Windows 7 and 8.1 updates switching to cumulative monthly rollups starting in October

Starting from a fresh install of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 will soon be much easier.

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Microsoft is getting into the Windows 10 spirit for Windows 7 and 8.1 users. No, the company is not returning to its nagging tactics for the (now expired) free upgrade to Windows 10. What Microsoft is doing is making updates to Windows 7 and 8.1 much easier and similar to how it handles Windows 10 updates. Beginning in October 2016, both older operating systems will receive a cumulative rollup patch available each and every month via Windows Update.

What this means is that if your Windows 7 or 8.1 machine is currently up-to-date, when Patch Tuesday rolls around in October you’ll only have one update package from Microsoft to download via Windows Update. If you don’t bother to download October’s update, then you’ll be able to get those updates as part of November’s update cycle. If you wait until January to update your machine, you’ll get a single update containing patches from October, November, and December, in addition to the newest updates from January.

Microsoft calls this a cumulative rollup system where each month’s update package includes all previous updates (going back to October 2016). The new monthly rollups will include both security and stability patches. 

On top of that, Microsoft intends to add older updates to the monthly rollup over time. Eventually, Microsoft wants to include every update between the “last baseline” for each operating system and the present. Presumably, that baseline is Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 and the Windows 8.1 upgrade for Windows 8.

The impact on you at home: Microsoft’s change is great for Windows 8.1, but the real winners are Windows 7 users who must contend with years of updates. Right now, updating a fresh version of Windows 7 is a painful experience—especially if you’re reinstalling from a pre-SP1 disc. Microsoft did make the updating process a little bit easier in May when it introduced a “convenience rollup” that includes all security and non-security updates since the release of Windows 7 SP1. But the convenience rollup doesn’t appear as an option in Windows Update and must be downloaded via the Microsoft Download Center. That means users unaware of the cumulative rollup will never see it. Once Microsoft completes its work on the monthly rollup, which will be available via Windows Update, the update process will be much easier and available to anyone.

About that bad update...

The one group of people who may not be happy to hear about Microsoft’s new update system are those who like to pick-and-choose individual updates for their machines. It’s not clear if there will be a process that allows power users to selectively download parts of the roll-up package, or if users will be able to roll back specific parts of the update after-the-fact.

We’ve asked Microsoft for clarification on this issue; however, it’s unlikely that there will be an option to be selective about the updates. Windows 10 users don’t have a pick-and-choose option, and Microsoft’s aim is to have all “supported versions of Windows follow a similar update servicing model.” 

For a detailed explanation of why Microsoft is moving to a monthly rollup model check out Microsoft’s TechNet blog post on the matter.

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