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Posted on October 9th, 2013 by Barry Collins

Painless Windows Updates: the great lie of Windows 8

Hands on head

I’ve just sat here doing nothing for 20 minutes in the busiest part of my day. Why? Because of Windows sodding Update.

I was there at the Build conference in 2011 when Microsoft promised the problem of Windows Update interrupting your work day would be a thing of the past with Windows 8. The rotten, stinking liars.

Windows Update has, if anything, got worse. True, it no longer nags you from the System Tray when there are new updates to install. Now the warning is far too subtly placed on the Settings panel that I barely ever open.

My PC was going to be about as much use as a Bible to Richard Dawkins for the foreseeable future

I rarely ever turn my laptop off – just shut the lid and put it to sleep – so usually the first time I even know I’ve got updates to install is when I get the pop-up ultimatum saying I’ve got 20 minutes to save all my work or it’s going to install them anyway. And that, of course, is always the moment you’re heading off to give a PowerPoint presentation, or there’s a massive breaking news story, or some other event that makes rebooting my PC a hideous inconvenience.

This morning, my PC had slowed to a crawl and I decided to reboot, and was presented with the option to “restart” or “update and restart”. I chose the latter to avoid the inevitable ultimatum later in the day, but, of course, you get no warning of just how many updates Windows has sucked down from the mothership and plans to install. It turns out this morning there were no fewer than 42 of them.

At this point, I put my feet up and started reading the newspaper, because my PC was going to be about as much use as a Bible to Richard Dawkins for the foreseeable future.

Why are we given no clear warning of how many updates await us? Why is Windows Update still such an unbearable pain in the backside? Microsoft, I’m sending you the invoice for the life I’ve lost. And I want interest.

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57 Responses to “ Painless Windows Updates: the great lie of Windows 8 ”

  1. Steve Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 10:52 am

    My Windows 8 machines give me at least 2 days of warnings on the lock screen that updates are needed so I can set them off at a convenient time. Obviously that warning counts down until eventually you get the message saying the updates will be installed so save everything. I think 2 days warning is more than enough and a lot better than older versions on Windows.

  2. Steve Cassidy Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Bad day at the office, dear? Update is hell, no matter how you configure it. Interesting that there’s no way to say “even if my lid is shut at 3am and I am awake, run everything that’s pending then” – the default assumption used to be that PCs would all be left on overnight and this was the ideal time to get weaving with the updates. Oh, and hunt down the vistaupd-del .cmd file which empties out the softwaredownload folder of all the updates you’ve received, applied and will never read again – after a while it has a material effect on overall system speed.

  3. Steve Cassidy Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 10:56 am

    here’s the commands from that batch file:

    cd \
    cd %windir%
    cd SoftwareDistribution
    DEL /F /S /Q Download

    just save it as “emptybucket.cmd” and right-click on the icon to run as administrator.

    Update *really* hurts if, like me, you have “warzone” machines which get hauled out to do data recovery or VM moves and may not be turned on for a couple of weeks at a time, or more: these days I have to make a note to fire them up the night before I take them out, just to flush all the updates through.

  4. JohnAHind Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 11:06 am

    I cannot understand why Microsoft does not implement the simple, obvious solution to the underlying problem. Build a single-purpose firewall into the network stack. This could be invoked remotely by Microsoft and would lock down the network stack to only talk to Windows Update. When a really serious vulnerability is found that needs to be patched immediately, just invoke the filewall and alert the user, THEN download the update and finally prompt the user to re-boot to restore full network connectivity (no automatic reboots needed).

    This would also enable another problem to be finally resolved: at present if you need to “nuke and reload” your machine, you end up being online for hours with a completely un-patched and vulnerable machine while Windows Update downloads and installs all the updates since the original installer was issued. By making new installations come up with the firewall pre-invoked, this almost criminal irresponsibility by Microsoft would also be resolved. Of course, they should also maintain up to date installer images for download from their website to save our time. I want the days of my life I’ve wasted knife-and-forking slipstreamed installers using third-party software back. And I want interest too!

