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Windows 10 updates to avoid and how to address them

While Windows administrators can never ignore Microsoft's updates, it may make sense to delay or even avoid Windows updates until they are stable for enterprise users.

One of the biggest challenges for Windows 10 admins is keeping current on Windows updates, but sometimes these updates can cause issues with desktop compatibility and stability.

These OS updates are critical to maintaining security of enterprise organizations, but they are notoriously flawed and cause new problems that require additional patches. Windows 10 is no better than previous versions, and there are still issues that come up with Windows updates.

As an IT administrator or advanced Windows user, you should understand the process Microsoft lays out to correct problems with the operating system.

Different types of Windows 10 updates

Microsoft provides Cumulative Updates, which could include multiple updates. Microsoft distributes the cumulative updates in two groups:

  • Feature updates that add new functionality and are released twice per year
  • Quality updates that include security and critical updates, once a month -- also known as Patch Tuesday

Component updates may or may not all be in the cumulative updates. Therefore, if you install a new device and problems occur, you should look for specific driver update from Microsoft to ensure they deliver it.

Downloading and installing Windows updates

Windows 10 settings permit you to download and install Cumulative Updates within 24 hours of release on Patch Tuesday. This is fine for consumers, but in the enterprise, you should test these OSes in a lab to ensure compatibility with hardware and enterprise applications prior to rolling them out to the users.

You should delay these downloads until you test them and ensure Microsoft has not yet released a subsequent update to fix issues with the newly released update. That said, security updates are critical, and you should always try to apply them promptly to protect assets from viruses and malware. With these conflicting factors, you must test all updates, but the testing must take place promptly after the updates' release.

Windows 10 update and patch issues

A great example of the importance of managing these updates is the disastrous May 12, 2020 cumulative update. In spite of Microsoft's pre-release program, which allows select customers to install the updates early and report on issues so Microsoft can fix them, the May 12, 2020 update still had a lot of problems. Organizations that installed this update and experienced the problems associated with the update (Table 1) had to install all the interim updates that Microsoft pushed out or consider one of the uninstall options -- noted later in this article.

The issues caused by the May 12, 2020 Windows 10 update included the following:

  • Security issues with various components of Windows 10, including:
  • Issues with verifying usernames and passwords
  • Forced reboots with always-on devices
  • OneDrive connection issues
  • Local Security Authority errors

While Microsoft published patches to address these issues, the patches then caused the following errors:

  • Incompatibility with certain hardware components
  • Major issues with network printer connection
  • Difficulty connecting to Google Chrome
  • Poor desktop performance

The fixes that Microsoft offers typically denote the patch that they relate to, indicating that sometimes Microsoft's patches are part of the problems. In addition, Microsoft acknowledged the problems reported by users for the May 12 update with KB4556799.

Microsoft has multiple versions of Windows 10 and updates may cover one or more versions. This can be quite confusing, but you simply need to remember that once they update the PC to a new version, Microsoft supports that version for 18 months. These different versions can run simultaneously, and Windows will trigger the Windows Update service unless you disable it.

Understanding which version of Windows 10 you are running

The automatic update tool will figure all the patches and versions out, but if you need a specific update you must find the correct version to install. To determine which Windows version and build are currently installed on a computer, go to the search bar and enter winver (Figure 1).

Windows 10 winver
Figure 1. Finding the Windows version with the search bar.

Microsoft has defined different dashboards for each version. The page for Version 2004 contains release notes, known issues, tips on applying the updates, and more.

Microsoft identifies its patches with a knowledge base (KB) number and each KB identifies the OS number and the OS version that that patch applies to. The page shows, for example, a sample KB doc of the May 12, 2020 update, which in this case is for version 1903 (Figure 2).

Windows 2004 summary
Figure 2. Microsoft's explanation of the 2004 Windows 10 build, which caused issues for many organizations.

