There are a number of issues here, and a perhaps a misconception or misunderstanding or two as well. Since so many people come to me with similar (though never exactly the same) scenarios, let’s look at the individual issues.
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It’s not your fault, but…
I’m reluctant to say this, because a lot of the answers to the problems incurred by Windows Update can easily be inferred to be “victim blaming” — meaning the answers seem to blame the user. Some of what follows runs the risk of doing so.
Let me be very clear: even if you did something “wrong” that contributed to the problems you experienced, it’s not your fault. Things simply shouldn’t be this hard, this confusing, and this easy to have go wrong. Microsoft and Windows — heck, even the entire industry — can and should do a much better job of making things easier.
They need to make it harder to get things wrong.
So when I say, “You might have done ‘X’ to cause ‘Y'”, what I’m really saying is that you were likely led or misled (or even encouraged) to do ‘X’, either out of confusion, frustration, or a not-particularly-hidden-agenda on the part of Microsoft, which then led to some of the problems you experienced.
It’s not your fault, even though it might have been due to your actions.
Adding a sign-in password
Some recent updates to Windows have been more “major” than others. What’s quite surprising to me, and frustrating to users, is that it’s not uncommon for some configuration settings and customizations to be lost.
Apparently, the ability to sign in without a password is often one of them.
On one hand, it’s a setting I would not want to have reset, simply to avoid the very experience you had. On the other hand, I can understand it as a design decision on Microsoft’s part. If they needed to update something relating to the log-in process, I would much rather have them elect to force a password requirement than the opposite. (Imagine a machine that required a password suddenly booting up without one — the security ramifications are horrific.) The setting should be preserved, but if there’s going to be a mistake, they made the right (or “least wrong”) mistake.
The lesson here: your account has a password, even if you don’t have to type it in all the time. Know what that password is. There are other valid scenarios where you might be required to type it in.
Messing up a BIOS
Your computer’s BIOS is part of the computer’s hardware, and not something that Windows, Windows Update, or any software running on your machine is supposed to be able to change.1
So I don’t believe Windows Update “messed up” your BIOS. This is especially true if your machine has not a BIOS, but UEFI — the newer, more secure BIOS replacement.
However, I think it’s very possible a BIOS setting was accidentally changed as part of the frustrations and attempts to log in you described. This would have been prior to the machine even booting into Windows. It’s quite possible for a misconfigured BIOS setting to render a machine unbootable or otherwise appear “messed up”.
Resetting the BIOS was exactly the right thing to do to get past this issue. (You’re actually somewhat lucky in that you could — not all machines have resettable BIOSs.)
Microsoft has been encouraging Windows 10 users to log in with a Microsoft account since the day Windows 10 arrived.
And by “encouraging”, I mean nearly ramming it down our throats.
That ramming is fairly passive aggressive. For example, it’s trivially easy to switch to using a Microsoft account for login by performing some other seemingly unrelated activity. It’s very easy to accidentally agree to it by signing in to OneDrive (or just about any other Microsoft software running on your machine that uses a Microsoft account). The wording is in small print, and that there is an alternative (sign in to the software without changing your Windows sign-in) is not often made clear.
To be fair, there are many, many reasons that using your Microsoft account to sign in to Windows is a good thing. I actually recommend it. For example, you can reset your (possibly forgotten) password from any other machine connected to the internet. And it does automatically sign you in to all those Microsoft utilities you might have, like OneDrive, Skype, and others.
But it should still be a clear and obvious choice, and never an accident — and accident is exactly what I think happened here.
Windows Update should do nothing that would prevent a machine booting into, or installing, another operating system. Period.
However, it’s easy to (again, accidentally) make configuration changes to BIOS that might prevent a machine from booting. And booting a UEFI-enabled machine can be particularly frustrating and troublesome, particularly since each machine is different.
I’ve run into problems installing Linux on a clean machine only when I accidentally downloaded the wrong version — 32 bit versus 64 bit (and, if memory serves correctly, UEFI-enabled or not).
