Automatic Update Usability


On the surface, Windows XP’s automatic updates seems to be a good idea: your system is regularly patched, the updates are downloaded during off-hours, installation is painless. A problem with this is the implementation of the nag-you-until-you-capitulate-and-reboot option. For example, consider the dialog above. After installing the (snicker) Windows Installer Update Patch, I’m asked to reboot. I clicked “Restart Later” because I’m busy using my computer. Like the Manchurian Water Torture, it returns every five minutes, slowly and surely annoying me. I finally moved it to the bottom of the screen where it’s mostly out of my way.

More nefarious is its evil twin. Instead of a subtle, but distinctive birthmark, it has a countdown timer. “Reboot Later” means bug me in five minutes, and if I’m not around: 5:00… 4:59… 4:58… boom! I lost work thanks to this thing. The worst part is I’m not sure what was so frickin’ important that necessitated a reboot.

They need to rethink this sliver of the user interface. If it’s taken a few days for this patch to get released and downloaded, well by golly, it won’t hurt to wait until the business day is over to reboot and install it. Give me that option. Heck, call it “Remind me to leave the office at 5:30 pm,” and it’s an instant feature.

Update: Not that I’d encourage wanton disabling of the updates, as I get enough zombie machines bugging me, but I figure if you understand this, you’re unlikely to have a zombie bot. So, the long-term option:

Start -> Run -> gpedit.msc
Select: Local Computer Policy -> Computer Configuration -> Administrative Templates ->
Windows Components -> Windows Update ->

There are several options here, but the most interesting:

  • No auto-restart for scheduled Automatic Update Installations
  • Delay Restart for scheduled installations
  • Re-prompt for restart with scheduled installations.


We’re receiving the full cycle of weather chaos. When I left work Friday, it was sunny, but I could see the dark mass of clouds and virga rolling in from Seattle. I raced home. With about three miles to go, and barreling down East Lake Sammamish, something sliced my rear tire. (It’s always the rear tire.) The bike became very wobbly and I pulled over.

The rain caught up in a redux of Wednesday.

For expediency, I normally swap the punctured tube with a fresh one, letting the patch “cure” in my bag. I was a bit perturbed when I discovered the “fresh” 20-inch tube was the wrong size — my tires use 18-inch tubes. It’s probably good to discover this now rather than during Ride Around Washington.

I wimped out and called my spouse asking if she’d pick me up. My youngest kid let me know she was upset at her dinner being interrupted. The oldest noted this was much worse weather than I’d ever let her enjoy.
Later, to celebrate our 16th anniversary, I made my spouse a volcano cake.

10 thoughts on “Automatic Update Usability”

  1. Yes, like when you click to install the update then start playing City of Heroes, and your crime-fighting is interrupted every five minutes with that bleeping reminder. Very rude… I mean, people could have *died*…

    I did not know about the five minute automatic reboot countdown though, thanks for the warning.

  2. I’m pleased to know that we’re not the only ones under the cloud (ha!) of wacky weather. They’re predicting 50degF for here tomorrow, which is a full 20degF below the normally expected temperature. I think the weather wheel might just be broken. And on a side note, congrats on the anniversary! That’s a long time and having just celebrated 10 myself, I’m hoping it gets easier 🙂

  3. This f*ing thing hit me just before a demo last Friday. I had been out of the room when it timed out and had five executives sitting around watching it reboot and apply patches. Gr…

  4. There are a few ways to stop this, but the easiest way is…
    ‘cmd’ and ‘sc stop wuauserv’

    Good luck! 🙂

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