Patch Tuesday’s coming; make sure you have Windows Update shut off and stop seeking!

If you enjoy drinking out of a toxic fire hydrant, by all means, keep Windows Update enabled. But if you’re a bit skeptical about Windows patches, here are the easy steps to set and verify that the wolves are barred from the door. Yes, you have to patch eventually. No, you don’t have to slavishly take what’s being dealt.

patch on top of Windows logo
Thinkstock/Microsoft

I’ve seen a couple of verified reports that Microsoft is now pushing the newly revised Win10 September-October-November-December 2018 Update, version 1809, on “seekers.” Be aware that Microsoft, once again, interprets a click on “Check for updates,” as giving carte blanche to install whatever is in the kettle.

Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn and caldron bubble
Could we first test a stubble?

If you’d rather not offer your machine for the ol’ eye of newt and toe of frog treatment, there are some quick and easy steps you should take right now to make sure your machine will withstand Patch Tuesday’s onslaught.

Blocking Automatic Update on Win7 and 8.1

People tend to forget that Windows 7 originally shipped with an Automatic Update feature that was turned off by default. It was up to the user to manually turn on automatic updating. We’ve come a long way.

If you’re using Windows 7 or 8.1, click Start > Control Panel > System and Security. Under Windows Update, click the "Turn automatic updating on or off" link. Click the "Change Settings" link on the left. Verify that you have "Important Updates" set to "Never check for updates (not recommended)" and click OK.

Blocking Automatic Update on Win10 Pro

If you’re using Win10 Pro (or Education) version 1709, 1803 or 1809, I recommend an update blocking technique that Microsoft recommends for “Broad Release” in its obscure Build deployment rings for Windows 10 updates — which is intended for admins, but applies to you, too. (Thx, @zero2dash.)

Step 1. Using an administrative account, click Start > Settings > Update & Security.

Step 2. On the left, choose Windows Update. On the right, click the link for Advanced options. You see the settings in the screenshot.

1809 advanced updates Woody Leonhard

Step 3. To pull yourself out of beta-testing (or, as Microsoft would say, to enter a branch readiness level that corresponds to widespread use in organizations), in the first box, choose Semi-Annual Channel.

Step 4. To further delay new versions until they’ve been minimally tested, set the “feature update” deferral setting to 120 days or more. That tells the Windows Updater (unless Microsoft makes another “mistake,” as it has numerous times in the past) that it should wait until 120 days after a new version is declared ready for broad deployment before upgrading and reinstalling Windows.

Step 5. To delay cumulative updates, set the “quality update” deferral to 15 days or so. (“Quality update” = cumulative update = bug fix.) In my experience, Microsoft usually yanks bad Win10 cumulative updates within a couple of weeks or so. By setting this to 10 or 15 or 20 days, Win10 will update itself after the major screams of pain have subsided and (with some luck) the bad cumulative updates have been pulled or reissued.

Step 6. Just “X” out of the settings pane. You don’t need to explicitly save anything.

Step 7. Don’t click Check for updates. Ever.

If there are any real howlers — months where the cumulative updates were irretrievably bad, and never got any better, as they were in July of this year — we’ll let you know, loud and clear.

Tired old approach for Windows 10 Home

Here’s the thing about Windows 10 Home. Microsoft considers Home customers fair game. They really should call it Win10 Guinea Pig edition. Microsoft has no qualms whatsoever in pushing its new, untested (perhaps I should say “less-than-thoroughly-tested”) updates and upgrades onto Windows 10 Home machines.

This isn’t a mistake or an oversight. Win10 Home customers by design are Microsoft’s extended beta-plus testing force. Cannon fodder. It’s unconscionable, and it’s been that way since day one. As Susan Bradley says, “Every version of Windows should be able to defer and pause updates. … Microsoft, your customers deserve better than this.”

If upgrading to Win10 Pro isn’t an option — and I sympathize if you’d rather not hand over another $100 to Microsoft for something that should come standard — your only other option is to set your internet connection to “metered.” Metered connections are an update-blocking kludge that seems to work to fend off cumulative updates, but as best I can tell still doesn’t have Microsoft’s official endorsement as a cumulative update prophylactic.

To set your Ethernet connection as metered: Click Start > Settings > Network & Internet. On the left, choose Ethernet. On the right, click on your Ethernet connection. Then move the slider for Metered connection to On.

To set your Wi-Fi connection as metered: Click Start > Settings > Network & Internet. On the left, choose Wi-Fi. On the right, click on your Wi-Fi connection. Move the slider for Metered connection to On.

If you set your internet connection to metered, you need to watch closely as the month unfolds, and judge when it’s safe to let the demons in the door. At that point, turn “metered” off, and just let your machine update itself. Don’t click Check for updates.

If you’re really serious about blocking updates at all costs, check out Michael Horowitz’s Killing Windows Update on Windows 10 — a cheat sheet.

We’re at MS-DEFCON 2 on AskWoody.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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