Without knowing more details, it’s hard for me to speculate what went wrong. About all I can be confident of is that it’s unlikely to be the result of Windows Update.
Buying a new machine
You never need to purchase a new machine to fix a software problem. Software — all of it — can be erased. Reset your BIOS and reformat the hard disk, and any problems related to software issues are, by definition, removed.
Given the state of your machine, that’s exactly what I would do: reinstall the operating system of choice (be it Windows or Linux) from scratch. I might even go so far as to wipe the hard disk first, just to ensure there are absolutely no leftovers. Any pre-existing software-related issues would be gone. (And, yes, the cynic in me points out that they might be replaced with new software-related issues relating to whatever you chose to install. But that’s true of a new machine as well.)
So I cannot advise getting a new machine. Unless there’s an actual, unrelated issue with the hardware itself, there’s honestly no need.
But I do understand that getting a new machine can often seem easier, and can also serve as an excuse to upgrade to newer hardware simply because you want to.
Windows is amazingly complex
Complaining about Windows and Microsoft is particularly easy after you’ve been through an experience like this. And as I said, none of this is your fault — it should be easier. It should be more bullet-proof. It should just work.
But I want to end by offering a little perspective.
It does “just work” for most people.
Yes, you hear from a lot of people who have problems. Based on what you hear, it might be easy to conclude that this is the Worst Windows Ever, and that everyone (meaning, literally2 everyone) running Windows 10 is having problems.
That’s not the case. For most people, it works. They have no reason to complain, so you don’t hear from them.
For example: I’ve been dealing with Windows 10 (and installing and reinstalling and reinstalling) for a couple of years, in what I consider to be challenging, non-standard environments, and I’ve yet to experience a Windows Update problem that didn’t resolve itself without my needing to do a thing (other than keep Windows Update enabled).
“Hey, Windows updated and it worked!” isn’t news, so you won’t hear it often. We hear disaster scenarios when people go looking for help and make the headlines.
Again, I’m not trying to minimize your experience — it was awful, wasn’t your fault, and shouldn’t have happened. What I am saying is that Windows is incredibly, unimaginably complex, and has to run on an uncountable variety of hardware configurations. That it works as well as it does, for the vast majority of its users, is an amazing accomplishment.
Could it be better? Of course it could.
The usual advice about avoiding scenarios like this rings hollow: slow down, pay attention to messages (even the small print), and don’t panic when things go wrong, since all that makes it easier to make mistakes. Yes, these mistakes shouldn’t be easy to make, but as we’ve seen, they are. It’s not your fault.
Instead I’ll fall back on my go-to answer: backups.
System image backups — while not something that would have prevented every problem you encountered — would have allowed an easy return to a pre-“messed up” state in many of the scenarios you experienced.
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38 comments on “Why Do Windows Updates Mess Up My Computer?”
If memory serves me correctly, Linux doesn’t load on UEFI. Don’t know where I read that.
You just need a UEFI Linux boot USB to install Linux.
I believe it does, but you do need to get an image of a distro with the support included.
That was true several years ago, but Ubuntu and its offshoots (Mint, Xubuntu etc.) have fully supported UEFI for quite a while now.
Leo’s comments about the Microsoft Account change happened to me. The computer at church that runs the video projector has an account that everyone can use. No password. One day I was curious about Groove Music, so I started it up. It asked for my Microsoft Account and I dutifully responded. Next thing I knew the generic log in that we all use disappeared and the account required my Microsoft Account information to log in.
I remedied that and switched it back to a local account and got rid of the password. However, now the Mail app in Windows 10 remembers my Microsoft Account and wants to retrieve my email. I can’t figure out how to remove my Microsoft Account from the Mail app.
It shouldn’t be this difficult.
Click on the gear icon at the bottom left.
Click “Manage accounts”
Click on the email account you want to remove (there should only be one in this case)
Click “Delete account from this device” and agree to deletion.
I’ll bet I missed step 4. I saw an option to add an account but not remove an account. Probably because I didn’t select the account. I’ll try this again when I get to church.
