Take Charge of Windows Updates

It seems like every month that at least one of my laptop using co-workers gets blindsided by 15 – 30 minutes worth of pending updates when they need to shut down their laptop and leave in a hurry. Keeping your software up to date with the latest security fixes is important — read Krebs on Security or the F-Secure weblog if you think otherwise — but you don’t have to let Redmond’s Windows Update service bully you.

Black Tuesday: Expect It

Unless something critical comes up earlier, Microsoft releases updates for all of their products on the second Tuesday of every month. Typically, those updates will hit your computer on Wednesday or Thursday.  Plan for it.

If you’d like to be reminded of what’s coming, there are a number of news feeds or mailing lists that you can subscribe to that publish summaries of the expected updates.

Microsoft Security Bulletin Advance Notification: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/security/gg309152.aspx

The Shutdown Button

If your computer has updates waiting to be applied, then the default choice for the shutdown button becomes “Apply updates and shut down”, but you have other choices. If now is not a convenient time to apply updates:

  • On Windows 7 or Vista: Note that there’s a little arrow on the shut down button. If you click it, it will expand into a menu with other choices, including some that allow you to shut down without applying updates.

Windows 7 shutdown menu

  • If you’re one of those poor souls still stuck using Windows XP, the shut down prompt has a drop-down list which allows you to choose some other ways of shutting down without applying updates.

Windows XP Pro shut down

Pre-Emptive Updating

If you know updates are available, you don’t have to wait until Windows forces you to apply them. You can start the process yourself and let it run in the background while you continue working. Then you can reboot your computer at a more convenient time. (Do reboot it though, so that the updates can finish applying.)

To start applying updates:

  • On Windows 7, go to Start > Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Update to start applying updates.
  • On Windows XP, open Internet Explorer and go to http://www.update.microsoft.com/.

Now once the updating process finishes, Windows will start prompting you, with very annoying frequency, to restart your computer to complete the process. It may even try to force you to restart. No worries – you can silence that prompt by temporarily turning off the Windows service that manages the updates:

  • On Windows 7 or Vista, go to Start > Control Panel > System and Security > Administrative Tools. In the Administrative Tools, start the Services tool. Find the Windows Update service. Right click on it and select Stop.
  • On Windows XP, go to Start > Control Panel > Administrative Tools. In the Administrative Tools, start the Services tool. Find the Automatic Updates service. Right click on it and select Stop.
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