Unless you have some reason to believe that they’re causing a problem, I would not.
The issue, like the software involved, is complex.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
“Microsoft Update” is an extension to Windows Update (a program included in Windows) that expands the reach of the update process to include all Microsoft products, not just Windows itself.
What that really means for most people is that it simply adds Microsoft Office to the list of software to be updated.
While that seems simple in concept, Microsoft Office is a pretty complex piece of software. The update process for it can be almost as complicated as updating the operating system itself.
Microsoft Update gives you only what you need
Here’s what Windows Update, and Microsoft Update, does.
- It inventories what software you have installed, and what updates you already have installed for that software.
- It queries the Microsoft update service to determine if there are any more recent updates for the software you have installed.
- It downloads and installs those updates that it determines are needed.
Again, it’s all pretty simple in concept. In practice, the number of different configurations that people might have, as well as interactions and dependencies between the software programs they have installed, can make this a very intricate process.
But the important take-away is simply this: Microsoft Update goes through a lot of work to offer you the updates you need, and only the updates you need.
Microsoft Update installs updates you didn’t know you needed
What that means is that if an update was installed by Microsoft Update, it was needed at the time the update occurred.
Even if you didn’t realize it.
There are several scenarios where this can happen, the most common being dependencies you didn’t realize existed.
- You may get updates for Internet Explorer even if you’ve turned it off or don’t use it, because components of Internet Explorer are used by other Microsoft software, including Windows itself.
- You may get updates for libraries and runtime components you’ve never heard of, like the .NET Framework, because applications installed on your machine may be using it. This may involve several different versions of the .NET Framework, and includes software from many different sources, not just Microsoft.
- You may get updates for Microsoft Office, even though you don’t have it installed, often because you do have something installed, such as the Word or PowerPoint document viewers, that relies on Microsoft Office core software.
Each of these items, and others, may be necessary because of other software installed on your computer.
Updates may be left over after an uninstall
So why do some updates appear as installed, even when you know you don’t need them? Here’s one scenario:
- You have a program installed on your computer.
- Microsoft Update updates that program, or components used by that program.
- You uninstall the program.
The problem here is that uninstalling the program may not uninstall updates that were previously installed. In theory, it should be able to uninstall updates that related directly and only to that product, but things quickly get knotty when the updates could potentially be shared by other products that you may, or may not, have installed.
Don’t try to out-guess Microsoft Update
From the point of view of system stability, it’s safer to leave something in case you need it, rather than remove something hoping you don’t.
And that’s my recommendation.
Software engineers have put a lot of thought into Microsoft Update, as well as software installation programs. It’s safe to assume that they’re doing the right thing, or at least the safest thing, as they perform their work.
When we start manually uninstalling updates simply because we think they’re no longer needed we are, in a sense, saying that we know better than the update and install process. That’s simply not a safe assumption to make.
Even if we’re right, the benefits in terms of disk space, reduced complexity, or system performance are going to be so small as to go unnoticed.
Unless you’re actively attempting to fix a specific problem on your machine, I recommend you leave well enough alone. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke!