Microsoft prepares new update options for Windows 10

In the Creators Update, this spring's big Windows 10 release, Microsoft is adding some new knobs and levers for managing updates, including an option to delay feature updates by up to a year. The biggest change is a new option to schedule or snooze updates. Here's what you can expect.

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The next big Windows 10 release includes welcome changes to Windows Update.

[Updated March 1, 2017] The single most common complaint I've heard about Windows 10 is its lack of control over update timing. That's annoying enough for monthly security updates, which typically take just a few minutes to install. But when a feature update (the new name for major version upgrades that now arrive twice a year) kicks off its installation without warning, it can render the PC unusable for an hour or more.

In two previous feature updates, Windows 10 added options to defer the installation of updates and to pause them temporarily. These settings were primarily aimed at enterprise admins, however, with the most useful options requiring changes to Group Policy.

The Windows 10 Creators Update, due for release this spring, will dramatically change those options.

The biggest change, not yet available in Insider preview builds, is part of a series of privacy and update related announcements. It adds a prominent pop-up notification when updates are available. It should look like this, according to Microsoft:

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Beginning with this spring's Creators Update, you can schedule or snooze updates.

If you choose the Pick a time option, you get to select the date and time when you want the update to be installed.

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Effective with the Creators Update, you can schedule when updates are installed.

In a major reversal of previous policy, Microsoft will allow users to click Snooze repeatedly, effectively deferring updates indefinitely. That's not a recommended course of action, but it's how the feature will work.

These new options apply to all Windows 10 editions.

For administrators who want to apply policy-based delays and deferrals to updates, the new release will consolidate update controls into the Settings app, adding some knobs and levers that make them much easier to manage and no longer requiring Group Policy. You'll pay for the privilege, though: the following new update controls are available only for the Pro/Enterprise/Education editions. The entry-level edition of Windows 10 offers none of the new update controls.

If you're running the latest Windows 10 Insider preview build, 15042, you won't be able to adjust any of these settings. (The point of Insider builds, after all, is to install the latest updates before the general public, not delay them.) But the user interface is there, albeit hidden. The controls shown here are taken directly from build 15042 and should match what you can expect to see when this update rolls out in April.

The new controls can be found under Settings > Update & security > Windows Update > Advanced Options.

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These options were previously buried in Group Policy settings.

The first option allows you to choose a servicing branch. The default is the Current Branch, which installs feature updates as soon as they're released by Microsoft. Choosing the Current Branch for Business option allows you to wait until Microsoft declares that update ready for business users. By policy, the Current Branch for Business is always at least four months after the Current Branch.

Note that this setting has the same effect as the Defer Feature Updates checkbox in Windows 10 version 1607, Pro/Enterprise/Education editions; it's just more clearly labeled. It's also the same as the Group Policy setting that has been available since version 1511: Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Update > Defer Windows Updates.

The second option allows you to delay installation of updates by a set number of days after their release to the selected branch. You can delay cumulative monthly quality updates by up to 30 days. This is a persistent setting, so you might choose to set updates to always be delayed by 10 days if you want to perform testing and monitor newsgroups before committing them in your organization.

Likewise, you can delay feature updates by up to 365 days from the time they are released to the branch you selected. That latter option is a significant change from the current setting, which allows you to defer feature updates by 180 days.

A new Pause Updates switch in Settings allows you to put Windows Update on hold for up to 35 days. If you're traveling or working on a project where you can't afford unexpected downtime, this option should be a life-saver. Before you leave on your five-day business trip, hit the Pause button and set it to seven days. That allows you to travel with assurance that you won't be interrupted by an update at an awkward time.

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To avoid the risk of interruption, you can pause Windows Update completely for up to five weeks.

Finally, the interval for setting Active Hours is increased from the current 12 hours to 18 hours. That should lessen the likelihood of updates appearing unexpectedly at the beginning or end of a long workday.

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In the Creators Update, you can set Active Hours to include 18 hours, up from 12 in the current release.

The new update controls are a decided improvement over the status quo, but they still require some user interaction. You can't kick the can down the road indefinitely, but you can manage the update process enough to minimize the risk of disruption significantly.

Of course, in the Windows-as-a-service era, there's no guarantee that any of these changes will be final. The next feature update, due at the end of 2017, could include still more knobs and levers for twiddling update settings. But these changes should go a long way to tamping down the most serious complaints.

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