A couple of weeks ago, I wrote what was effectively an open letter to Microsoft entitled, “Microsoft, We Deserve Better“.
The pragmatic reality is that I don’t expect it, or any of dozens of similar missives posted across the internet, to have much effect. If Microsoft is listening (they probably are), they are unlikely to act on it, as their business priorities are clearly elsewhere. Even if they do act, they won’t act quickly — it’s no longer in their nature.
Which leaves us with a very vexing question: what the heck are we supposed to do?
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- Act as if the gun is always loaded.
- Headlines don’t reflect reality.
- Know what’s in your control and what’s not.
- Consider alternatives.
- Try to sidestep the frustration.
The gun is always loaded
One of the first rules of firearm safety is that you always act as if a gun is loaded. Above all, you never assume that it is not.
In my missive to Microsoft, I alluded to Windows 10 Updates being similar to playing Russian Roulette. The same rule applies: whenever you’re about to take a Windows Update, assume that the gun is loaded and it’s your machine’s turn to get shot.
What does that mean in practical terms? Two things, really:
- Do what you can to take the updates at a time under your control. That might mean deferring updates, if your edition of Window 10 supports that, or it might mean proactively checking for updates on your own schedule, when you know that a failure wouldn’t be more than a (possibly large) inconvenience.
- Back up. In fact, back up more than you think you need to. Create an image backup daily. Then create another just before you take updates, if you can. Back up your data separately — automatically, even — to the cloud or some other safe location from which you can recover the data should something go horribly wrong.
These are things that we should all be doing anyway, especially the backing-up part, but it’s clear that these two steps have become significantly more important given Windows 10’s recent update history.
Unfortunately, I often hear from people complaining about Windows 10 updates even though they’ve never experienced a problem. Instead, they’re reacting to the headlines.
Headlines are written to be sensationalistic. They’re written to get you to click. They’re written in such a way to make minor issues seem major and make inconveniences seem like disasters.
In other words, headlines lie. While Windows Update does have its problems, it’s not affecting nearly as many people as the headlines imply. The same applies to comments on articles like my letter to Microsoft: the people most motivated to participate are those who’ve experienced a problem, no matter how few of them there might be. The fact that the vast majority of people are not experiencing a problem goes unreported.
Again, I’m not saying there’s no problem. Windows 10 updates have problems, without a doubt. It’s just not as likely to affect you, specifically, as all the headlines lead you to believe.
Use what control you have
One of the frustrations Windows 10 users experience is a lack of control. Windows updates seem to happen on schedules we ultimately have no say about. Indeed, it’s one of my pleas to Microsoft that complete control be returned to the user.
But that doesn’t mean you have no control whatsoever.
- Users of Windows Pro edition “or better” (basically any edition except Home, as of this writing) have the option to defer major updates. Use it. (It’s in the Updates section of the Settings app.)
- There are hacks with varying degrees of success to turn off Windows Update. I have one: How Do I Disable Windows Updates in Windows 10 Home? This might also be used to disable finer-grained updates in other editions of Windows not explicitly controlled by the “defer major updates” settings referred to in the previous point.
Another point of control is to look at updates a little differently. Rather than letting Windows itself choose when to download and install updates, do so more proactively on your own schedule. When you have time, and could have the time to deal with a potential failure, manually check for updates and take them. The only caveat is that you’ll want to do so often, so as to have it happen before Windows own random schedule kicks in.
There’s always the door…
If Windows 10 is too problematic for you, or you just can’t stand the negative hype and uncertainty, there’s one more thing you also have under your control: showing Windows 10 the door. Alternatives include:
- Reverting to Windows 7. It’s still under “extended support” for security issues, at least until 2020.
- Reverting to Windows 8. While I don’t generally recommend Windows 8 these days, it’s still an option, and extended support lasts through 2023. (Because of Windows 8’s UI changes, many of which were undone or corrected in Windows 10, I prefer that people either stick with Windows 10 if they can, or drop back to 7 if they must.)
- Switching to Linux. This is a major commitment, and something to be well investigated before you do so. It’s something you should be able run on your current hardware, though most of your current software will not work. The good news is that there are typically free equivalent replacements. The bad news is that they’re sometimes different enough to not really be a solution for some. Hence the research.
- Switching to Mac. This is actually a more major commitment, since it’ll require new hardware. But Macs seem to be a more stable ecosystem over all, since they don’t have to deal with the infinite variety of hardware configurations Windows must. The bad news, of course, is that the hardware you want may not work with your Mac.
- Switching to a Chromebook. If your needs are simple and mostly web-based, Chromebooks are actually a very viable and secure alternative. You’ll need new hardware, though it’ll likely be cheaper than a Mac, and your old Windows software will also not work, requiring that you get Chromebook-based equivalent replacements if they exist.
Honestly, I’m not seeing a lot of people take this option. Most, having made it to Windows 10, are opting to stick it out. And let’s face it: as I mentioned above, most aren’t having a problem to begin with.
Dealing with frustration
I totally get that it’s frustrating to have to deal with this. Things should just work. Microsoft should do better.
Unfortunately, “should” helps no one. The reality is, we have what we have, and getting angry or frustrated over how it does or doesn’t meet our expectations is just energy wasted. It helps no one, and only raises our blood pressure and decreases our life expectancy.
There are more important things to life than railing about how messed up things seem.
Use the control you have to take the actions listed above. If something bad happens, you’ll be as prepared as you can be.
Instead, be thankful you have that backup to restore from. Things could have been so much worse without it.