  5. Andrew Denny Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I think you just persuaded me to buy a Chromebook.

  6. Adrian Kentleton Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I have no sympathy for you. What on earth are you doing, allowing WinUpdate to download updates automatically (rather than just notify you)?
    It’ll no doubt come as a complete shock to you that Windows has been releasing updates on the second Tueday of the monthh for 10 years!!
    I do my updates when I have decided it’s time to have a coffee and read the newsapaper!

  7. wittgenfrog Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Like Steve says, you do get a decent warning, but only when your PC is running.

    It seems like a pretty insoluble problem to me.
    There are ameliorations:
    If you leave your PC switched-on and net-connected 24/7 then you can select the option to automatically install at a convenient (i.e midnight) time.

    In a corporate environment the System Admin can force updates via WSUS, though we then run into the “PowerPoint” problem you identified.

    In our organisation I use WSUS. Every 4th Wednesday (or thereabouts) the “Patch Tuesday” stuff downloads to my server & is mainly auto-approved. It then gets flagged & downloaded (but NOT installed) to PCs as they log-on to the network.
    To ensure that the “PP” problem doesn’t occur I email everyone to alert them to install at their convenience. They’re quite well trained now and often actually do this without prompting.

    Our Servers use different policies to ensure continuity….

  8. mr_chips Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 11:42 am

    @Steve – thanks for sharing that command. very handy indeed.

  9. wittgenfrog Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Yes indeed the script is most useful .
    Word of warning, though, don’t run it until you’ve INSTALLED all the available updates….

  10. Test Man Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    You lot are weird. It’s simple – change Windows Update to notify but not to download or install.

    I’ve been doing that since Windows 95 – never had any problems.

    Windows 8 notifies you on the lock screen anyway.

    And also – doesn’t it appear in the Action Center notification icon list anyway?

  11. stasi47 Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    thanks for the script.
    gives ~.3GB back.

    I would advise to first run:
    net stop wuauserv

    …before deleting the folder and once deleted to run:
    net start wuauserv

  12. Richard Wilson Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Using a fingerprint scanner to login I never see the lock screen, and with no notification on the desktop I never see the notifications, after my system rebooted without warning (I must have been typing when the alert about rebooting came up as any key dismisses these) and lost me 30 mins of work I switched off automatic updates and now have a reminder in my calendar at lunchtime on the day after Patch Tuesday (there is a pattern) so I don’t have to fear the patches… But it’s pretty rubbish that I have to do that. Why not a nice quiet update in the background when the machine isn’t busy then a simple request to reboot when convenient? Forcing a reboot is never a good option.

  13. Menorca_man Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    For those of you using CCleaner, you can purge your SoftwareDistribution Download folder by adding it under Options > Include. Then select Drive or Folder and browse to the C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\download folder. Under File Types select “All Files” and choose “Include files and subfolders” from the Options dropdown list.
    If at any time you want to exclude this folder from a CCleaner run then just untick the Custom Files and Folders checkbox under “Cleaner” > “Advanced” prior to commencing the scan.

  14. Bookmac Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    “I rarely ever turn my laptop off – just shut the lid and put it to sleep”

    That is you issue – lack of decent maintenance practice. I assume you are not an IT Pro.

    With a maintenance practice these things would not happen at the moment you’re heading off to give a PowerPoint presentation, or there’s a massive breaking news story, or some other event that makes rebooting your PC a hideous inconvenience.

  15. Barry Collins Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 3:48 pm


    What? Using the equipment as it’s intended to be used? PCs shouldn’t need a maintenance practice. This is 2013, not 1990.

    Barry Collins

  16. Steve Cassidy Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Barry’s point about 2013 is spot on. My standard tidy-up for Win7 and later PCs includes ccleaner, the SoftwareDistribution purge, and using the tools tab in CCleaner to take out all the old System Restores but the last; those alone, along with a rationally configured ramdisk, saves the bacon of many a machine apparently crippled by nothing but the weight of old updates. I wonder: Baz, are you connected to Windows InTune? If not, the state of your machine right now would comprise a handy evaluation!

  17. Kevin Parther Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    On my Chromebook, updates happen when you log-off. They therefore take 8 seconds in total. Marvellous.
    Sadly, until Adobe creates an online version of Illustrator (and charges a sensible price) I’m stuck with doing most of my work on a Windows machine. I also set all my machines to notify but not download updates because otherwise it’s a bloody nightmare.

