My run-in with the dark side of automatic updates

One of the advantages I’ve touted for Windows 10 is the fact that updates are installed automatically. In effect, you don’t have a choice, or at least your choices are limited. Microsoft pushes updates through to your computer and that’s more or less it. I’ve called this a good thing, and I stand by that statement. The biggest security problem with Windows systems, after all, is unpatched computers — not malware, nor Trojans, or viruses.

No, it’s people who don’t update their systems, allowing malicious software easy entry into the operating system (OS).

However, it’s not all sunny days when it comes to automatic updates in Windows 10. I experienced the downside of those updates during the early days of the OS and thought I’d share my experiences here. It’s a tale of fear, loss, and, ultimately, relief. An experience that almost crashed my computer in a really, really horrible way.

I Don’t Think ‘100%’ Means What You Think It Means

It started when I checked my Dell Studio 1737 laptop and saw a gray screen that said “Installing updates 100%”, with “Do not turn off your computer” underneath, and a little swirling circle that typically indicates your computer is installing updates. In other words, Windows 10 automatically downloaded and installed an update, and now it was just finishing up. I waited for my PC to reboot, as is typical.

I figured that it would happen momentarily, since the message told me that the update was 100 percent installed.

I waited for the reboot, and waited, and waited, and…well, you get the idea. If it was indeed 100 percent installed, it shouldn’t have taken this long. Then, because nothing was happening, I did what Windows warns you never to do: I turned off my computer.

Using the Force (Shut Down)

When I turned the computer back on, I got nothing. I tried “waking it up” by hitting the Enter key, then slamming on some other keys, then (perhaps a little too energetically) clicking the mouse. Often, this will bring up the desktop. But this time, nothing — again.

I then tried the classic “force shutdown” key combination of pressing the Ctrl+Alt+Delete keys at the same time (sometimes known as the “three finger salute”). The combination usually triggers a hard reboot, in which the computer turns off then restarts. But this time, nothing happened yet again.

My next step was to press and hold the power button for about five seconds. I wasn’t sure this would work, but it’s helped in the past with other computers. And… voila! The computer shut down. I waited a few seconds, then turned it back on. But I got another gray, blank screen, and no boot sequence.

I started to worry that something bad had gone wrong with Windows due to the update. This laptop is still fairly new and expensive. I couldn’t afford to have it go down. I tried pressing and holding the power key again for five seconds.

The computer shut down, again.

Once I started up again, I got another message that Windows was updating. Wait — what? Updating again? Didn’t it update before? Doesn’t “100% Updated” mean 100 percent updated? This time, I got progress messages like “18% updated … 35% updated … 72% updated…” Once again, it hit “100% Updated”, just like it did when I had the first problem.

Success At Last

I held my breath, waiting to see if I was about to start the evil cycle all over again. But this time, I got my startup screen, and was able to log in to my computer. Whew! There would be no need to reinstall Windows this day.

I next went into my update settings at Start>Settings>Update & Security>Update history.

Here’s what I saw:

Update for Windows 10 for x64-based Systems (KB3081441)

Failed to install on 8/19/2015


Cumulative Update for Windows 10 for x64-based Systems (KB3081444)

Successfully installed on 8/19/2015

One update tried to install and failed, while another one succeeded. It wasn’t the same update, since they have different “KB” numbers (KB is a Microsoft designation that identifies update packages).

Oh, the Pain

On top of all those updates, there was also a “Cumulative Update” for Windows 10 three days prior. At the time this told me that Microsoft was finding and fixing a lot of bugs in the OS, which is par for the course with a new version of Windows. It’s also why you may want to wait for a little longer before updating to a major new version of Windows 10. Update problems can plague a number of Windows 10 users whenever a new release rolls out. While your choices are limited there are actions you can take to delay Windows 10 updates. We’ll take a look at that in an upcoming Windows 10 Updates survival guide.

Ultimately, these forced updates are still a good thing despite my experiences. It can, however, be a pain for early adopters.

Joseph Forbes (691)

Information Technology Consultant. For SMB, SOHO, and Online business. From Computers to Telecommunications this guy has been into it since hippies made it hip. Drone Pilot and Tech Aficionado I get to travel the State of Texas to help businesses succeed.