For Patch Tuesday, it's time to pause those Windows 10 updates

After introducing herself, Susan Bradley offers advice on dealing with Patch Tuesday and on picking the right version of Windows 10.

A hand flicks on an update switch. [ software update / fix / patch ]
Stadtratte / Getty Images

First a bit of an introduction.  Recently, Woody Leonhard decided to take a much deserved “retirement” from both AskWoody.com and Computerworld. I put “retirement” in quotes because I find that in IT, you never really retire. You're often called on to fix anything that has a motherboard or boots up, no matter what operating system is under the hood — especially when visiting family members and even in a pandemic.  Woody is back in Thailand on what he calls an extended vacation.

So I’ll be taking over the reins here, guiding and advising Windows users on when and how to install updates. I’ve been following patches (and their side effects) for longer than I care to admit. Like Woody, I don’t recommend installing updates right away; instead, I recommend holding back and making sure you don't become an inadvertent beta tester of Microsoft’s updates. Also like Woody, I’m hesitant to install feature updates immediately. I do not like it when Microsoft decides for me to  reboot my computer — and I really resent it when feature updates don’t deliver enough benefit to offset the disruption they bring to my computers. 

This year in particular, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, our computers are our lifelines — not only so we can interact with friends and family, work remotely and order toilet paper, but so we can in general keep sane in this crazy world. It's more important than ever to keep our computers up and running.

What to do on Patch Tuesday?

The second Tuesday of the month — that's Nov. 10 this time around — is not the day to install updates. I start reading about the updates and watching for issues, a process I call “Dead Body Wednesday" as I look for signs of patch-related carnage. I take this time to start watching various websites and venues for reports of update issues. If I have a spare computer I’ve already backed up, I consider it my test machine; that’s the only one that receives updates so I can make sure all of the programs I depend on still work. Lately, for me personally, I’ve had patches causing problems with printing, so the first thing I check is whether I can print.

In general all I am doing at this point is checking my machines, ensuring they have last months updates installed and ensuring they have good backups. Down the road, as Woody has done in the past, I’ll update you on any side effects we’ve uncovered and the best way to navigate the choppy waters of patching.

Also like Woody, I recommend you check out the extensive, step-by-step discussion of setting up Windows 10 and its uses in AKB 2000016, Guide for Windows Update Settings for Windows 10 provided by PKCano. It’s an excellent tutorial to help you understand the options and settings you control.

Remember now to pause updates: using an admin account, click Start > Settings > Update & Security, check your setting to ensure that pause updates is set and make sure you do it before every second Tuesday of the month before 9 a.m PT, when the Patch Tuesday patches get released.  I prefer to set a date that at least ensures there are two full weeks of pauses before any updates are install.

pauseupdates Microsoft

I’d much rather you pause updates, take a breather, take a walk outside (depending on the weather), or do a bit of gardening rather than install updates this week. I’ll let you know when it’s the time is right to do so.

Picking the right version – or upgrading to it

If I could offer one piece of advice for everyone to follow, it would be this: Don’t purchase a computer with Windows 10 Home – and if you do, immediately upgrade it to Windows 10 Professional. You'll have much more ability to control updates and push them off to when you want them to be installed. How do you know what version you have?  The easiest way it to click on Start, then on settings, then on system, scroll to the bottom of that page and click on about. You should see the version of Windows you have.

If it’s Windows 10 Home, in that same settings page there is a link that says “Change product key or upgrade your edition of windows." Clicking on this link will bring you to an online purchase page where you can buy Windows 10 Professional. The product key will automatically be applied to the computer and it will install and update, reboot and you will be on Windows 10 Professional. 

While you're there, check on which feature release you are on. It's important to do so this week because one Windows 10 feature release edition, the 1809 release, gets its final updates. If you're still running 1809, I recommend you jump over to 1909 (released in Q3 2019).  If you are on the 1903 release of Windows 10 (Q1 of 2019) it drops out of support on Dec. 8. Confusing isn’t it? This resulted from Microsoft extending some of these support periods due to the pandemic.

Which feature release to pick?

I’m still a bit wishy-washy about the 2004 release because of some issues with passwords reported by users and I’m certainly not yet comfortable recommending 20H2. I am fully comfortable with the 1909 release. 

Remember you can use several ways to ensure you only receive the feature release you want, but only if you have Windows 10 Professional.  My current preference is to specifically choose the exact feature release version you want. Instructions on how to do so are available here.

We’re at MS-DEFCON 2 on AskWoody.

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