It’s not. They’ve had federated search since Windows 7. Press the Windows key and type “account”…
Very frustrating..On one of my Laptops, it asks for my “Microsoft Account”. I typed the password to open that computer. Did not work. Tried all passwords that I remember ever used, still no success.
Computer works but this “error” message comes often and I do not know how to avoid it.
Also, the very frustrating Windows updates, needing to “defragment and optimize” with many updates the system gpoes into numerous cycles to do that. Is it avoidable? Why Microsoft does not include that “optimization” as part of the update?
Your Microsoft account is usually your Hotmail, Outlook.com, Live.com, or MSN.com email account which you used to set up Window with. If you can’t remember that password, you should be able to go to outlook.com and reset the password.
Some Linux Mint I believe is included does not buy a key for SecureBoot which is part of UEFI these days starting with Windows 8. Ubuntu another Linux desktop does have the SecureBoot key. If you plan to install a Linux that does not support SecureBoot you have to disable it in the UEFI settings.
Windows 10 can be a mess because lately monthly updates and by annual upgrades can create issues. Only so much a user can do to prevent issues since much of these updates and upgrades are forced upon us users. But this problem is not exclusive to Windows, and I think sometimes users trying to make things right end up making things worse.
so if you are windows10 and an update causes problems, what good does it do to have an image to restore to if Microsoft just updates again without your permission and causes the same problem again.
Typically you then take (sometimes drastic) steps to disable updating until the problem has been resolved … with another update.
I’ve always avoided reinstalling Windows and considered it the last resort.
However, I’m at that decision point again after the latest Win 10 update fiasco on my (only) machine. Leo’s comment that buying a new machine should not be necessary to solve a software problem rings true. My question is, how do I install a new version of Windows 10 short of buying new software? My laptop was originally windows 8, then 8.1, upgraded to Windows 10 via the free download period. I have no Win 10 installation disks. How many wheels would I have to reinvent to save springing the $$$ for a new copy of the OS?
Thanks very much,
If you’d already installed Windows 10 once, you don’t need to buy another copy – your machine is licensed. You can download the disc image and install from scratch: Where Can I Download Windows?
Great news, thanks, Leo!
As Leo said, most of what we see are complaints, but almost nobody says anything when all is well. To be different, I want to say that all is well with me with respect to Windows 10 and Microsoft. I am not saying that I have not had problems with both, just that I get along just fine.
I used Windows XP for many years. I loved it, I trusted it, and did not want to change it. My new laptop back then came with Windows 7. I did not like the changes, but I adapted to them. Then we got the word that upgrade to Windows 8 was available, so I did on the laptop. The upgrade to Windows 8 on the laptop went just fine, and I stayed with it. Some time later Microsoft told us that XP was no longer to be supported. My two desktop computers still ran on XP. I hated to give up the old XP, but the hardware would not support Windows 10. I needed a new desktop computer for other reasons, so I bought one with Windows 10. It was not much different from Windows 8, so I got along but still frustrated with the way they dumb down the OS to try to accommodate all users. I despise the undeletable arrangement of folders (Documents, Music, Pictures, etc.) which I never use. I also dislike the Windows Explorer feature that gives me full screen if I accidentally touch it the wrong way. There are other issues, but none serious. I have learned to work around them.
When I first installed Windows 10 on my laptop I went along with the Microsoft account creation to log in. Worked fine once. Then next time I had to log in I had no Internet access probably because the configuration on the laptop got messed up. I don’t remember how I fixed it, but once done, I reverted to local log in. That is the way I go on all of my computers. I still have a Microsoft account that I don’t use. I used it as a trial when OneDrive came along. By then I was already using DropBox for years, and decided to ignore OneDrive. I tried Skype which uses a Microsoft account, but I have determined that Skype hates me. After creating and using several Skype accounts I gave up on that too. I don’t use Hotmail Outlook. So much for my Microsoft account.
In conclusion, Windows 10 is doing the job for me, and I try to avoid using any Microsoft account. I have used Linux on and off on old computers. It was fun, but with the application software that I need frequently Linux is not an option except for some special projects. I am stuck with Windows 10 and Microsoft.
