of interesting because it represents an exception to the new updating scheme. In other words, PCs nearing end-of-support will be updating using the original, forced WaaS approach.

“When Windows 10 devices are at, or will soon reach, end of service, Windows update will continue to automatically initiate a feature update,” Fortin explains. “Keeping machines supported and receiving monthly updates is critical to device security and ecosystem health.”

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