The Perils Of Windows Automatic Updates

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    Microsoft’s default setting for automatic updates on Windows XP and Vista is just that, automatic. The downloading and installation of updates takes place without the knowledge or consent of the PC owner. Microsoft recommends the fully automatic setting to ensure that all users get every critical update that becomes available to correct buggy code and enhance the security of their computers. This is certainly noble reasoning, and most of the time, and for the majority of users it works fine.

    The Perils Of  Windows Automatic Updates

    But what happens when some of those automatic updates backfire and ruin your day?

    I have seen quite a few postings on different respected websites cautioning people to delay the download and installation of certain specific Microsoft updates due to problems that had adversely impacted some users.

    The difficulty in heeding these warnings is that the barn door is shut well after the horse has escaped. Therefore, a change should be made in the downloading and installation of automatic updates to protect users from calamity. Over a year ago I changed the settings on our computers to download updates and advise me so I can decide if and when to install the updates.

    Last week I repaired a hardware fault on a client’s PC, and changed the Automatic Update settings to my described preference, and then connected to the internet to download and install Windows XP Service Pack 3. My goal was to speed the update process as Service Pack 3 contained all the software fixes and security updates issued after Service Pack 2.

    While Service Pack 3 was installing, it occurred to me that I should have made an image backup of the hard drive before running the installation program.

    Now I have installed Service Pack 3 on several computers without a glitch, but this installation caught me with my pants down. I tried every trick I knew and could not get Windows to boot. I was faced with a lengthy reinstallation of XP Pro and the client’s software programs (and hoped he had a backup of his data files.)

    Long ago, I picked up a useful bit of wisdom.

    Most computer problems you experience have been seen before by someone else, and someone has found a solution to the problem. Computer forums are a powerful place to get answers to desperate questions.

    After a brief time of searching several forums, I found someone who had the same problem before and had found an effective solution. So I set about applying the solution, and in fifteen minutes, was up and running.

    The procedure uninstalled Service Pack 3, and rolled the system back to Service Pack 2, which restored stability to the computer. Something on the PC did not like Service Pack 3, and I was happy to see it go.

    Not more than ten minutes passed before Automatic Updates informed me that downloads were now available for installation. I chose the "custom install" rather than the "quick install" option (which is vital if you want to review and prevent some of the updates), and there in the middle of the update listing was that evil Service Pack 3.

    If I had not changed the update setting to download and advise so I could choose the updates and the timing of installation, Service Pack 3 would have been reinstalled on the computer catching me completely by surprise, and forcing a repeat of the fix.

    If you want to have some control on the updating process, just follow these directions.

    In XP, click Start, Control Panel, System, Automatic Updates tab, Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them, and Apply. You must navigate to Windows Update online to later install the updates you initially reject. In Windows Vista, click Start, Control Panel, Windows Update, Change Settings (on left of screen). Click on Download updates but let me choose whether to install them, then click OK. Using this setting will allow you to delay installation until you confirm whether the updates have been declared safe. You can go back to the Windows Update screen and click on Restore Hidden Updates to install the ones you initially refused.

    Any thoughts or comments? How do you like to receive your updates?
    Last edit by Joe V on Jan 15, '15
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  3. by   VivaLasViejas
    Service Pack 3 caused my computer to crash and burn....something that's taken me the better part of 2 days to fix. (Thank goodness I'm on vacation!)

    Thank you for this article---now I've changed my settings so that I don't get automatic updates anymore. Words to the wise!
  4. by   CaptainPC
    Thanks for your comments, VivaLasViejas. Now I know by name two people who have been bitten by the SP3 update - ouch! I use to take for granted that service packs were my friend, but things are not always as they seem. Sorry you had to go through two days of that during your vacation. Hopefully you won't see SP3 again until it is safe to apply.