The Ability to Pause Updates in Windows 10 Isn’t Enough

Posted on January 10, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 64 Comments

The Ability to Pause Updates in Windows 10 Isn't Enough

As you may know, Microsoft is adding the ability to pause updates in Windows 10 version 1703. While this addition is well-intentioned, it doesn’t go far enough.

Fortunately, there’s still time for Microsoft to correct this mistake: It will not complete the Creators Update—which will upgrade Windows 10 to version 1607—for another two months.

So let’s review. As I noted in 2016 Was a Monster of a Year for Windows 10, Microsoft spent much of last year scrambling to fix the problems it created with its Windows as a service strategy. The problem is so bad that I called on Microsoft to consider a formalReliable Computing Initiative.

But the staged rollout of the buggy Anniversary Update provides some clues for a potential solution: By staging or delaying updates for normal users, Microsoft can gather real-world telemetry data as it goes, and this ever-growing body of information can inform the speed at which updates are deployed. That is, when things are working properly, the update can go out faster, and when things are not, it can be scaled back.

But the problem with Windows 10 for far too many people, of course, is that they no longer have control over updates. And while I think it’s OK that we’ve crossed this line into a future where everyone needs to be kept up to date, my issue is that there’s no gray area. You are either getting updates or you’re not.

But to its credit, Microsoft is adding a feature in the Creators Update—in Windows 10 version 1703, that is—that will let you “pause” non-critical updates for up to 35 days. This feature first appeared in Windows Insider Preview build 15002 this week, though it was also in a leaked build we discussed at the end of 2016.

“Microsoft had previously promised to make Windows Update less painful, and proving how easy that can be, build 14997 includes a new Pause Updates option in Windows Update that lets you temporarily pause the delivery of new updates for up to 35 days,” I wrote at that time. “This should nicely answer complaints about the quality of newly-released updates, since the more pragmatic will be able to hold off until they’re proven safe. (Some updates, like those for Windows Defender, will of course continue to come through on the normal schedule, Microsoft notes.)”

But now that this feature is public, we know a bit more. And I’ve also had more time to think about it.

For starters, this feature will not be available to Windows 10 Home users. Or, as Microsoft’s Dona Sarkar put it, “this capability will be available on Professional, Education, and Enterprise editions of Windows.” So not Home. (And thanks to Mary Jo Foley for pointing out that nuance to me, buried as it was in the middle of a monster blog post.)

That’s bad … and, pointless: Why on earth would Home users be excluded from something like this? It’s not a premium feature. It’s a right, in my opinion. It’s like Microsoft is using this audience as guinea pigs who can test potentially buggy updates out in the wild and then suffer from problems because they’re too poor to buy a more expensive version of the OS.

But even the ability to pause updates for 35 days isn’t quite right. It isn’t enough.

In the post about build 15002, Microsoft never explains why they’ve added this feature. And that’s interesting, right? They are implicitly agreeing that my complaints about the update reliability issues are valid and true. Why on earth would Microsoft let people delay updates otherwise?

That is rather amazing when you think about it.

So it’s a fact: Windows 10 updates are not reliable. So much so that Microsoft is taking a small step to ensure that technical/educated users can find an option to protect themselves from this problem.

Folks, that needs to be the default. Non-security updates should always be delayed by 35 days. And only those users who actually want updates immediately should be forced to find an option to open themselves up to this problem.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t that what Windows Insiders are for? And if Microsoft just delays all updates for 35 days, won’t that just delay the problems (when they happen) by 35 days?

No. No to both of those.

First of all, there isn’t a single Windows Insider who signed up to test the bug and security fixes that make up the updates I’m talking about. These guys—all 7+ million of them—signed up so they can see new features, which will appear in a future version of Windows 10, as soon as possible. They’re enthusiasts, for the most part.

And as for the notion that delaying non-critical updates by default will just delay the problems, simply making this a feature—in this case, the ability to turn off the update delay—will provide Microsoft and the broader community with what it really needs: An audience of people who explicitly do want updates immediately on production machines and are thus signing up to be guinea pigs. This audience—some percentage of the 400+ million Windows 10 users out there—will do the work that Microsoft is now silently requiring of the unwashed masses. Which is wrong for them to do.

But I’m pragmatic. I know that Microsoft will never do what I’m asking. So I’m ready with a middle ground compromise. And it goes like this.

During Setup, perhaps, or the first time a Windows 10 user visits Windows Update, prompt them with the choices—delay non-critical updates by 35 days, or don’t—and then actually explain what each means. Give them the choice.

That’s all. Give Windows 10 users the choice.

Remember, Microsoft is admitting here that its updates are unreliable. So there is no excuse for continuing to pump potentially buggy updates at hundreds of millions of users without at least giving them the option to know what they can do about this.

It’s common sense. And it’s the right thing to do.


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