Fewer Reboots in Windows 8 Is a Patching Shell Game

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Microsoft revealed in a post on the Building Windows 8 blog that the next-generation Windows OS will require fewer reboots for Windows patches and updates. To anyone who has lost hours of work thanks to an unexpected automatic reboot, that probably sounds awesome. But, there is a reason the system reboots, and the solution proposed by Microsoft doesn’t solve the issue.

It would be nice if the PC never required a reboot, and all patches just installed silently in the background without ever interrupting you. As Microsoft explains, though, “there are situations where the installer is not able to update files because they are in use. In these cases, we need to restart your machine to complete the installation.”

Microsoft proposes minimizing reboots by limiting patching to once a month.
To address the problem of unexpected reboots, Windows 8 will simply delay them until Patch Tuesday. Patch Tuesday is the one day each month--the second Tuesday of each month--that Microsoft releases security bulletins and pushes out patches related to security flaws and vulnerabilities.

As Microsoft stated, because the installer is not able to update the files while they are in use, a reboot is required in order for the update to be applied. So, by waiting until the second Tuesday of the following month to reboot the system, Microsoft is delaying patching in general--not just minimizing system reboots.

It is a smoke and mirrors approach that is really just another way of saying that all patching and updating--or at least all patching and updating that requires a reboot--will occur on the monthly Patch Tuesday as opposed to just the security updates. It is not the end of the world because the patches we are talking about are not crucial security concerns, but it is disingenuous to imply that patching will occur as it always has, but that Windows 8 will minimize the reboots. The reality is that Windows 8 will minimize the application of patches--which has the beneficial side effect of reducing unexpected reboots.

There is one caveat to the plan to limit reboots to Patch Tuesday. Microsoft specifies that in the case of urgent security patches--patches that are issued out-of-band in the middle of the patch cycle rather than waiting for the following Patch Tuesday--the update will still be applied immediately and the system will be rebooted if necessary.

I support the effort to develop a Windows 8 with fewer required reboots. I sympathize with those who have left their systems running with work in progress and returned to find their effort lost due to an unexpected reboot. The new system seems to achieve the goal, but it does so by limiting the entire update process to once a month, and adds complexity that users may not appreciate.

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