RE: (For example: I’ve been dealing with Windows 10 (and installing and reinstalling and reinstalling) for a couple of years, in what I consider to be challenging, non-standard environments, and I’ve yet to experience a Windows Update problem that didn’t resolve itself without my needing to do a thing (other than keep Windows Update enabled).)
I’ve run into numerous problems trying to install the Feature update 1803 with repeated downloads and “failed to install” problems. I have three devices myself (desktop, Surface Pro, and laptop) and have had to assist with several other devices of friends or relatives. None of these overcame the update problems on their own, so I ended up going to the Windows 10 update assistant and each one has then installed it on the first try. So in my case, I did need help resolving Windows Update.
–Add me to the list of people who have kind words for Microsoft and Windows Update. I regularly use 3 Win10 machines, and ‘assist’ a handful of others. I have a few Android devices, I ‘assist’ on my wife’s two IOS (Apple) devices, I keep an old PC with Ubuntu Linux for odds and ends – and I have a NAS file server with a Linux operating system.
–I have had real problems with IOS updates, including major loss of settings, and being forced into undesired software changes. The universal solution at the ‘genius bar’ in the Apple store is to say the my wife should buy a new device. This was the only solution offered the last 3 visits. Most recently we did buy a new device and then iTunes would not restore the backup. (Fortunately, I follow Leo’s advice and keep many backups. I finally found one that would restore and she only lost about 4 months of contacts and calendar.)
–There are few problems with Android updates – because neither Android device does updates in any regular way. I have to go through a manual process to see if the providers (HP and a new Amazon Kindle) even have updates for the device. I avoid doing anything important on those devices due to security concerns about non-updated software.
–Updating the NAS device running on Linux is a disaster, requiring manual intervention to get it back into operation after every update. I do not think it is a Linux problem, but rather blame the device manufacturer.
–But Windows Updates usually install smoothly, every time, automatically. (This may be because my 3 PCs are an HP, a Lenovo, and a Dell, all without any hardware tweaks other than more memory.) Major updates seem to give me the option to schedule the update when it won’t interrupt other work. That notice also means I have time to burn a fresh disk image, just in case. Yes, Microsoft is sneaky in trying to trick you into relying on their Microsoft Account infrastructure. Leo says OK to it. I may join some day, but not yet.
–Overall Leo’s article is a great summary of the concerns and issues Microsoft has the opportunity to address.
–My conclusion – None of the OS’s and their update systems are perfect. All could be better. But in my experience, Microsoft Updates work as well or better than any other major system. And keeping the devices up to date is a must.
The WIndows 10 update would not install for me until I found the Windows Update Assistant.
I learnt two things:
1. booting from the Macrium USB bootable drive allowed me to by-pass login password problems.
2. syncing with my phone, as offered in the upgrade install, led to Microsoft changing many of the options and screens on my phone -WITHOUT ASKING PERMISSION. Now I have to get rid of Bing on my phone, amongst other things. This strikes me as arrogance and makes me hate Microsoft. (Mind you, other software and hardware firms similarly change settings, sometimes without permission, to advance the use of their own products. )
I have to admit that it is the bad, or at least unhelpful side of me that reads these kinds of articles and breaths a sigh of relief that both my wife and I switched to MAC computers about the time Windows 10 came out. (My wife made that change first, so I have to giver her credit for that decision.) Yes, there is a lot of software out there that we can’t run, and we kept our PCs just in case, but we have not had to use that backup plan yet. I do sympathize with those who do not have the freedom or luxury of making this kind of change.
Here’s a post from Leo today on his personal Facebook page:
Again? Really, do people still ask the question “Why do some of Microsoft Windows’ updates mess up a computer?”.
Or was this an excuse to resurrect this topic, again, and generate lots of passionate feedback?
You’d be surprised at the number of questions we get on that.
Yes. Yes they do.
