Understanding Windows 7 Automatic Updates and Update Options

It's important to keep your system up to date

Windows 7 website on Apple ipad2

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There are few things more important to your Windows computer than keeping your operating system (OS) software updated. Software that's out of date can be insecure, unreliable, or both. Microsoft releases regular updates on a monthly schedule, but manually finding and installing them is a big chore. That's why Microsoft includes Windows Update in its OS.

As of January 2020, Microsoft is no longer supporting Windows 7. We recommend upgrading to Windows 10 to continue receiving security updates and technical support.

How to Manage Windows 7 Automatic Updates

Windows Update is set to automatically download and install patches by default. We strongly recommend leaving these settings alone, but there may be times when you want to disable automatic updating, or turn it back on. Here's how to manage automatic updating in ​Windows 7.

  1. Press the Start button, then go to Control Panel > System and Security.

    Windows 7 screenshot
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  2. Next, select Windows Update. (Ignore the options listed underneath for now. These are shortcuts to often-used options, and we'll explain them in a bit.)

    Windows Update Screenshot
  3. Windows Update's main screen gives you some important bits of information. First, in the middle of the screen, it tells you if there are any "important," "recommended," or "optional" updates. Important updates are normally fixes for security issues, or fixes for problems that could cause system instability. They should be installed immediately. Recommended updates often add new features or functionality. It's a good idea, but not a necessity, to install these. Optional updates are often take-or-leave propositions. They can be driver updates to help some devices work better with Windows, for example, or trial software from Microsoft.

    Windows Update screenshot
  4. Select the link for the available updates (in the above example, it's the "6 optional updates are available" link). You can install some, all, or none of the options by selecting the check-boxes to the left of them.

    If you're not sure what each update does, click on them to get a description in the right-hand pane. In this case, we selected Office Live add-in 1.4.

    Clicking on an available update brings up information about the update, at right
  5. Underneath the available updates, there's an option to check your update history. Clicking this link brings up a long list of updates (it could be a short list if your computer is new, though). A partial list is presented here.

    Windows updates screenshot

    This can be a helpful troubleshooting tool, as it may help narrow down an update that's causing your system problems. Note the hyperlink under "Installed Updates." Clicking this brings you to a screen that will undo the update.

  6. There are a number of options in blue on the main Windows Update screen. Select Change Settings > Important Updates. The top option in the drop-down menu is Install updates automatically (recommended). Microsoft recommends this option, and so do we. This will ensure the updates are downloaded and installed, without the risk of you forgetting and potentially opening up your computer to the internet bad guys.

    Windows Update options

There are a number of other options in this screen. The one you may want to change is Who can install updates. If your kids use the computer, or someone who you don't trust fully, you can uncheck this box so only you can control the Windows Update behavior.

Underneath that option is Microsoft Update. This may cause confusion, since "Microsoft Update" and "Windows Update" sound similar. The difference is that Microsoft Update goes beyond just Windows to update other Microsoft software you might have, like Microsoft Office.