When it comes to Windows Update, one of the most discussed topics is the disruptive nature of restarts in the course of automatic updating. A recent post on Building Windows 8 blog enlists the improvements the Windows Update Team at Microsoft has put in to make it more user friendly and less disruptive.
WU (Windows Update) will consolidate all the restarts in a month, synchronizing with the monthly security release. This means that your PC will only restart when security updates are installed and require a restart. With this improvement, it does not matter when updates that require restarts are released in a month, since these restarts will wait till the security release. This simplification helps in three ways: it keeps the system secure in a timely manner, reduces restarts, and makes restarts more predictable. Only exception to this being in the case of critical security update to fix a worm-like vulnerability (for example, a Blaster worm). In that case, WU will not wait, but will go ahead and download, install, and restart automatically. But this will happen only when the security threat is dire enough.
WU notifies you of any upcoming automatic restart. Suppose, WU has already detected, downloaded, and installed security updates, and now requires a restart. Windows Update will notify you of an upcoming automatic restart through a message on the login screen that will persist for 3 days.
Farzana Rahman of Microsoft explains how this will work:
1. A message about the upcoming restart is shown in the login screen for three days or until the PC is restarted (whichever is sooner). This means you now have three days to restart the PC at your convenience. All you need to do is see the login screen once in 3 days to see the message about the upcoming restart and by default the lock screen will appear after 15-minute idle timeout.
2. In addition to the restart notification on the login screen, the Power options on the lock screen will change to “Update and restart” immediately after the update occurs, and will include “Update and shutdown” on days two and three, to make the message even more apparent to you. This allows you to restart your PC at your own convenience.
3. If after three days, the restart still has not occurred, then WU will automatically restart your PC for you. In this case, the automatic restart will happen either at the end of the three-day grace period, or, to prevent data loss if WU detects that there are critical applications open at the end of the three-day grace period, it will wait to automatically restart the next time you login. I’ll address this behavior in more depth in the next section.
4. After the restart has occurred, the message on the login screen will go away and the power options will revert to the original choices. We know people would like Windows to automatically log in after the restart, but we strongly advise against doing so, given the potential security issues with this configuration.
If the PC has hit the three-day deadline and still needs an automatic restart, WU will only automatically restart the machine if there is no chance of losing the user’s data. That means, if you are not at your PC (i.e. it is locked), if you have applications running in the background, or if there is potentially unsaved work, WU delays the automatic restart until the next time you come back to your machine and log in. At log-in, you will be asked to save your work, and you’ll see a warning that the machine will be restarted within 15 minutes.
Having a restart notification or dialog pop up in the middle of an important presentation, a game or a movie is not a pleasant situation, to say the least. When attempting to automatically restart the PC, if you are in presentation mode, playing a game, or watching a movie full-screen, WU detects this state, and delays the automatic restart until the next available opportune moment or the next time you log back in to the PC.
For PCs in an enterprise setting, if no policy has been set by the IT administrator, the updating experience is exactly the same as it is for home users. However, an IT administrator can set a policy to prevent auto-restart after automatic installs (just as in Windows 7). If they set this policy, there will be no three-day countdown and no automatic restart. Instead, users will see a message on the login screen indicating that the PC needs to be restarted, and the message persists until the restart occurs. This informs users that a restart is required while keeping them in control of when to restart.