Windows automatically updating itself: Case closed?

Windows automatically updating itself: Case closed?

Summary: It's time for the latest -- and possibly final -- installment of the seemingly never-ending saga of "Why is my copy of Windows automatically updating and rebooting itself?" Microsoft says users just don't realize that their machines are set to update, most likely due to an admin setting. So Microsoft considers this case closed. But is it? And should it be?

It's time for the latest -- and possibly final -- installment of the seemingly never-ending saga of "Why is my copy of Windows automatically updating and rebooting itself?"Windows automatically updating itself: Case closed? In the last episode, the Windows Update Product team stated on its blog on October 12 that neither Automatic Update (AU) nor the bunch of patches that Microsoft rolled out on October 9, Patch Tuesday, were responsible for reports from Windows users earlier this month that their machines were automatically updating without their approval. The Product Update team continued to investigate. At some point (I'm not sure exactly when, as the time stamp does not reflect the post update time/date) the team updated its blog again, suggesting a few possible causes for the reports by certain Windows users of their machines updating automatically. On the team's list of possible reasons that AU settings can be (re)set or changed:
  • "During the installation of Windows Vista, the user chooses one of the first two recommended options in the “Out of Box Experience” and elects to get updates automatically from Windows
  • "The user goes to the Windows Update Control Panel and changes the AU setting manually
  • "The user goes to Security Center in Windows Vista and changes the AU setting
  • "The user chooses to opt in to Microsoft Update from the Microsoft Update web site
  • "The user chooses to opt in to Microsoft Update during the installation or the first run experience of another Microsoft application such as Office 2007."
In short, Microsoft's explanation was that users were knowingly or unknowingly changing their own Automatic Update settings and complaining about the results. I went back and asked some of the many readers who complained in the comments on my blog post, as well as the additional ones who sent me e-mail, about both Vista and XP automatically updating even after they had indicated they did not want automatic updates to take effect automatically. I showed them Microsoft's explanation. To put it politely, many did not feel Microsoft's explanation was adequate. Here's one reader response from a user who said that his XP machine rebooted itself this month, despite his AU settings being set to off:
"I'm not buying their explanation. I -- for several years -- have always shut off Windows update. I don't want anything installed on my computer unless I know about it. If something is done on my computer, installations or whatever, I want to control it. I don't allow any software vendor to update my software unless I'm aware of it. This includes Sun, Firefox, Thunderbird and others. I'm a computer tech and am keenly aware of how software changes can have adverse effects on a computer. I especially don't trust Microsoft. Why and how Microsoft made changes to my computer very much concerns me and makes me more wary of MS than ever."
Another reader astutely replied that he thought that the users might be experiencing the problem noted my ZDNet blogging colleague David Berlind back in August. Berlind documented how Vista could force unwanted and immediate reboots on users. Microsoft's explanation, at that time, was that users running in non-admin mode might be subject (knowingly or unknowingly) to the whims of their administrators. Microsoft's explanation to Berlind:
"Because an administrative user had configured the machine to automatically stay up to date, the reboot is not postpone-able by a non-admin. Allowing a non-admin to override an admin’s wish is not the right default for security sake. This behavior is also controllable by policy to allow a non-admin user to interact with Windows Update. So yes, what [you] experienced is by design and justifiable as it does not allow a non-admin to go against the wishes of the administrative user. And again if running as a non-admin is his normal mode of operation, then there are policies which can be set to tweak behaviors more to his liking."

I went back to the spokesperson for the Update team and asked whether it might be possible that this same policy decision was what was causing so many users to report that Vista and XP were automatically updating their machines against their wishes right after Patch Tuesday this month. The spokeswoman forwarded me the same response sent to Berlind, noting that it applied to Vista and XP. The spokesperson said users who felt these settings were inappropriate should get their admins to change the policy setting in Windows Update so that a restart does not happen automatically after a scheduled install. (As Berlind noted back in August, changing this setting is not something many average users will be able to do easily.) Microsoft is pointing users to this TechNet article explaining how to stop their machines from patching themselves without their approval, as well as this piece, which is specific to managing Windows Software Update Services settings. There are still a number of unanswered questions, in my mind, regarding this matter. Why are reports of machines updating themselves automatically surfacing now, over the past several months, and not before now -- especially in the case of five-year-old Windows XP? Are we going to start seeing these kinds of complaints flood in every month right around the time of Patch Tuesday? And are there other reasons beyond those Microsoft has suggested as the causes of Windows machines automatically patching and updating themselves which might be at fault here (as the reader I quoted is suggesting)? Microsoft considers this Windows Update case closed. But is it? And should it be?

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Keep your lies simple

    Human history has many examples of great lies being believed by most of the people. The key is to keep the lie simple and stay with it. Microsoft is adopting this tactic. I just don't understand why these reports are appearing NOW, more than 6 years after XP was launched. I don't buy it. Which reinforces the old adage "you can't fool all of the people all of the time."
    • Assumes facts not in evidence.

