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Microsoft Restores Windows 8 Update Controls

Microsoft has restored some update controls for Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012.

A recent Microsoft blog post explained that the update behavior of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 had changed with the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) versions of those operating systems. Windows Update for those operating systems currently works with a "new restart logic that defaults to forcing a restart 3 days after the installation of updates instead of 15 minutes," Microsoft explained.

The aim of adding the three-day restart delay was to avoid possible loss of data, such as sometimes happens with users that leave their systems running without saving their work. However, this Windows Update change took away some IT controls over the update behavior, Microsoft acknowledged.

Update Controls for Windows 8 RTM
Consequently, Microsoft released an update (described in Knowledge Base article KB2885694) on Oct. 8 that restores this control for Windows 8 RTM and Windows Server 2012 RTM users. The update is available through the Microsoft Update Catalog and Windows Update.

"This update returns the ability to discretely control when Windows Update installs updates, and adds the capability to force a restart soon after those installations regardless of whether there might be an active user session," Microsoft's blog post explains.

That sort of update behavior is going to be maintained in Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 when those OSes get released on Oct. 18. Consequently, the update described in KB2885694 won't be required for those OSes.

With the update in place, IT shops will be able force updates at a specific time or force an update soon after installation. They can set updates to be staggered across different machines at different days and hours. 

Windows Update Cleanup for Windows 7 SP1
In other update news, Microsoft announced that it will enable organizations to automatically remove old updates from the WinSxS directories on client devices that run Windows 7 Service Pack 1. WinSxS directories tend to bulk up in size because they hold all of the files needed for Microsoft's various system updates in a cumulative manner. Microsoft this month released an "important update" (described in Knowledge Base article KB2852386) that at last allows those old files to be removed, if that's wanted. It adds a capability called "Windows Update Cleanup."

Microsoft had designed the WinSxS folder to reference a machine's update history and determine the most recent updates that were applied, according to an old TechNet blog explanation. The WinSxS folder apparently still works in that way today because Microsoft offers a caveat prior to setting up Windows Update Cleanup on Windows 7 SP1 machines.

"Important note: After performing this cleanup, you may not be able to uninstall any of the updates currently applied," Microsoft's announcement warns. "However, if you need to rollback to a previous version, you can still manually apply the previous version of the update."

One advantage of using the new Windows Update Cleanup capability is that it can free up a couple of gigabytes worth of file space on a Windows 7 SP1 machine, according to Microsoft's announcement. However, automating the process across multiple machines seems to be not so straightforward. In addition, Microsoft is recommending that Windows Update Cleanup not be run "right after applying new updates," although there's no explanation provided about why that would be a bad practice.

The Windows Update Cleanup utility may not get automatically installed by Windows Update, according to Microsoft's announcement. However, download links are listed in Microsoft's KB2852386 article.

At this time, there is no cleanup utility for Windows Server 2008 R2. For Windows Server 2012 users, Microsoft advises using PowerShell commands to free up WinSxS disk space.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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