I was shocked when a Microsoft update caused problems. One client has two HP touch-screen all-in-ones, and one day they couldn’t log in to either one. I removed the latest update (lucky guess) and all was well. This wasn’t even Windows 10. Microsoft did not send the update again.
A friend of mine bought his laptop at a store, so of course it had Windows 10 Home Version. Updates in June made his whole desktop disappear, so he went and bought Windows 10 Pro. The only issue I have had with updates (using Windows 10 Pro) is that it changes some of the settings I configured using gpedit. Thoughts?
I’m not sure what you’re asking? Can’t you just make those changes again with gpedit?
It seems what’s bothering him is having to go back and tweak those settings again. It can be frustrating.
If Ron is upset about changed settings on an OS re-install, you should probably tell him that his personal settings are likely to change on every Windows 10 Update? But I think that’s exactly what Ron is complaining about (“the only issue I have had with *updates* is that it changes some of the settings”). MS’s advice on this topic is to send in feedback to MS to get it off your chest. Is there a way to lock down your personal settings?
No need to tell him. You just did :-)
I would disagrees that for most people, it works. I have nearly 100 computers I am responsible for and all of them are having Windows update errors. The truth of the matter is we are having so many Windows update problems right now is Microsoft reduced their qa staff for some inexplicable reason. By some rumors, the staff reductions were up to 75%. Why they thought this was a good idea, or why they even did it in the first place it’s still a mystery. So i’d expect that widows updates for the foreseeable future are going to be full of big problems.
It was definitely the user’s fault. Not Windows. Period. It’s unrealistic to expect it to “just work” given the countless hardware configurations it supports. 80 percent of Windows “issues” are poorly written, non-windows software and drivers. Compared to any other version of Windows, 10 is about as bullet proof as I’ve seen. As an aside, having a work machine set to boot without a login? Should be immediate grounds for termination. No matter what type or size of business.
I’m sorry but I have three laptops and two desktops and when I get an update my computer is down for hours. I have customer who want their advertising today not tomorrow when Windows update decides to complete and then it takes several days for the pc to settle out. There should be no need for updates every other month or more. I’m doing the research to see how reliable other operating systems are and I’m getting rid of windows.
After the last download I am unable to print PF file or even Microsoft Edge but can print from Google and word documents. The printer is fine I know because I have two computers and the second one prints everything. I rang my Printer Company and they referred me to Microsoft and after two hours of trying to fix the problem the operative could not; I was promised a call back five days later.
I doubt there is an operator/owner issue when the update arrives and immediately on update the laptop no longer recognises the battery nor will any of the standard fixes work.
Because updates are nothing but junk to take up space and slow down your computer so you have to buy a new one sooner. A man actually took major computer companies to court and won the law suit, proving they all do this.
The first article says nothing about winning the lawsuit, only that he filed it. As we know anyone can file a lawsuit for any reason, whether it has merit or not. In fact, if you actually read that article you’ll see that it’s pointed out that he had several approaches to roll back at his disposal. There was also no reason that his backups should have been deleted — he could easily have protected himself several ways. Finally, no one has been forced to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 — the fact that there are many, many people still running Windows 7 is proof.
The second article, which actually references an original article here from Microsoft’s own home-town newspaper: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/microsoft/microsoft-draws-flak-for-pushing-windows-10-on-pc-users/ , points out that she “won” only because Microsoft declined to appeal a decision. As pointed out not only was the upgrade not forced, but the user actually had to agree to it before it would proceed. And like the first article, there were many safety nets at the user’s disposal that she apparently chose to ignore or bypass.
I need to point out that both of those articles are all about the upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10, and the botched way Microsoft handled it. That’s all very old news, and water under the bridge. It’s nothing that people are dealing with today.
Finally, I take issue with the statement “updates are nothing but junk to take up space and slow down your computer so you have to buy a new one sooner.” That’s a conspiracy theory I simply don’t agree with in any way. Updates are important for a variety of reasons including both security improvements and feature additions. If you don’t want those, then there are alternatives to Windows you should investigate to see if they make you any happier.