Woody’s Win10Tip: Apply updates carefully

When it’s time to apply Windows 10 cumulative updates, there’s an art to getting them right

Woody’s Win10Tip: Apply updates carefully
Credit: Shutterstock

Most Windows 10 users get all Microsoft patches applied automatically, as soon as they come down the Automatic Update chute. If you don’t do anything, Windows 10 installs what’s been released and you get to deal with the consequences.

On the other hand, if you block Win10 updates, as I described in my previous Win10Tip, you gain a little breathing room in which to decide when and how to  install patches.

This Win10Tip explains how to proceed when you’re satisfied that a particular patch (or group of patches) is good enough to install. There are some tricks to the process.

By “patches” I’m not just talking about cumulative updates—although they’re a major concern. We also get .Net patches, new drivers, Silverlight, Flash patches, fixes for the Windows Update servicing stack, odd one-off bug fixes with little documentation, the latest Malicious Software Removal Tool, Windows Defender antivirus updates, Surface device firmware updates, and even Office patches for those who have Office installed. It’s a real mixed bag.

2016 11 17 available updates

Much to Microsoft’s credit, I haven’t seen any catastrophic patches for Windows 10, although many—particularly forced driver changes and the aftermath to release of version 1607—have triggered plenty of alarm. Eugene Kaspersky claims, with more than a little justification, that Win10 patches toss antivirus products into the fire. But we haven’t seen any massive meltdowns caused by Windows patches, which was an all-too-common occurrence just a few years ago.

Nowadays, the kinds of problems I see most frequently revolve around:

  • Cumulative updates that don’t install—typically they either hang indefinitely and/or install part way then automatically roll back to the previous version.
  • Drivers and/or settings and/or programs that get tossed into the vapor.
  • Updates that take place at the most inopportune times.

Of course there are many other problems with Win10 updating; those are just the most common.

If you judiciously block Win10 updates and wait a week or two to see if there are any problems that might affect you, if/when a big bug hits you’ll be in good shape. Here are the steps every Win10 user should take to make the most of their deferred updates.

Step 1. If you turned off Windows Update, turn it back on. If you rely on metered connections to thwart automatic updates, skip to Step 2.

There are many ways to turn off Windows Update but however you disabled it, you need to re-enable it.

Those of you who followed my instructions to turn off (or Defer) Updates in Step 3 of my Win10Tip on blocking forced Windows updates, go back into Group Policy editor and restore the settings to their original position. If you used dcomcnfg to turn the Windows Update service to Disabled, go in and Enable it.

Reboot. Remember how you changed the settings, because you’ll want to reverse the steps and block automatic updates again once you finish this procedure.

Step 2. Make sure the updates you don’t want are hidden, and vice-versa. This takes two runs of Microsoft’s 1990s-style wushowhide tool to get the hidden and unhidden patches sorted out. It’s clunky, but it works.

Step 2a. If you don’t already have wushowhide, go to KB 3073930 and download Microsoft’s Wushowhide tool. (Click the link marked “Download the ‘Show or hide updates’ troubleshooter package now.”) Drag the downloaded file, Wushowhide.diagcab, to any convenient location.

Step 2b. Double-click on Wushowhide.diagcab to run it.

Step 2c. This step is important, and not at all obvious: Click the link marked Advanced. Then uncheck the box marked “Apply repairs automatically.” Click Next. Wushowhide will run for a long, long time. When it comes back up for air, click the link to Show Hidden Updates. You see a list like the one in the screenshot.

2016 11 17 wushowhide

Step 2d. This first run of wushowhide lets you unhide any patches you may have hidden in the past. Check the box next to any patches you want to install. In this case, I wanted to install the KB 3200970 cumulative update for Win10 1607—that’s this month’s cumulative update—so I check the box.