Learning what issues come with different Windows 10 updates

Users should identify the updates released after the May 12, 2020 release of OS version 2004, which caused many of the recent Windows update issues (Table 2). Other versions of the data may have different patch numbers for updates. Each item in the KB column includes a links to the KB documents. It is important to study these docs as they include critical information such as:

  • OS version and build number
  • List of fixes and components fixed (Figure 3)
Windows 10 known issues
Figure 3. Microsoft's list of known Windows 10 issues based on the KB number.
  • List of known problems
  • List of problems that have fixes and the KB number of those fixes
  • On the left pane of the KB doc is a roadmap of updates, listed by version number.
Date KB OS Build OS Version Notes
June 9, 2020 KB4557957 https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4557957/windows-10-update-kb4557957 19041.329 2004 Patch Tuesday release
June 18, 2020 KB4567523 https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4567523/windows-10-update-kb4567523 19041.331 2004 Interim release
July 14, 2020 (regularly scheduled update) KB4565503 https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4565503/windows-10-update-kb4565503 19041.388 2004

Intended to fix all the previous update issues

(Note that the reported problems in Figure 3 were logged after installing this update)
July 31, 2020 KB4568831 https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4568831/windows-10-update-kb4568831 19041.423 2004 Interim release -- again identified by Microsoft to fix previous update issues
August 11, 2020 KB4566782 https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4566782/windows-10-update-kb4566782 19041.450 2004 Patch Tuesday release

Some OEMs, including HP, provided their own fixes for issues caused by the May 12, 2020 update. You should check with your OEM for more information.

How to check the update history of a Windows 10 desktop

First, you should identify the updates that the affected computers have received. To accomplish this, follow these steps:

  • Click on Start and then Settings or go to the Search bar and type Settings.
  • Select Update & Security.
  • Select Windows Update on the left panel.
    • Note that this page indicates when updates were last checked and has an option to check for updates, pause or delay updates, and other choices (Figure 4).
Windows 10 desktop update status
Figure 4. The status of a Windows 10 desktop regarding missing updates.
  • Click View Update History: This shows the update history on a Windows 10 computer (Figure 5). Notice that it lists Quality and Feature updates applied, as well as the date and the KB number of the update.
Windows 10 update history
Figure 5. The history of a Windows 10 desktops updates, including the date of the installation.

Manually installing and uninstalling Windows 10 updates

There may be updates that the Windows admin avoids due to various reasons, including if there is a specified delay by an admin, insufficient disk space and network failure. You can manually install the update in several ways:

  • Remove the Delay in Update Settings. In many cases, the update service will then perform the update.
  • Click the Check For Updates button in the Windows Update Settings page and then click to install it. You may need to do this several times to install all the missing or failed updates.
  • Download the software and documentation from the Microsoft Update Catalog. Unfortunately, this is only a search engine, so you must know the KB number associated with the update. It is fairly easy to find the proper KB number by searching on the internet (Figure 6). This has a link for documentation of fixes, components and any known problems, and a download link. There are different downloads for various system types, such as x64 and x86.
Microsoft update catalog
Figure 6. The Microsoft update catalog, showing different Windows updates available for download.

You may need individual updates for specific drivers or software programs that fail, causing errors in a business application or even blue screen crashes. An internet search for key words or error codes will usually identify the KB patch to fix it. You can also manually download and install these updates with the Windows Catalog.

In some cases, you may want to uninstall a problematic Windows update, such as the May 12, 2020 Windows update. You should consider this step if it is causing unacceptable performance or stability problems and there is no fix in sight. To uninstall an update, there are several options:

Windows updates to uninstall
Figure 7. A Windows 10 desktop's log of installed updates that IT professionals can uninstall.
  1. Manually Uninstall
    • Boot into Safe mode
    • Go to Control Panel, Programs, Programs and Features, View Installed Updates.
    • Highlight the problematic update and click the Uninstall button (Figure 7).
  2. Use the System Restore Feature. This option requires a restore point to be configured in advance. This will restore the system to the condition it was in on a specified date.
    • Go to This PC, Properties, System Protection (Figure 8).
    • Select "Configure restore settings …" and enable "Turn on System Protection"
    • Select "Create a restore point…" and provide a name. The system will create a restore point.
    • To restore the system to a restore point, select "System Restore" in the System Protection dialog.
Windows 10 desktop restore
Figure 8. The system properties dialogue box that allows IT to restore a previous update level.

Restore points are not automatic; you have to manually create and enable them. Thus, you should create a restore point prior to software or hardware updates. You should delete restore points when you're done with them to save disk space.

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