  18. Martin Ruston Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    It may be a little OCD but I deliberately run windows update the Wednesday after patch Tuesday specifically to install the updates.

  19. Tim Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Why so long to update? My PCs only take a minute or so even for this month’s bumper crop. Like others I also set the notify option so my monthly restart is at a time of my choosing.

  20. Steve (again) Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    All my Win 8 machines have the 2 day warning that my PC will restart to finish installing updates now. This is on the screen where I type my password to log in, not the lock screen; sorry.

    Perhaps you manually restarted for some other reason this morning and therefore the updates finished installing as designed. This is hardly Windows 8 interrupting your work day.

    I guess I will be forced to reboot my machines in the next 48 hours, but when when I choose.

  21. Damian Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    Basically you got caught and have no-one but yourself to blame. What can MS do? Shove notifications down your throat? Place written notifications on the desktop? Constant reminders to update?

    Once again MS gets slammed for, if you ask me, which you’re not, a users issue.

  22. David Wright Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 6:21 am

    My first thought as well, I always get a 2 day warning. I then select a convenient time to reboot.

  23. Ed Ball Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 6:24 am

    An Ipad update recently took its time. Its not just Microsoft.

  24. John Kirkham Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Good morning. I am a fan of PcPro of many years and enjoy reading the magazine.I am disappointed at the intemperatate language here, particularly when the simplest of solutions is staring Barry in the face, as several calmer correspondents have outlined.

  25. wittgenfrog Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 7:54 am

    @Barry Collins
    You make an excellent point, we DO expect everything to be incredibly slick, and require no effort on our part.
    Unfortunately the PC ecosystem is so diverse that MS (like Apple) has to target a ‘lowest common denominator’ of both hardware & users. Hence the somewhat clunky system that both employ, and the requirement that users need to do a little work too.

    @Kevin Partner
    You’re comparing chalk and cheese.
    If all you have on your “PC” is a basic file-system, I\O, display code and browser (i.e. Chrome), then updates are going to be painless: there’s next to nothing to update!

    Tribal allegiances aside, the “Chrome” model is going to become increasingly popular. The core architecture of Windows 8 is explicitly designed to facilitate developing “Google Apps” type applications which run in the cloud and display locally. If the current HTML 5 fiasco is ever resolved this will come into its own.

  26. Roger Andre Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Could be that the general public has become more dumbed down than the generations of yesteryear. Maybe the Windows desktop is too advanced for the average. I wonder how much fun future generations are going to have playing with the legacy desktop when it’s rediscovered time and time again.

  27. Richard Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 10:07 am

    A couple of points;

    CCleaner : As far as I can see, clearing out the SoftwareDistribution isn’t available under Vista or Win 7, only XP. Or have I missed something?

    Updates are one area where I prefer Vista. In Win 7, you get the nagging reboot in 20 mins dialogue, in Vista you are only forced to do the updates if you do a shutdown. This is handy because you can quickly restart your PC sans updates. MS actually went backwards in this respect!

    But I agree the comments above, the best solution is to get Windows Update to download updates and then let you choose when to install them.

    But I do sympathise Barry, just when you need your PC, along come the updates. And it’s not just MS, there’s anti-virus updates, Adobe updates, browser updates etc. they can all slow the PC to a crawl.

  28. Rob Phillips-Legge Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 10:11 am

    You don’t want to upgrade to 8.1 then either. the process does keep your data, but deletes all your programs. Clever!

  29. Kurobara Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 11:55 am

    It happens the same time every month. How hard is it to remember the second Tuesday of EVERY MONTH. He has no excuse to complain about it happening when he is in last minute preparation for a presentation, if he just took 15-20 minutes over a 2-3 day period in the second week of each month to make sure they are installed. It’s really not that much to ask. Yes, MSFT should find a way to install updates without requiring a restart. Yes it can be an inconvenience, but it is a regular one which has no excuse to be unaware of.

  30. Barry Collins Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 12:07 pm


    Except, it’s not the same time every month. Because after yesterday installing 42 patches, I’ve now today got another warning of further updates that require a restart.

    It’s not uncommon for Microsoft to issue emergency patches, or reissue borked patches. It’s happened twice in recent months.

