Upcoming update to Windows Update

windowsupdateI’d like to let you know that, beginning at the end of this month and continuing over the next few months, we’ll be rolling out an infrastructure update to the Windows Update agent (client).  I wanted to take this opportunity to provide some background on the update and discuss the value these updates bring to you.

How Windows Update Keeps Itself Up-to-Date

Occasionally, we must update the infrastructure of Windows Update in order to ensure a high level of service quality, reliability, and operation.  As part of this process, we update both the back-end infrastructure that supports the service as well as the client side code (i.e. the Windows Update agent, or client).

So what are we doing this time? Well, this particular update won’t really change the way the client looks or feels to you, but you may notice some improvements in the length of time it takes Windows Update to scan for updates and how quickly you’ll receive signature updates.  For example, in this update, we’ve invested heavily in reducing the amount of time it takes the Windows Update agent to scan to see if new updates are available.  In this case, we’ve seen some instances of the scan times on some machines decreasing almost 20 percent.

Settings 101

Before we dive into how Windows Update issues the infrastructure updates, let’s review some information about different changes you can make to your personal Windows Update settings.  We recommend that you install Important + Recommended updates (in Windows Vista) or High Priority updates (in Windows XP) automatically; these options are presented when you set up Windows.  After initial setup, if you would like to change your settings, go to the Windows Update application in Windows Vista or the Automatic Updates Control Panel in Windows XP.  There you can select from 4 settings:  (1) Automatically Download and Install; (2) Download Only (updates are downloaded but the user chooses whether and when to install them); (3) Check for Updates (no updates are downloaded and you’re notified that updates are available for download and install); and (4) Off.  See Figures 1 and 2 below.

screenshot Screenshots: Figure 1 (Vista), Figure 2 (XP)
link Source: Microsoft Update Product Team Blog

What does this mean for you?

Anytime the Windows Update agent is turned on, Windows Update will take care of updating itself.  Windows Update is considered “on” when anything other than “Never check for updates” or “Turn off Automatic Updates” is selected.  What this means is that if you’ve selected “install updates automatically,” the update to the Windows Update client will install automatically.  You may also notice that Windows Update will also automatically download and install updates necessary for the Windows Update client to function properly if you’ve chosen a different setting, like setting 2 (“Automatically Download Updates”) or setting 3 (“Automatically Check for Updates”).  This is done in order to ensure that a system will continue to notify the user about available updates.

The Windows Update client does not download or install infrastructure updates if the user has selected setting 4 (“Off”).  In other words, if a Windows Vista user selects “Never check for updates,”( or if a Windows XP user selects “Turn off Automatic Updates”), the user will not receive Windows Update client infrastructure updates unless they choose to manually install it from Windows Update.

Windows Update has been keeping itself up-to-date this way for many years, and while these infrastructure updates are important to maintain the quality of the Windows Update service, they aren’t that frequent (they usually occur about once a year).

Why does Windows Update need to self update?

You may be wondering why this process is different from other updates you’ve come to expect from Windows Update.  The reason Windows Update issues infrastructure updates in this way is to ensure that users are able to successfully check for updates and/or receive expected notifications.  If Windows Update wasn’t able to do this, it may cause some users to believe that they have all of the latest security updates even though there was no installation and/or notifications of updates. To avoid a false sense of security, the Windows Update client automatically checks for and installs any available infrastructure updates anytime a system uses the Windows Update service, independent of the settings for how it handles updates.

I hope this information was useful in helping you understand infrastructure updates, and that you have the time you need to prepare for the update.

We continue to be confident in the value Windows Update offers.  For more information about infrastructure updates, please refer to KB946928.  If you’d like more information about Windows Update, and how the service works, please review the newly launched Windows Update information on windows.com.

We look forward to hearing your feedback.

Michelle Haven
Product Mgr., Windows Update