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.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
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.
If you found this article helpful, I'm sure you'll also love Confident Computing! My weekly email newsletter is full of articles that help you solve problems, stay safe, and give you more confidence with technology. Subscribe now and I'll see you there soon,