​Windows 10 automatic updates: Get over it

The number one complaint people have about Windows 10 is that it forces patches down their throat. Good! There are too many security dolts using Windows who are making the net unsafe for all of us.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The Internet needs a warning sign that reads, "You must be at least this smart to use the net." Well, we'll never get that, but Microsoft has made one good step in that direction. With Windows 10 Home, Microsoft is implementing automatic patching.

Automatic Windows 10 patching is a good idea.

That's great news, but many users hate Microsoft for this Big Brother approach. Anyone who's read most of my work knows I've disliked many of Microsoft's moves, but this one is a good one.

Why? Because year after year it's been shown that most users can't be trusted to keep their systems up to date. That, in turn, means that millions of PCs are pwned every day by malware using bugs that were patched ages ago.

Most botnets are powered by unprotected Windows systems and that, in turn, means all of us get attacked because clueless people won't update their systems. Look no further than how the obsolete Windows XP now powers a disproportionately large number of botnet attacks.

In short, clueless Windows users are one of the biggest reasons why there's so much crap and trouble on the Internet.

So, like it or lump it, if you're using Windows 10 Home, your system is going to be updated when Microsoft says it's time. The Windows 10 Home EULA now reads: "You may obtain updates only from Microsoft or authorized sources, and Microsoft may need to update your system to provide you with those updates. By accepting this agreement, you agree to receive these types of automatic updates without any additional notice."

That means you're computer is going to be patched whether you like it or not. Specifically, if you're using Windows 10 Home, you're going to be on the Current Branch. This, in turn, means you're going to get any new features, fixes, drivers and security updates via Windows Update on Microsoft's schedule. The only choice you'll get is whether you want to apply the new code right now or later. That's it.

In all fairness, the problem isn't just security-stupid Windows users. Some Windows users find the operating system overwhelming.

ZDNet's Jason Perlow told me, "It's the 'I saw a weird prompt asking me to update and I am scared' issue. My mother-in-law is one of those types. With Windows 7 and 8.x I had to remote in with TeamViewer to ensure she was patching her machine, and she would even email me or call me on the phone when she got an update prompt. Transparent patch management has been a part of data-center/server IT practice for years; it's high time the end-users got on this train. {At the] end of the day, the users shouldn't even have to think about scary prompts or be computer experts. The tech should just work for them."

She's not the only one in that boat. For people like that, I recommend Chromebooks. They've been automatically updating for years now. And, what a surprise, there hasn't been a single major malware attack on any of them in the four years they've been around.

That said, automatic updates aren't a perfect solution. I don't pretend it is. Unlike ChromeOS, where there's only a few dozen systems, there are thousands of different PC models. Historically, there have been way too many Windows patches over the years that break working systems. Even so, automatic updates are better than having millions of out-of-date, unsafe systems on the net.

Still, as Ed Bott, ZDNet's resident Windows expert, said, "On the other side of the equation, making this decision means Microsoft takes on a major responsibility to not screw things up. They have to earn the trust that auto updates will work."

Microsoft, "seems to have gotten better than they were say 18 months ago [when there was] a defective patch every week," said Bott. Microsoft must improve their patch quality assurance. Bott concluded: "This is a move that has to happen, and some transitional pain is inevitable and cooperation on both sides (Microsoft and its customers) [is] essential."

If you're running Windows 10 Pro, you -- or more likely, your system administrator -- will decide how you get updates. You can be on the Current Branch with its automatic update or Current Branch for Business (CBB). With CBB, you can delay patches. The only way you'll get complete control over Windows 10 is if you're running Windows 10 Enterprise with Long Term Servicing (LTS).

What if you can't stand this idea of patches being shoved down your throat? Well, Microsoft isn't publicizing it, but there is a Windows 10 troubleshooter package to give you more control. It's called "How to temporarily prevent a Windows or driver update from reinstalling in Windows 10," KB3073930. This enables you to hide or block Windows Updates and -- the most likely source of Windows 10 patch problems -- Driver updates.

Not enough control for you? You want real power over your system? Well, come on over to Linux. The operating system, Mint 17.2 in particular, is fine. Otherwise, I don't want to hear about how unfair it is that Microsoft is pushing updates on you. Years, decades, of misuse has shown that most users can't be trusted with basic security.

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