Windows 8 To Streamline Patching Reboots

Everybody hates a restart, that disruptive final step to install a new update to Windows or another application. So Microsoft, in the spirit of making the system reboot less annoying, will require just one restart per month for every update to its upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

Windows 8 machines will require a restart only when security updates requiring a restart are installed. That basically means just one restart a month, unless Microsoft issues an emergency patch during that time frame that requires a restart.

“With this improvement, it does not matter when updates that require restarts are released in a month, since these restarts will wait till the security release. Since security updates are released in a single batch on the second Tuesday of every month, you are then getting essentially one restart a month. This simplification helps in three ways: it keeps the system secure in a timely manner, reduces restarts, and makes restarts more predictable,” said Microsoft’s Steven Sinofsky in a new Windows 8 blog post this week.

If there’s a critical security update, such as one to shut down an active worm exploit, Windows Update will automatically install and restart the machine. “But this will happen only when the security threat is dire enough,” Sinofsky said.

Windows Update will notify the user of an automatic restart, posting a message on the login screen for three days. “You will no longer see any pop-up notifications or dialogs about pending restarts. Instead, the message appears in a more visible and appropriate place (the log-in screen),” he said in the post.

Not all patches require a restart, however. “The purpose of the changes to the reboot process post updates is to make the whole experience faster and less cumbersome for users,” says Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle. “Enterprises will likely continue to manage patch deployment and reboot cycles as they deem necessary using tools like group policies, WSUS, and System Center.”

Microsoft isn’t saying yet whether the new single-restart policy will be employed with Windows 7, as well. “I think Microsoft will probably take a wait-and-see attitude if these enhancements in Windows 8 will be back-ported to Windows 7. If they find that patches are getting installed more often and faster, then I will put money on Microsoft implementing the change in Windows 7, as well,” Storms says.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear how the new update strategy for Windows 8 would affect the future possibility of Microsoft’s Windows Update eventually helping push third-party application patches. “One topic that has come up often around this topic is the deployment of third-party patches using Windows Update. The real question about third-party product updates is when, or if, Microsoft will utilize its existing update technology to push out updates from other vendors. For example, Microsoft could certainly do a lot of good by helping Adobe distribute their patches,” Storms notes.

But pushing other vendors’ patches would put some of the responsibility for those updates on Microsoft. “I don’t think they are ready to take on this level of risk just yet, but I do think we are headed in the direction of a single update source in the future,” he says.

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