    Barry Collins

  31. Jules75 Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    How long was it since you did your last update if you had 42 of them to do?
    Most people know about patch Tuesday, so on the following day I check to see if any new updates need to be applied and reboot as required. It barely takes more than a few minutes on Windows 8. I really don’t see what the issue is.

  32. Bookmac Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    There used to be a rumour that computers worked better if they were left on all the time. This is unmitigated cobblers. A computer in ‘sleep mode’ still uses up to 25% or so of its waking power consumption, and there’s nothing to lose in switching desktop kit off at night.

  33. Bookmac Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Barry Collins Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 3:48 pm
    What? Using the equipment as it’s intended to be used? PCs shouldn’t need a maintenance practice. This is 2013, not 1990.

    Guess the same should go for my car then. After all it is 2013!

  34. mscotgrove Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    2 days notice can still be a problem. I sometimes have jobs that take 7 days with no start in the middle options.

  35. Barry Collins Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 3:45 pm


    What you lose by shutting down is startup time. It takes my laptop a second or two to rouse from sleep, and a good 30 seconds or so to boot from cold.

    Your car anology is flawed. Your car doesn’t take 20 minutes to start on Monday morning if you don’t switch the engine off at the traffic lights on the way home the night before.

    Barry Collins

  36. Barry Collins Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    My updates are set to install automatically, so if there were 42 waiting, that’s how many Microsoft has deemed to send me since the last patch. I’m not stalling/delaying updates.

    Barry Collins

  37. Bookmac Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    But Barry – you slated my comment about the need for a maintenance plan in 2013.

    Surely a car needs a maintenance plan?

    Your interpretation of my original comments was obviously flawed.

    My laptop with its SSD takes seconds to boot – what is the big issue?

    Anyway – the next time you get home leave the car running in the driveway overnight. Tell me if it starts in the morning!

  38. Barry Collins Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 4:45 pm


    We’re getting a little bogged down in a semantic argument. But my car doesn’t need daily, weekly or even monthly maintenance. A drop of oil occasionally and a squiff of air in the tyres, and it can largely go from MOT to MOT without any maintenance.

    Sleep mode certainly isn’t the equivalent of leaving the engine running. I can put my Surface Pro into sleep mode and resume where I left off more than a fortnight later, with most of the battery still intact.

    Barry Collins

  39. Jules75 Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    @ Barry – I take some of it back. 44 updates this Tuesday! lol I can see a lot of Office updates included in this batch.

  40. Steve Says:
    October 11th, 2013 at 4:57 am

    Our cretinous IT dept (in Kazakhstan & UK) set up auto install overnight on updates through policies, good idea you think unless you’re running large scale computations that take all night to run, OOPS along comes update and reboots computer before calculations are finished
    This took 6 months to get them to ‘correct’ and months of wasted days watching a computer crunch numbers

  41. Maurice Farlie Says:
    October 11th, 2013 at 7:31 am

    XP experience may be worse. I’ve just spent over an hour installing the latest – and there’s another to come! The biggest issue is the CPU hog after booting XP even if updates set to notification only – what is going on? And why can’t the restart reminder be turned off?

  42. Bookmac Says:
    October 11th, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Barry – I think you are referring to Hibernation Mode and not Sleep mode.

    They are two very different things.

  43. Bookmac Says:
    October 11th, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Sleep is a power-saving state that allows a computer to quickly resume full-power operation (typically within several seconds) when you want to start working again. Putting your computer into the sleep state is like pausing a DVD player—the computer immediately stops what it’s doing and is ready to start again when you want to resume working.
    Hibernation is a power-saving state designed primarily for laptops. While sleep puts your work and settings in memory and draws a small amount of power, hibernation puts your open documents and programs on your hard disk, and then turns off your computer. Of all the power-saving states in Windows, hibernation uses the least amount of power. On a laptop, use hibernation when you know that you won’t use your laptop for an extended period and won’t have an opportunity to charge the battery during that time.

  44. Barry Collins Says:
    October 11th, 2013 at 10:06 am


    We’re both right:)

    The default setting for the Balanced power scheme in Windows 8 is to put the laptop in Sleep mode when the lid’s closed, and then drop to Hibernate after 180 minutes.

