This is an update of a post from a couple years ago. Recently I migrated to a new PC, but neglected to update the settings as described below--and suffered the same consequences. Curse you, Microsoft--again!
Show of hands if this has happened to you: You step away from the computer for a while, or even overnight, and when you come back, all your programs and documents are gone. Why? Because Windows downloaded some updates and took it upon itself to reboot without your permission.
Gah! This happened to me again just yesterday, and I almost lost some in-progress work as a result. Thankfully, Word had auto-saved my open document, and Chrome was smart enough to re-open all the tabs that I'd been viewing. Even so, I think it's ridiculous that Windows would ever reboot without my go-ahead.
Thankfully, there continues to be an easy fix for this--provided you actually remember to take advantage of it. If you've been plagued by the same problem, here's what you need to do:
1. If you're a Windows Vista or Windows 7 user, click Start, type Windows Update, and then hit Enter. (XP users should head to the Control Panel and seek out Windows Update.)
2. Click the Change Settings option at left. (That's where it appears in Vista and 7; not entirely sure about XP.)
3. Change the setting to Download updates but let me choose whether to install them.
4. Click OK.
That's all there is to it. Windows may still nag you about installing updates, but at least it won't reboot without your permission.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.