Microsoft typically releases Windows updates on the first Tuesday each month, termed by enthusiasts as “patch Tuesday.” These updates cover a wide range of areas related to Windows. It’s important to ensure the updates are punctually installed as many are directly related to current security threats, covering up loopholes that hackers can exploit. These are known as critical updates. Non-critical updates are also released which fix minor issues with the operating system or potentially add features.
Updates are delivered to Windows users via a built-in app called Windows Update. This app has numerous user-configurable settings which we’ll review in this article.
This article applies to all versions of Windows 8 and 8.1 including Pro, in both their 32- and 64-bit varieties. In order to follow this guide, you’ll need to have a user account with administrative privileges.
Microsoft has moved all of the Windows Update settings into the PC Settings app.
Open the Charms bar (pictured right) by doing one of the following:
- Moving your mouse to the lower right corner of the screen and then moving it up the right edge of the screen.
- Pressing the Windows key and the ‘S’ key simultaneously.
- (Touch screen only) Swiping in from the right edge with your thumb.
Once the Charms bar is open, click the Settings icon at the bottom and then click Change PC settings at the lower right of the screen. This will open the PC Settings app.
In the PC Settings app, click the Update and recovery item at the lower left.
On the next screen, click the link in the center pane to Choose how updates get installed. We’ll review the settings on the screen that follows one by one.
The Important Updates drop-down holds these choices, all of which are self-explanatory:
- Install updates automatically (recommended)
- Download updates but let me choose whether to install them
- Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them
- Never check for updates (not recommended)
Most users will be best served by choosing the first option to automatically install updates. This is a “set it and forget it” option that is especially useful if you’re setting up a computer for someone else. This setting ensures that updates will be applied in a timely fashion. One of the reasons not to choose the automatic setting is if you don’t want your computer restarted for any reason; the automatic setting will automatically restart your computer as needed provided you aren’t doing anything, usually within 24 hours of installing the updates. There is no setting to control this behavior. If you don’t want your computer to be restarted for any reason, we recommend the second option: download updates but let me choose whether to install them.
By checking the Recommended updates box shown above, Windows Update will also include non-critical operating system updates. These updates may fix minor issues as well as add or enhance features of the operating system such as its program compatibility. We recommend leaving this checked unless you have a specific reason to ignore the recommended updates.
The Microsoft Update checkbox expands the scope of Windows Update to other Microsoft products including Office, Visual Studio and others. We especially recommend checking this box if you have Microsoft Office installed as updates are released for it on a monthly basis, many of them fixing critical security vulnerabilities. There’s generally no harm in leaving this box checked.
To recap, our recommended settings are as follows:
- Important updates drop-down: Install updates automatically (recommended)
- Recommended updates: check this box
- Microsoft Update: check this box
Be sure to click the Apply button if you made any changes.
If you chose to let Windows Update install updates automatically, you don’t have to actively participate in the installation of updates; this will happen in the background and in all likelihood won’t interrupt you. Windows will typically choose to install the updates at an off hour when the computer is not in use to minimize impact.
If you chose any setting other than automatic, installing updates will be a semi-manual process at the very least. If you chose one of the two options that allowed Windows to check for updates, Windows will notify you via a system tray tool tip message that updates are available, and prompt you for which action it should take. When this happens, click the tool tip and choose whether or not to install the updates.
(Note if you chose to never check for updates, Windows will do exactly that – never check, and you’ll therefore never be notified. You can still use the PC Settings app to make Windows Update check for updates, however.)
Windows 7 users may notice that the Windows 8 and 8.1 version of Windows Update has fewer settings for you to alter, but it’s important to select the right ones for you. Most users should allow Windows to install updates automatically, allow it to check for recommended updates and furthermore enable Microsoft Update so other Microsoft products like Office are updated.
IT managers and power users running systems with custom software or hardware that is sensitive to Windows updates may choose to let Windows notify them when updates are available instead of automatically installing them. Our recommendations are for most users to stick with the automatic settings as those settings are the most likely to keep Windows up-to-date and best protected against the latest security vulnerabilities.