What would you do if your entire digital life—work files, email accounts, social media accounts, and even your purchased music and your family photos—was held for ransom? You have 24 hours to pay $5,000 or lose it all.
It can happen if you don’t keep Windows updated.
Why? Because your computer is more vulnerable when it’s out of date. Operating system updates help keep your computer safe from the latest malware and other threats. But how do these updates work, what triggers them, and how can you modify them?
Windows 7, 8, and 10 have made installing updates fast and user-friendly, but updating Windows might seem like a hassle, always popping up at the worst times. Even worse, these updates use valuable system resources during installation and often interfere with your workflow.
Why Operating System Updates Are Important
There are good reasons why Microsoft and other OS developers push for updates, though. Taking the time to perfect your system’s update settings is worth doing for the following reasons:
- Updates reinforce system security. Malware evolves, and your operating system has to keep up. Older versions of Windows may not be supported by Microsoft, increasing your risk of contracting viruses and other malicious programs. Some updates patch security holes, making it harder for cybercriminals to steal your personal information.
- Updates facilitate compatibility with new software. Technology evolves and new software is released every day, and these new programs—especially hardware drivers, like printer software—work better with up-to-date versions of Windows.
- Updates make your computer run faster. Finally, Microsoft occasionally makes improvements to Windows through updates. You might find that your system is more responsive and efficient after an update.
Windows 7 and 8.1
Windows 7 still maintains a strong share of the market even after the release of Windows 10; many users like the simplicity. The release of Windows 8.1 wasn’t as well received, but both of these versions are still officially supported by Microsoft.
Both versions have similar updating procedures, too, so we’ll be covering them both simultaneously.
How to Begin Updating
- Click on the Start button.
- Click on “Control Panel” on the right-hand side. You should see a window like the one below.
- Click the large, green “System and Security” link.
- Click “Windows Update.”
- Click “Check for Updates” on the left-hand sidebar to search for new updates. Your computer must be connected to the Internet for this step.
- Windows Update will either let you know your system is up-to-date or give you a few updates to install. Click “Install updates” if directed.
- Allow the updates to finish. Feel free to use your computer while they are downloading.
- Restart the machine to finish the installation.
Viewing Previous Updates
On the left side of the Update window, you have the option to view your update history. Recently installed updates are shown here organized by status, importance, and date installed. If a rogue update is causing issues, you can uninstall it from this window.
Configuring Update Settings
Take some time to explore the “Change settings” on the left sidebar.
Here, you can configure Windows to update itself automatically. In addition, you can:
- Choose an ideal time to check for updates. Choose a time when you’re unlikely to use your computer since updates generally require restarts.
- Decide whether or not to automatically install optional updates.
- Allow trusted users to install updates on the machine. However, be careful not to provide children with administrator privileges.
Microsoft has a “set it and forget it” approach with Windows 10, favoring automatic updates over user control. This has its pros and cons, but thankfully it’s just as reliable as the old system with a little tinkering.
However, Windows 10 is a little more work than that. Here’s how to stay in control of those “timely” updates:
How to Begin Updating
Windows 10 will automatically download and install updates in the background. When a restart is required, Windows will warn you beforehand and let you decide whether to restart immediately or later. Keep in mind that if you postpone the restart too long, Windows will eventually require one.
That being said, you can still manually check for new changes.
- Open the Windows 10 settings menu from the Start button or flag icon in the lower left of the taskbar.
- Click the “Update & Security” icon.
- Click “Windows Update,” which should lead to the following screen.
- Click the “Check for updates” button.
Viewing Previous Updates
The “View update history” link functions the same way as it did in previous versions of Windows.
From here, you can view recently installed updates and uninstall any problematic ones. Uninstalled updates will eventually reappear later, though.
Customizing Update Settings
Windows is famous for automatically restarting the machine for an update at inopportune times. However, using the Active Hours feature prevents this issue.
Click “Change active hours” in the Update window. From there, set an interval of time during the day when you’re most likely using your computer. Windows will avoid restarting itself between those times.
There’s also the comprehensive “Advanced options” link which lets you:
- Choose whether you want to download updates over metered connections (e.g. mobile data where usage is capped).
- Enable or disable a reminder for when Windows will restart for an update.
- Configure “Delivery Optimization.” This feature speeds up the update process if there are other machines on your network. It’s safe to use but may use more system resources.
- And finally, if you’re worried about data usage on a limited network, the “Advanced options” link in the window above lets you customize download and upload caps.
Updating Windows 7, 8.1, and 10 on Your Schedule
It’s important to know how to properly search for and adjust your Windows updates, no matter which version of this operating system you’re using. Windows 10 is great, but sometimes you need to take more control. Set up a method that works for your schedule and computer needs so that you stay protected but aren’t interrupted.