Tag Archives: Windows

A cautionary tale for Vista users with automatic updates turned on

Last night I left a long computation running on my Microsft Windows Vista machine at work. When I came in the next day, I found my computer restarted. It was just happily sitting there, blank faced, waiting innocently for me to do something as if nothing had happened. A little too innocently, if you ask me.

“Where would you like to go today?” the little imp asked me, clearly trying to sound a little more helpful than usual.

“I’d like to continue going where the bloody hell I was going last night!” I said. “Why did you think I left you running that incredibly long computation? Remember my thesis that we were both working on? Remember that? What happened to that, Vista? Look at me when I’m talking to you!”

“Ohh, thaaaaat… Well, it was Tuesday, when Microsoft fixes a few of my bu… features, so I installed them and took the liberty of restarting your machine. It’s all for your safety. Remember when you agreed to the default recommended setting of automatically installing updates? Hey look at this pretty translucent window effect! Did you notice that? I totally didn’t notice that until now. That’s just…” it’s voice trailed off and it smiled meekly, avoiding eye contact.

“Yes, I remember very well turning on automatic updates, Microsoft Windows Vista Enterprise Edition,” I sternly replied. (I tend to use its full name when I’m angry.) “But I don’t remember agreeing to have my computer restart itself without my permission at four in the morning, especially in the middle of a computation!”

“Safety is Vista’s number one priority. We can’t have your computer getting viruses, now can we?”

“Of course not,” I coldly responded, “a virus might cause me to lose work.”

Silence from the machine.


Kids, I know we’ve made losing 5 hours worth of thesis simulations sound like fun, but in real life losing valuable work is no laughing matter. Microsoft products are out there, and their shoddy engineering and poorly concieved design causes millions of hours of lost productivity every year. If you feel you’ve been the victim of poor operating system engineering, help is available. Just call 1-800-MY-APPLE and tell the nice lady where Vista touched you. In the meanwhile, here’s how to turn off automatic restarts.

How to turn off automatic restart after updates on Vista

After enjoying the satisfaction of being protected from harmful viruses by having Vista destroy more work in one badly timed restart than I’m likely to ever lose to a virus, I looked into how to fix this while still leaving automatic updates on. As usual with Microsoft products, there’s no problem that can’t be fixed by an obscure administrative tool. If you are running Vista*, here’s how to keep your computer from spontaniously restarting itself without your permission:**

  1. In the start menu, type “gpedit” in the search box and hit return. (If you’re running Windows XP, type “gpedit.msc” in the “Run…” dialog box that can be selected from the start menu.) This will start the “Group Policy Object Editor.”
  2. Drill down to Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | Windows Components | Windows Update | No auto-restart for scheduled Automatic Updates installation. Completely intuitive, no?
  3. Click “Enabled. Remember, enabled here means you’re disabling the automatic updates. Make sense?

*This apparently also happens with XP running SP2, though I’m not sure if these instructions apply.

**There’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to type.

Update: Vista SP1, which is coming later in February, apparently changes the location of the group policy tool. Please see the comment below from chris.

Note: it appears that not all versions of Vista make this available. I have Enterprise, so if you have another version, your mileage may vary. I’ll try to figure out if there is a way to turn off auto updates in the Home version. In the meanwhile, you can just turn off automatic updates in the Windows Update program for now.