For what it’s worth, I never want to install any drivers from Microsoft. I’ll go straight to the manufacturer’s website if necessary, and even then I’ll stay skeptical. (The recent experiences with Nvidia drivers, per Neowin, should make you skittish.) I adamantly refuse to install Microsoft’s obsolete Silverlight. Other updates may appear out of the blue, but in general I have no problem with installing the latest Windows Defender and Malicious Software Removal Tool, and thus check those, should they appear.

Step 2e. Click Next. You see a list marked Select the repairs you want to apply. Click Next again. Wushowhide tells you that it’s “Resolving problems.” Wait a while for it to finish and click Close.

Step 2f. Run wushowhide again, but turn the tables. Double-click on wushowhide, click the link marked Advanced. Then uncheck the box marked “Apply repairs automatically.” Click Next. Wushowhide will run for a long, long time. Click the link to Hide Updates. Check the boxes next to any updates that you don’t want to install. Click Next.

Step 2g. You may see a list of “repairs you want to apply,” which means “hide these updates.” If you see it, click Next. Wushowhide is an odd bird, with an interface reminiscent of troubleshooters in Windows XP. If wushowhide successfully hid the upgrade/update/patch, you don’t get a confirmation screen. You only see a “Troubleshooting has completed” dialog.

Step 3. If you set your Wi-Fi connection to metered, turn it back to not metered.

Click the Notification area icon to the right of the time, down in the taskbar. At the bottom click Network. Then click on your current Wi-Fi connection and click Properties.

2016 11 17 metered connection

Scroll down to the Metered connection slider like the one shown in the screenshot. Slide the setting Off.

Step 4. Run Windows Update.

Finally, we’re ready to install the update(s). Save everything. Click Start > Settings > Update & security. On the left, you see Windows Update. On the right, click the box marked Check for updates.

Note: Once you click Check for updates, you don’t have to do anything more in order to install the update. “Check” in this case means “Install.”

Windows may take a long time to find the update, and then take forever to install the update. You’ll likely need to reboot, although you can theoretically delay the reboot using the Change active hours link on the right side of this panel. After the reboot, it may take forever to start again, waiting for updates to install.

2016 11 17 updates are available

Step 5. You aren’t done yet. You need to re-block forced updates. If you have a Wi-Fi connection, that’s easy: Set it to metered. If you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection but you do run Win10 Pro, there are a couple of considerably more complex options that vary depending on which version of Win10 you have: 1507, 1511, or 1607. I cover those in my Win10Tip Block forced Windows updates. And if you have Win10 Home with no Wi-Fi connection, you’re basically up the ol’ creek unless you want to poke and push your way around the registry. See that Win10Tip for details.

Bonus tip: If you have Win10 Home and no Wi-Fi, buy and use a Wi-Fi dongle.

If you can’t get a Windows 10 cumulative update to work, there are two important contact people at Microsoft who are very interested in hearing about your problem. They have direct links to the dev team and access to resources not available to mere mortals:

  • John Wink, who goes by /u/johnwinkmsft on Reddit and @johnwinkmsft on Twitter
  • Jen Gentleman, who is /u/jenmsft on Reddit and @JenMsft on Twitter

Every time Microsoft rolls out a cumulative update for the latest version of Win10, you can find a thread on the Win10 Reddit that covers installation problems. You’ll also find dozens of posts on the Microsoft Answers Windows 10 update forum. And of course, we always cover Windows updating on AskWoody.com.

It’s important that you report problems! Microsoft is working hard to make the Win10 updating process better and it needs your bellyachin’.

A blog within a blog, Woody’s Win10Tips focus on useful techniques and tools. They’re in the usual “Woody” style—to the point, no bull, no marketing fluff. They (intentionally!) aren’t long enough to discuss all of the nuances, but they point in the right direction. There’s a full list of tips on the AskWoody.com site. Looking for a tip or tool? Have a tip about a tip? Email me: Win10Tips@AskWoody.com. Like what you see? Pick up a copy of my 986-page “Windows 10 All-in-One for Dummies 2nd Edition” at Amazon US or Powell’s Bookstore.

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