      I assume that since you are calling Microsoft a liar that you have some evidence that they are lying to us. Please share it and solve this mystery.
      • IT is the nature

        of the beast known as Microsoft to never be 100% truthful. Shall we go back to past history oh... yes when they said Internet Exploder couldn't be removed from the OS because it would cause it to become useless... 3 months or so later some person did just exactly that and Windows did not become unstable, it actually improved both in speed and stability! I will dig around see if I can find that article. I also seem to remember that he was supposed to give a demonstration but the Microsoft team found some technicality that kept the damning evidence out of the court room.

        So historically they lie, why would they be any different now? After all, they are driven by greed and greed will make people do immoral things like lie, embezzle and even dump toxic waste... so why wouldn't Microsoft lie!? Come on deniable plausibility, ever hear of it? Misdirection, hear of that? Anything that is damning to them they will lie about. Why? Self preservation. They lack as a whole entity the moral ethic of honesty. Something that is becoming harder to find each passing day in this nation. ]:)
        Linux User 147560
        • It is the nature of Linux ...

          ... fanboys to exaggerate, make up stories and outright lie about Microsoft and you are no exception. Windows Explorer which is how you navigate in Windows is part and parcel to IE. If you remove it you cannot interact with your computer. It may not be unstable but then it is also useless. Once again, if you have proof they lied in this case produce it.
          • Well...

            > "Once again, if you have proof they lied in this case produce it."

            If you count this...

            Or this...
          • Um. Both of those links refer to articles dated 1999.

            Perhaps you could do something better than eight year old articles. Especially when
            this is the current news:

            "DoJ doesn't want to extend Microsoft antitrust oversight"


            Furthermore those links do nothing to support the assertion Microsoft is lying.
          • Missed this one...


            And he asked "if you have proof they lied in this case produce it". I'm just pointing out how they've reacted in the past, while in court and under oath no less.
          • Did you honestly think a 3rd link from 1999 was going to change me mind?

            Any chance you can come up with something current? Or perhaps directly proving
            the assertion?
          • Same management...

            same management style.

            Doesn't matter if it's 8 years or 20 years. They'll lie, cheat and steal. And people like No_axe will call it being competitive.
          • IOW: No, you don't have any proof.

            No surprise.
          • Ye, you're the main reason why...

            ... I (and probably thousands of others) have nearly quit reading these followups to articles. You're so dumb, you're boring, trite, repetative, and, ... mostly annoying.

            I was going to see what information I might glean from this article, but I'm stopping here because you are nothing more than a stupid roadblock.

            Pat yourself on the back; you have - again - destroyed all true inquiry.

            I'm not coming back, so you needn't reply - because I don't care. You're too stupid to understand anything.

            I hope you get paid to be the PRAVDA turnoff, but I also hope ZD realizes that the only readers they are going to have are newbies and mental deficients like yourself, so their advertising should go on a decline spiral until they can't afford to provide a platform for your zoo-types.
          • My comments have no bearing on the content of the article.

            If you were seeking information from the article then you don't need to read the comments.

            As to my dumb, well, I guess people who do not know any better would reach that conclusion. Fact is I deal with facts. And the facts support my position more than the ABMers. As for being repetative...I agree. Unfortunately the ABMers either don't get it the first time or don't care thus they continue to spew their FUD. Thus requiring me to repeat myself.

            Now...if you have an intelligent argument as to why I'm wrong present it. Merely saying it won't make it so.
          • Neither of these refer to this topic.

            That is another well known tactic of the ABMer crowd. Let me make it simple for you since you are having trouble grasping what I said. If you have proof Microsoft is lying about the systems automatically updating themselves then please provide it. Leave the history lesson for another time.
          • The lie "Turn Off Automatic Updates"

            When I check "Turn Off Automatic Updates" radio button provided, by M$, with the obvious understanding, no automatic updates will occur, that's what I expect. If it does automatcally update without my interaction, then somebody lied.
          • Microsoft's befuddling naming conventions

            He said Internet Exploder (web browser), not Windows Exploder (file mangler). And
            there used to be replacements for Windows Exploder, for that matter. Maybe they
            don't work on Vista due to security restraints, I haven't checked. You can even
            replace the Finder with a different file manager on Mac OS X, if it suits you.
          • I know what he said but but at the core of IE ...

            ... is Windows Explorer. To remove IE completely you would have to remove Windows Explorer. If Windows shipped that way you wouldn't be able to interact with your computer. The fact that there may be substitute programs is irrelevent. The statement that Microsoft not being able to remove IE and still have a functioning operating system is correct.
          • Linux Fanboys?

            Exaggerate? Coming from one of the biggest MCSE Monkeys and Bill Gates suck ups, that is pretty funny.

            Show of hands: How many people rolled their eyes when #1 MS Fanboy accused Linux "fanboys" of exaggeration?
            brian ansorge
          • At least you know who you are!

            look through the posts. You would think that Gates, Ballmer and allchin were the 3rd Reich. If that isn't exaggerated then I don't know what is!
          • the 3rd Reich is done past

            This one must be the Fourth Reich.
            Ole Man
          • Coo Blimey

            I removed WE and IE from my Computer years ago, and again when I had to reinstall MSXP recently.
            I use Thunderbird and Firefox , and have for as long as they have been available.
            I have had no more than most people have with MSOS.
            However I will be installing Ubuntu 7.10 and spending my time on that. Will not have to worry about Spyware,Viruses etc. and expect to live happily ever after.

            Peace and Joy