Patching behavior in Win10 1903 changes dramatically – for the better

Patching in Windows 10 version 1903 has turned the old “Check for updates” turkey shoot into something manageable, according to a new report by Ed Bott. If true, this will be the second significant reason to upgrade to 1903 (if Microsoft ever bashes the big bugs).

Broken window with band-aid patch
Thinkstock

For years, my main objection to Windows 10 has been its cavalier attitude toward patching: You got the monthly cumulative update (“quality updates”) whenever Microsoft pushed it; you got new versions (“feature updates”) when Microsoft’s vaunted AI (now called ML) decided your machine could take them; and heaven help you if you clicked “Check for updates.”

As you no doubt know by now, clicking “Check for updates” installed anything and everything Microsoft had stockpiled for your machine, often to deleterious effect.

Back in April, Microsoft’s Mike Fortin announced a change of heart:

[W]e have heard clear feedback that the Windows update process itself can be disruptive, particularly that Windows users would like more control over when updates happen. Today we are excited to announce significant changes in the Windows update process, changes designed to improve the experience, put the user in more control, and improve the quality of Windows updates.

Let’s leave aside the “improve the quality of Windows updates” part and focus on the procedural changes Fortin promised.

We are adding new features that will empower users with control and transparency around when updates are installed. In fact, all customers will now have the ability to explicitly choose if they want to update their device when they “check for updates” or to pause updates for up to 35 days.

The details didn’t quite work out that way, but it’s ballpark-close. Said Fortin:

Users can still “Check for updates” to get monthly quality and security updates... All Windows 10 devices with a supported version will continue to automatically receive the monthly updates. This new “download and install” option will also be available for our most popular versions of Windows 10, versions 1803 and 1809, by late May.

In fact, until a few weeks ago, Windows Update in 1903 was all over the map. Many folks found that 1803 and 1809 sported “Download and install now” links for the “feature update” to version 1903. But many also found that managing cumulative updates (and, presumably, version changes) in 1903 Pro, in particular, was an unholy mess:

  • The "Choose when updates are installed" block in 1903 Pro Advanced Options would appear, gray out, or disappear entirely.
  • We weren’t – and still aren’t – sure if the deferral settings made in Group Policy are honored by the updater.

Microsoft’s announcement that the next feature update – version 1909 – would be treated like a cumulative update just compounded the confusion.

Earlier today, Ed Bott revised his How to manage Windows 10 updates FAQ on ZDnet, and it includes several significant revelations:

Microsoft releases cumulative updates on the second Tuesday of each month. This is called the "B" release. On the third and fourth Tuesday of each month, you might see "C" and "D" releases. These are preview releases of the following month's "B" release, and they contain only non-security fixes.

In fact, the second (and third) monthly cumulative updates can appear on any day of the week, including Saturdays, on any day of any month, but never mind. 

These preview releases are not installed automatically. They are visible only if you go to the Windows Update page in Settings and manually check for updates. The only way to install one of these optional updates is to click the Download And Install Now link below its entry. 

That’s something I’ve never read before. Fortin hinted at it, and sure enough, as of a few weeks ago, it looks like Microsoft has cleaned up its act:

1903 second august cum update prompt Microsoft

That’s a sea change, to my mind anyway. With Win10 1903, Win10 Home and Pro users are allowed to defer cumulative updates in seven-day increments, up to 35 days. (In Pro you can defer updates by any number of days up to 35.) This puts on an extra protective layer, and Home customers need not monkey with metered connections or wushowhide.

We still don’t know what’s happening with the disappearing “Choose when updates are installed” part of the 1903 Pro user interface. Nobody’s explained exactly how the 1909 upgrade/update/locked feature/service pack will work.

But at least it looks like we’re headed in the right direction. Now if Microsoft could just get 1903 stable.

In-the-wild observations and musings always welcome on AskWoody.com

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