Should Windows 10 Power User Shut Down Windows Update?

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Prior to Satya Nadella's tenure as Microsoft's CEO, the firm employed extensive QA testers and used them for all Windows patch testing. Shortly after Nadella came on board, he restructured his company, fired a large number of employees in the test group, and asked OS developers to do their own QA. Windows 10 builds have now been deployed to external testers as part of the Windows Insider program, and these beta testers are specifically advised not to embed new OS builds into their day-to-day driving systems due to the risk that the update will lose something.

We can't speak to how Microsoft has felt about these changes internally, but from where we sat it hasn't been positive. In theory, returning to a six-month cadence provides quick feature updates and faster issue resolution. In practice, this means a whole class of hardware problems that can no longer be addressed or resolved due to changes in the testing procedure. And some of the Microsoft issues over the past few years don't even fit that description well, like the repeated bugs and bugs the company pushed into Office last month. Windows users, v. Still in 1607 it was hit with patches for 14 days until August 2017; MS consolidated these verses into 1-2 “Patch Tuesdays” per month.

The sheer volume of patches fixed and the frequency with which they had to throw those patches back out of the car disappointed CNET's Woody Leonhard; now Windows recommends power users to turn off Windows Update completely. Avoid the constant headaches Microsoft puts out. Given how bad things have been going on lately, there is a point.

An Unknown Risk Assessment

Let's be clear: Turning off security updates is usually a bad idea. For all the problems I had with the update model of Windows 10, automatic security updates were not one of them. The benefits of deploying security fixes quickly outweigh the risks in most cases. But Microsoft not only applies security fixes, it forces other changes in the same model. This has always been problematic and has only gotten worse over time. In late August, MS launched a Word 2016 patch that breaks up KB2013656, the merged cell functionality. Two weeks later it launched a new Word 2016 patch containing the same bug KB 4011039. If you use Office which is the only option to uninstall Office manually. these KBs, at least if you also use documents with merged cells.

The nature of these errors makes it difficult to quantify how common they are. Not every system or user encounters a problem, and not every problem is significant. We can't give a clear indication as to whether Microsoft's mistakes would have made your operating system less useful than what you encountered in Windows 7 or 8. What we're talking about is whether it's safe for users who are getting tired of keeping up with the Windows update, risking turning off Windows Update. The answer is “Yes, probably, but consider the risks”. These days, a compromised operating system not only risks data loss or identity theft; The appearance of ransomware simply means paying an insignificant amount of money to get your data back.

The biggest risk of turning off Windows Update is forgetting you're doing it because you think it's automatically applied, and it's missing a truly important patch. If you're still updating semi-regularly and are confident in sticking to such a schedule, you're making a practical risk change assuming you're giving yourself some headaches and being able to do so that way has the potential to be more exposed to infection.

It's not something that needs to be done quickly. In fact, we recommend doing so once you have a good backup plan in place and make sure you know you're following security news reliably to stay on top of any problems that may arise. However, Microsoft still has trouble treating its own operating system like a beta version two years after launching it, and we can't blame anyone for rejecting it. Don't go six months without security patches, but it's probably fine to wait long enough to let someone else be the canary in the coal mine.

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