Microsoft lets some Windows 10 users hit pause on updates

Latest beta also allows more Home users to defer forced updates with metered connection trick

windows 10 laptop pc
Adam Patrick Murray

Microsoft today delivered a new Windows 10 build that includes changes designed to address longstanding complaints about the operating system's update practices.

Testers -- those registered with the Windows Insider program and on its "Fast" release track -- were handed build 15002 today. Dona Sarkar, the Microsoft software engineer who serves as the public face and voice for Insider, called 15002 "a BIG update" in a post to a company blog that spelled out a slew of changes.

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Among them are several related to how Microsoft updates the OS.

Users can now pause updates, including security updates, for up to 35 days.

All Insiders can put updates on pause, but when the feature goes live with the next upgrade to all customers, the switch will not be offered to consumers running Windows 10 Home. Instead, the option will be available only in the more expensive -- and largely business-oriented -- Windows 10 Pro, Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education.

Microsoft has made a habit of providing the most update and upgrade flexibility to users of Pro, Enterprise and Education; Windows 10 Home users, for example, are required to adopt updates as soon as the Redmond, Wash. company serves them up.

Sarkar did not elaborate on which updates are delayed by the new pause, but a Microsoft spokesman later defined those covered by the postponement. "All updates through Windows Update are paused except for [Windows] Defender updates, which are small virus definition updates that do not cause a reboot or change the behavior of the machine in any way," the spokesman said in an email reply to questions [emphasis added].

Because security updates -- including the monthly round of vulnerability patches -- are among those put on pause, the option addressed complaints from some business customers who have argued that there should be a way to postpone patches from landing on their PCs. IT administrators using a patch management system, such as Microsoft's Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), or a third-party product like Shavlik Protect, already can delay updates. Some administrators regularly delay patching as a kind of quality control, assuming that any problems will be uncovered by others, then fixed by Microsoft.

However, organizations that rely on Microsoft's Windows Update or Windows Update for business services have not had a delay option for security updates: The pause feature will serve that purpose.

Also in build 15002 is the addition of an Ethernet-based Internet connection to those which Windows 10 monitors as "metered." Previously, only connections based on a Wi-Fi network or cellular data -- a link to the Internet from a smartphone, for instance, including one that's been set to serve as a Wi-Fi "hotspot" for a nearby PC -- could be metered.

Because some customers rely on a capped connection where every downloaded byte is tallied by their ISP (Internet service provider), Windows 10 will forgo downloading most updates -- including security patches -- until it recognizes a non-metered connection or is told that one is present. The idea: Delay large downloads that would exhaust the month's supply of allowed data until the user is in a location -- a public hotspot, say -- where the Internet can be accessed without penalty.

Windows 10 Home users have exploited the metered connection setting since the OS's mid-2015 launch as one way to postpone forced updates and upgrades. However, those whose ISPs delivered a connection via Ethernet -- cable companies typically use Ethernet between the modem and PC -- could not, until build 15002, employ that trick.

The changes and additions in build 15002 will be included in the next major upgrade, flagged as "Windows 10 Creators Update." Microsoft has not yet set a release date for the upgrade, but clues uncovered last year hinted at a March launch.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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