Microsoft, tired of people not performing updates and then complaining their machines don't work, has taken the decision to update out of our hands.
Does your computer run the Windows 10 operating system? Have you noticed that it always seems to be busy when you aren't doing anything?
As I mentioned in an earlier column, a few weeks ago I purchased the most powerful laptop computer I've ever owned.
Figure 1: MSI laptop boasts a 6th generation Intel Core i7 with four processor cores and eight threads, among other things. (Source: Max Maxfield)
This little scamp boasts a 6th Generation Intel Core i7 with four processor cores and eight threads, 32GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD for the system and applications, a 1TB HDD for data and a 120Hz refresh-rate display, all complemented by a screamingly awesomely powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 graphics subsystem.
Now, I'm used to the fact that when you first start to use a new computer it's going to spend a bit of time bringing things up to date with regard to any changes that have occurred to things like drivers and the operating system since the original image was loaded at the factory. Thus, the first thing I did when I got my new machine was power it up, leave it to do its own thing for a while, and power it down again. I repeated this cycle a few times until things appeared to have settled down.
That evening, at home, I powered the beast up and then left it while I went to make a cup of coffee. When I returned, I noticed that the system disk light was flashing like crazy, so I opened up the task manager to see what was going on. Eeek! The CPU was maxed out at 100% usage while the system disk was hammering away at around 90%.
My knee-jerk reaction was to think "Malware!" so I immediately powered it down again. The next day, on the way into work, I popped in to see Russell Barlow, the president of On Deck IT Services, which is the company that now supports all of my personal computers.
Once I'd described what was going on, we powered up my machine and Russell had a poke around. Almost immediately he informed me that there was nothing to worry about—it was just Windows 10 performing a bunch of updates—all I had to do was go back to my office, leave the machine powered up for a few hours doing its own thing, and all would be well. Phew!
A few days later I flew out to the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in Minneapolis. I took the beast and my Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with me for Chuck Carter to use as part of his keynote presentation.
When I arrived in my hotel room, I thought I'd better check everything out, so I set the machine powering up while I unpacked my clothes. You can only imagine my surprise when I returned a few minutes later to discover that the little rascal was once again thrashing away. I opened up the Task Manager and had a root around and discovered that all of the activity was being performed by two applications—Windows Modules Installer and Windows Modules Installer Worker—so at least I knew there was nothing to worry about per se, but I did vaguely wonder why all of this activity was taking place.
I asked Russell about this when I returned home, and he explained that, unlike my first batch of updates, which were just bringing the original version of the system "up to par," what I'd experienced in the hotel was something dubbed the "Anniversary Update"—a humongous update that touches every nook and cranny of the operating system. "Oh well," I thought, "at least this should hold me for a while."
All of which leads us to yesterday afternoon, at which time I found myself in an email conversation with my chum Steve Manley in the UK. During the course of our chat, Steve mentioned that he was busy backing up the data on his laptop so he could reinstall Windows 7 because "I hate Windows 10!"
When I asked why, Steve noted multiple points, ending by saying "Oh, and it forced a massive update the other day that took over 1.5 hours to install without any warning. I don't appreciate this sort of behaviour. I like a bit more control." Just a few minutes later, Steve sent another message saying "Windows 10 is updating again!!! It did this only a few days ago!!!"
I happily conveyed my new-found knowledge regarding the "Anniversary Update," but Steve gloomily responded "I bet your computer updates itself again the next time you power it on." I really didn’t think so, but when I returned home from work yesterday evening I turned the beast on and—blow me down—after just a few minutes it started thrashing away with 100% CPU usage again. It was still going strong more than an hour later as you can see from the screenshot below.
Give me strength! What is going on? Is this constant updating activity going to impact my ability to use my virtual reality headset?
I just got off the phone with Russell. He's made me feel a lot better about all of this. First of all, he explained that Windows 10 only performs its updating activities when the machine is otherwise idle. If it sees me powering up my Oculus Rift—or any other application—it will stop whatever it's doing and leave me in full command of all the machine's resources.
In the same vein, Windows 10 will only download updates in the background when nothing else is going on. It will continue to download a bit here and a bit there until it's ready to rock and roll, and then it will perform its updates in the background without my even noticing them.
With regard to the fact that Windows 10 (at least the Home Edition) doesn’t give me a choice regarding downloading and installing updates, Russell guestimates that at least 85% of pre-Windows 10 home office machines that he's asked to look at are months or years behind with regard to their driver and operating system updates because their owners have clicked "Not Now" when being presented with an update option. (I can’t argue there, my wife used to do that on her pre-Windows 10 machine all the time.)
The bottom line is that the folks at Microsoft got tired of people (a) not performing updates and then (b) complaining that their machines no longer worked, so they took the decision whether or not to update out of our hands.
As far as I'm concerned, so long as these updates take place without my having to worry about them, and without their impacting my ability to use my machine, then I really don’t have a problem with any of this. The main thing is that I know what's going on. How about you? Have you noticed any of this yourself? Has it impacted you in any way? And, the important question, are you a lover or a loather of Windows 10?