Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Windows Update stinks

I know I've complained about Windows Update before, but I stumbled upon another great example today. Wanted to share.

I saw that Windows had some updates it wanted to apply. I had just finished going through my email, and my next "to do" was to read a report someone had dropped off for me. Might as well let Windows install updates while I read offline.

My first problem: there was no indication how many patches Windows Update wanted to install. Under Linux, I can always see how many patches are ready to be installed - but Windows just says that patches are "available." I have to guess how many that might be. I'm usually wrong.

Turns out, there were 11 patches. Annoyingly, Windows didn't tell me how many updates it had to install before I committed to doing it, nor how long it would take to install 11 updates. I'm sitting there, thinking how fortunate I was to have time in the middle of my workday to do this. 11 updates could take hours to install, or it could take minutes. Since you can only install these updates at "shutdown", you're committed to doing them. If they take an hour, you're stuck for an hour until Windows Update is finished.

Fortunately, these only took 15 minutes, and the system rebooted. I had finished reading the document by this time, and was ready to get back to work.

But wait! Windows Update wasn't done there! Some of patches (apparently) needed to make registry changes, so I had to wait for Windows to do that on reboot.

Then, other updates required doing their thing after boot, but before login, so I waited some more.

When my system was finally ready for me again, 30 minutes had gone by.

To be clear, I'm not complaining about the time required to install all these patches. I know installing updates takes time, I get that. But I'm taking the viewpoint of someone who had used Linux for years, now trying Windows for the first time in 7 years. And compared to Linux, the Windows Update process stinks.

With Linux, I know how many patches will be installed, and I can keep using my computer while Linux installs them. Not so on Windows. At the least, it would really help if Windows Update let me know how many patches it had to install before I committed to installing them.


  1. When I notice updates are available, I go to 'Microsoft Update' to see what's available, how big they are, and choose which I actually want to install.

    At least in XP (don't know about Vista) you can override the 'install and shut down' to plain shutdown during the shutdown dialog.

    If Vista doesn't have that, maybe select reboot, then just turn the sucker off before it starts back up again?

    My (next?) biggest complaint is that a single scan isn't always enough. After applying all available updates, a second scan can reveal more updates triggered by the first. The Linux updaters can resolve all the dependencies in one pass.

  2. Hi Larry.

    In Vista, I don't get a dialog for shutdown - but I did get a dialog during the few months I ran XP. Instead, I get the "shutdown" option directly in the Windows menu. There's a power button that [usually] shuts down the system, and off to the right are specific options for "reboot", etc.

    Originally, I got in the habit of clicking "Windows" then the "power" icon. I got out of that habit the first time there were updates to be installed, and had to sit there for 30 minutes while Windows Update ran - before I could go home. (See my other post about how Windows Update "owns" your machine, and what happens if you interrupt that update process.)

    So these days, I try to always click "Windows" then the word "Shutdown".

    I can't say I've ever seen an app on Windows Vista called Windows Update - not one that you could run manually. Does anyone know if this exists? I don't recall seeing it in the "Windows" menu, which is where I'd expect it to be.

  3. The worst part of it is, You have to pay an exorbitant sum of money for the right to use windows and then wonder if your data is being scanned and/or stolen. Does ANYONE *TRULY* know what's going on with all those HDD accesses that appear to happen for no apparent reason? How about all those update finishes where the HDD thrashes for minutes on end?

    There's a reason that mission critical outfits like the DoD uses Linux. It can inspect the kernel and/or modify it for its' own security reasons and then compile it for use on their systems and workstations. Putting 'Windows' and 'Security' in the same sentence is an oxymoron.

  4. JH, I've had the same "install on shutdown" behavior. I think it's because an update has requested that it needs to do something before shutdown. Personally, I think it's a regression from XP. I wouldn't mind a longer boot if the shutdown could be quick.

    Vista does actually have "Windows Update" as an actual application now, which is kinda nice. If you use the search box on the start menu, you can bring it up. Just start typing "Update".

    To see how many updates there are pending, use the details button (I think it requires UAC elevation). The button might be labeled different, I'm in Linux right now so I can't confirm the exact wording. However, you can go into a dialog that allows you to toggle which updates you want to apply and get details on what they do.

  5. For any OS, I would want to know the:
    a) total time an update will prevent me from using the computer.
    b) whether a restart is needed.
    c) purpose of the update and what the consequence of not updating might be.

    None of the OS provide a, although some do hint by providing the size.

    Mac OS X provides b and part of c.
    Windows XP and Vista presents part of c but it takes some navigation and the details are often useless.

    @Kevin: I wish it were true that DoD used reliable OS in all of its mission critical software. Unfortunately, US and other nations keep trying to use Windows. Microsoft Windows NT was used on the USS Yorktown in 1997. Windows XP is used on the British Royal Navy submarines.

  6. Here's the example of the USS Yorktown. Sorry, I don't know how to make this into a link:

    It was an utter failure. The ship was dead in the water. Thanks, Windows NT.

  7. @JH: as youngmug said, there is a Windows Update application; for me in Server 2008, it's in the 'All Programs' menu directly.

    XP had a Windows Update in the start menu too, though at least for a time that just launched IE and pointed at the Windows Update website (which used an ActiveX control to do the actual work). I forget if they changed that with SP2 or a later patch though.

    @youngmug: "I wouldn't mind a longer boot if the shutdown could be quick."

    I think which way is better varies a lot based on the computer you're talking about; my inital reaction would have been the exact opposite.

    I mostly use my desktop, so when I do shut it down there's basically no pressing need for it to turn of right away. It's not like, e.g., JH's case of the broken Windows Update where he needed to take off soon. I turn off the computer and leave for work, or turn off the computer and go to bed, or something similar. In essense, shut down time is almost always free. If I turn on the computer though, I almost certainly want to use it... boot time *isn't* free.

    On the other hand, there are a number of times when you might want to turn off a laptop in a hurry. Maybe the battery's about to die, or you want to leave for the day and go home, or something like that, and the need for immediate shutdown surfaces.

    I'm not arguing for one side or the other really, just pointing out that there are definitely two sides. ;-)

    @BillR: XP and Vista also present your information (b). I'm not sure that if it says a restart "may" be required (which is the typical wording) it always is, but there are updates that don't say they may require a restart and don't.

    (It may be too that message is applied blanketly to any sort of OS-level updates, in which case it'd be much less useful. There are 12 updates available for me now; 8 of them say that a restart "may be required to take effect" while 4 don't. The four that don't are a couple programs -- Silverlight, Live essentials, and a toolbar for Office -- and an update to the Windows Defender definitions. Not really on the same par as real OS-updates, which all say a restart may be required. I don't really have any way of determining whether the ones that say that they may need one actually do ask for one, other than installing them one-by-one which I don't really feel like doing. So there is SOME (>0) information here, but it could still be substantially lacking. I'm not sure.)

  8. Related:


    as seen in http://www.overclock.net/windows/569458-microsoft-attack-linux-retail-level-probably.html

  9. I don't remember how Vista does it, but XP has an option to do an advanced install which shows all the updates and sizes. I just tested an update under Windows 7 and it updated without really telling me anything until shutdown. Then I got the "Install Updates and Shut Down Your Computer" followed by "Installing Update 1 of 3..."


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