Should I Turn Off Automatic Updates?

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Westpark asked the Windows forum if it's advisable to turn off Windows' automatic updates.

There are good arguments both ways. Personally, I keep it on, and I think that for most people, that's the best solution. But before I give my argument, I'll explain why other people disagree.

You've probably already figured this out, but Microsoft isn't perfect. Windows Update has been known to introduce bugs, breaking programs and features that were working just fine beforehand.

For instance, a new patch released just last month disabled tax form printing in Intuit's TurboTax program. The timing couldn't have been worse; the patch went out on April 10--only days before everyone's income tax was due.

There was a workaround, which Microsoft posted on their site, but a lot of hairs went gray before people found it or figured it out on their own. Woody Leonhard explains it in more detail in Why you can't print your TurboTax tax return.

Those who advocate switching off automatic updates want to avoid such disasters. They argue that you should keep up on the news about Windows updates. When a new patch comes out, wait a week, see what people say about it, then install it when you're satisfied that it's safe.

But that's a lot of work. Most people will not keep track of the updates, will not read what the forums are saying about them, and will not remember to update their own machines manually a week after the release.

If you turn off automatic updating, and you don't remember to be vigilant, your PC will rarely if ever get patched. You'll be one of a minority with wide-open security holes.

There are dangers either way, but for most people, the greater danger is in not allowing Windows to update itself automatically.

Read the original forum discussion.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter, or subscribe to the Answer Line newsletter, e-mailed weekly.

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