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Microsoft: Windows 8 Will Minimize, Not End, Windows Update Restarts

It's funny to me that the latest post on Microsoft's Building Windows 8 blog is about unwanted Windows 8 reboots, since that was the issue I had this week and documented in two "8 Is Enough" articles, When Bad Things Happen to Good OSes and Putting Things In Perspective.

Well, maybe funny isn't the right word. And to be fair, Microsoft is writing about something completely different.

With Windows Update, we invested heavily in building not just a software delivery service, but a commitment to delivering high quality updates in a timely manner," Microsoft president Steven Sinofsky writes in an introduction to a blog post called Minimizing restarts after automatic updating in Windows Update. "And we're using Windows 8 development as a chance to improve the experience of product updates too."

The word "minimizing" worries me. Because when I think of devices--iPads and so on--I never think about these things silently rebooting in the middle of the night like Windows does, when there's a critical monthly security update. Surely in the coming era of "Windows devices," as Microsoft calls them, this won't be happening.

Nope, it's still gonna happen.

"The automatic updating experience needs to be able to handle cases where restarts are required," Microsoft group program manager Farzana Rahman writes. "We know this architectural challenge is one that frustrates administrators and end-users alike, but it does represent the state of the art for Windows."

As with most Building Windows 8 posts, the discussion then turns into a lengthy look at the past, and how this worked in previous Windows versions, etc. etc. But the important bit, to me, concerns what this will be like in Windows 8 and why this new OS still requires these overly-frequently reboots.

With this in mind, Windows 8 will include the following enhancements, according to Microsoft:

Your PC will only restart when security updates are installed and require a restart. That is, restarts will wait until the next iteration of Microsoft's regularly schedule Patch Tuesday. "Since security updates are released in a single batch on the second Tuesday of every month, you are then getting essentially one restart a month. This simplification helps in three ways: it keeps the system secure in a timely manner, reduces restarts, and makes restarts more predictable." Put another way, Microsoft is guaranteeing that your Windows 8 PC will restart at least one a month.

Automatic restart notification. Rahman says that once updates are installed that require a reboot, Windows Update will notify you of an upcoming automatic restart through a message on the login screen that will persist for three days. After three days, Windows Update will automatically restart your PC for you if you ignore the notification. But there is one important exception to this rule: If there are apps or applications running in the background, or if there is any potentially unsaved work, Windows Update will delay the automatic restart until the next time you come back to your machine and log in.

Notifications won't interrupt you. If you are in "presentation mode," playing a game, or watching a movie full-screen, Windows Update will not alert you about a pending restart. Instead, it will wait until the next opportune time.

Policies for businesses. As you might expect, businesses can control this behavior with Group Policies.

Put simply, Windows 8 will offer a better experience with regards to unwanted reboots due to software updates. But it will not end this behavior. Until it does so, I'm not sure how Microsoft can call PCs "Windows devices." They're not devices. They're PCs. And that suggests a certain level of frailty and uncertainty that, frankly, needs to be ended and not just mitigated.

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