    Barry Collins

  45. Menorca_man Says:
    October 11th, 2013 at 10:13 am


    Re CCleaner – you must have missed something. I’m running CCleaner v4.06.4324 under Windows 7. Using the Include option EXACTLY as detailed in my reply above definitely clears out my SoftwareDistribution folder!

  46. Bookmac Says:
    October 11th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Hurrah. My car engine turns itself off when stationary in traffic as well – then starts instantly when needed.

  47. Dave2001 Says:
    October 13th, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Windows 8 is a total disaster. No other way to look at it. It’s the most unfriendly and ultimately unusable version of Windows yet to emerge from Redmond, and frankly we’re done with Windows now – from here on in it’s Linux all the way – At least the modern versions of Linux actually look and feel like Windows these days, which is more than you could ever say for windows 8!

  48. Richard Says:
    October 13th, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    I see what you’re doing there and I learned something about CCleaner, so thanks for that.
    BUT pause for thought, CCleaner stopped offering the option under the main options dialogue because Microsoft doesn’t (apparently)recommend clearing down the SoftwareDistribution folder.

  49. michael alberts Says:
    October 17th, 2013 at 1:31 am

    My windows 8 is now up dating only bought my laptop Monday 14/10/13 and it says two days to complete. Its a nightmere people with the same problem please let me know.

  50. Yaytay Says:
    October 18th, 2013 at 6:46 am

    Be careful of making claims about the relative power saving merits of sleep/hibernate/off.
    On my desktop PC they all consume the same (negligible) power.
    The old differences between them seem to have been removed by changes in the components,.

  51. David Pick Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Well i backed up a windows 8 image to a USB drive and it took about 30 mins but trying to restore the image is taking hours and looks like it has crashed much like trying to import the windows registry. Windows junkware does not do what it says on the box.

    Anyone that builds a system that has 65,000 in the windows directory and 400,000 keys in the registry cannot be accused of writing good software and we can only guess why SvrHost wakes up at night when updates are turned off and connects to microsoft.

    Yes I am thinking about getting out of windows bloatware and just using tails

  52. tudorbin Says:
    January 29th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Well, you can use Long Path Tool for such issues.

  53. tom Says:
    February 10th, 2014 at 11:15 am

    I have windows 8 and when I opened action centre from bottom of screen ,I was asked to install 66 updates . this they are doing now and im still on my laptop working away. I minimized the window and all is well. before, I was restarting while they took an age to put them in and I couldn’t work my laptop. hope this helps someone…

  54. Linda Dagosta Says:
    May 3rd, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Sorry but to the person who commented “it only takes a minute or two to run an update” you obviously do not have Windows 8.1. For each update instance since owning Windows 8.1 it has taken a minimum of 1 hour to run an update. The last update blocked me from internet access forcing me to revert back or restore to a point prior to the update. Now I am updating a week later hoping the patch will fix the block. Windows 8.1 needs to update faster without the issues . Fix it right the first time!

  55. Nikhil Says:
    May 11th, 2014 at 5:04 am

    Really Windows 8 is real Shite. I personally have a mac ( after moving to Apple a few years back i havent looked back at MS..). I unfortunately bought a windows 8 based machine for my dad since it would be tough to have him shift over..within 2 months the damn thing started hanging at the update on start up. I took it up on me to fix the issue. Its been one week with a high speed broadband connection and the darned thing will not download 799 mb of updates. Windows ofcourse refuses to show the status of each update lineitme chosen ( downloaded or not). Now i wish i had bought my dad a Mac.. I am no windows hater, but now Im thinking…

  56. Gerald Ray Says:
    July 7th, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    I searched the windows website and found a windows update diagnostic tool and a one button fix. I worked on my machine by resetting the update program. When I ran update after the fix it was just like when my machone was new. Somehow the update program over the years had become corrupt. Can’t remember the webpage but it was a little searching and you can find it too.

  57. Alex Says:
    July 9th, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    IT IS A LIE! Just LOST EVERYTHING! No notice! Left for 5 minutes to attend my son, and when I was back, just lost ALL MY OPEN DOCUMENTS. Lost 2 days of work! Thank you Microsoft! Next time, I will use linux, or any other crap!
    NO “2 days” warning this time


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