Windows Updates: “To Update or Not to Update – That is the Question”

Windows Updates: “To Update or Not to Update – That is the Question”

Sep 23, 2009

I can almost guarantee that anybody that uses a computer at some stage has left their perfectly functional workstation or server only to return hours later or the next morning and find things aren’t working the way they should or maybe not working at all.

It happened to me again only a couple of days ago. I had been using Microsoft Word 2007 without any problems. I left the office and returned the next morning and Word kept freezing. I was going out of my mind. I needed to get a proposal out and ended up spending 2 hours trying to get Word working again. Even re-installing MS Office and running the Office Diagnosis didn’t resolve the issue. Sure enough upon checking the Event Log I found that Windows Updates had come in overnight. I rolled back the updates and sure enough MS Word worked perfectly.

This poses the question: “Should we run Windows Updates?”.

Given the loss of productivity when the updates go wrong it tends to become a case of “If it aint broke then don’t fix it”.

This question of whether to update or not to update doesn’t just apply to Windows Updates but all Updates. I recently had a customer insist that his Blackberry be updated to the latest software and firmware versions. After 4 hours of updates, reconnects, reboots, reconfigurations we were finally complete. The next morning the customer found that he could no longer connect his Blackberry to the car’s Bluetooth. A call to the the Telstra shop confirmed our suspicions, the updates cause a problem with the Bluetooth and the device had to sent back to be repaired. Once again our only fault was applying the updates that were recommended.

Computers are extremely complex devices. The levels of abstraction are immense and at times it boggles the mind that they even function when you consider all the things that have to work correctly for you to even get to the Welcome screen. When a vendor releases an update whether it be firmware, mainboard driver, video driver, Windows update, Internet Security update etc the last thing they want to do is cause a problem with your machine but unfortunately the vendor can never take into account the infinite number of hardware, software, driver combinations that exist around the world. In many cases an update has been tested on 1000’s of machines and you may just have some combination that puts you in the minority of people that are affected by an update.

So, do we update or don’t we?

With the old saying in mind “If it aint broke then don’t fix it”; I recommend updating in a controlled fashion.
Unfortunately we can’t do a great deal about Internet Security updates. With viruses and spyware plaguing the Internet I don’t recommend turning off Internet Security updates. Fortunately the number of problems caused by Internet Security updates are relatively minimal.

I do however recommend switching your Windows Updates from Automatic to “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them”. By changing to this setting you have control over when the system applies the updates. You can then install the updates at a time where it is more convenient. By manually nominating to install the update you also know that if things aren’t quite right after the update then there’s a 99.99% chance that the update caused the problem and you can easily wind back the update. Often when an update causes a problem there is another update released shortly after to fix the previous update. By waiting you get all the problems resolved in one.

I hope this piece of advice gives you some control over the stability of your machine. The loss of productivity can be massive when an update doesn’t go the way it was intended and Murphy’s Law says that if its going to break it will break when you most need it.

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