The recent evolution of Windows Updates

Ever since the original release of Windows 8, Microsoft has been slowly migrating to a new standard for update distribution in Windows. This has culminated as Peer-to-Peer (P2P) updates and as a new download method for non-P2P updates.

But first, a bit of a back-story.

In earlier versions of Windows (pre-Vista 2.0) the standard was to download a package — generally a .cab or a .exe — in its entirety and then move on to the next file. Once downloading was complete, Windows would extract the updates one at a time and install them.

The original Windows Update mechanism. Each file would be downloaded one at a time, as a full file.

One factor of downloading updates one at a time and in full, is the ability to intercept these packages. With this in mind, the majority of Windows updates can be cacheable. On slower networks where bandwidth is a major drawback, a cache could easily help alleviate network strains.

In walks Windows 10, with a Peer-to-Peer mindset.

Windows Updates were no longer about simplicity and were now about how to get updates to the customer(s) in the quickest, cheapest and dirtiest way possible.

The default configuration for Windows Updates delivery in Windows 10.

With this, control over which updates could be installed was essentially removed. As soon as updates were available to the general public they would be downloaded and installed, which in some cases would lead to small issues. Regardless of this issue, the networking side of Windows 10 wasn’t as simple as I once hoped for.

This is Windows 10 on one PC, attempting to download one update.

With an update mechanism like above in place, Windows Updates now becomes a painful toll on low bandwidth networks, especially those in regional areas where bandwidth is severely limited (A few Gigabytes a month).

There are several ways to mitigate these issues, the most popular of them being Windows Server Update Services (WSUS). However, WSUS will not work with Home (Premium) versions of Windows. So for the general public there really isn’t a solution that isn’t going to be painful. Anyone using Professional, Enterprise or Education would be able to easily implement WSUS using Group Policies.

In situations like this, those of us who are not using Windows Home — and have WSUS enabled — have the ability to test these updates, before releasing them to our networks. With the ability to test and potentially delay updates, if gives us time to watch forums and news sites to see if there is a major fault after an update is released.

So in conclusion…

  • Microsoft has changed the way they distribute updates.
  • It sucks for low speed networks.
  • It can be managed, but is generally recommended for businesses or educational institutions.
Posted in Caching, Networking, Windows | 1 Comment