It's Patch Tuesday again, and you know what that means: Windows users across the globe will soon be rebooting. Don't get me wrong, I love Windows Update. Without a systematic way for Microsoft to push out security patches to 1 Billion+ PCs around the world, the Internet would be a very dangerous place. Keeping one's Windows PC patched and up-to-date became a civic duty around the turn of the millennium, and it still is.
But there's something very aggravating about the default way that Windows 7 is configured to handle Windows Update. Back in the Windows XP days, users would be gently reminded to install an update -- giving them a chance to finish what they were doing, close any open documents, and set aside 15 minutes for the installation to run its course. In contrast, Windows 7 blithely downloads and installs the updates in the middle of the night, without bothering to ask permission beforehand.
So let's say you're halfway done with that important presentation when you call it quits at 2 am. You have multiple windows and documents open, arranged just so, and you leave everything as is with the intention of picking right back up the next morning where you left off. Except when you return to your PC, Windows 7 is grinning back at you with a blank desktop, proudly announcing that "updates were installed and your computer has been restarted." Nice.
Happily, there's a quick and easy fix for this problem: Simply launch Windows Update, click "Change settings", and change the drop-down selection to "Download updates but let me choose whether to install them":
Of course, the wording of the drop-down selection is misleading and misses the point. The issue home users have to deal with isn't whether to install updates, it's when. (In the enterprise, it's both.)