System Restore has served an important role for many users over the past 15 years of Windows, but it may be especially important for Windows 10 users in mission critical environments. In the lead up to the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft has revealed that most Windows 10 users will be required to apply system updates via the Windows Update service.
Microsoft has long used Windows Update to deliver security patches, bug fixes, and new features to users, and most users were strongly urged to accept the updates as they became available. But a measurable number of Windows users failed to update in a timely manner, and there was nothing Microsoft could do to force these users to upgrade.
Some users had good reasons to delay or avoid applying Windows updates: updates could potentially conflict with certain software or hardware, particularly in large businesses where custom software and configurations are common, and some updates were known to have bugs that caused crashes or system instability. Other users simply neglected proper maintenance procedures and chose to leave their PCs unpatched.
Whatever the reason for avoiding Windows Updates, large numbers of Windows installations are currently running without the latest updates, a problem that creates a significant security vulnerability and one that Microsoft seeks to fix with Windows 10. Here’s how the Windows 10 update situation breaks down:
For all intents and purposes, there are three versions of Windows 10 that will be running on PCs this year: Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Pro, and Windows 10 Enterprise. Most consumers will get their free upgrade to Windows 10 Home or Pro based on the version of Windows 7 or 8 they are currently running.
Windows 10 Home users will be required by the Windows EULA to accept and install all security and feature updates that Microsoft releases. Some options exist to delay the installation of these updates for a short period of time, but Windows 10 Home users will get all Windows updates soon after they are released.
Windows 10 Pro users, on the other hand, have a little bit more flexibility, but it comes with a pretty big catch. These users can defer Windows updates for up to 8 months by electing to join the Current Branch for Business (CBB), an update roadmap intended for businesses that need to manage and schedule updates for large groups of mission critical systems. Beyond that maximum 8-month staging period, however, Windows 10 Pro users won’t be able to receive any future security fixes or feature improvements until they’ve accepted all previous updates.
Out of these three primary versions of Windows 10, only Windows 10 Enterprise users have the ability to truly defer updates, and they can do so for years while still receiving support from Microsoft. This was a necessary concession by Microsoft, of course, to ensure that enterprise customers have the flexibility to accommodate their unique needs, and Windows 10 Enterprise customers are paying for the privilege, as this version of Windows is ineligible for the free upgrade offer.
This move by Microsoft to force most Windows 10 users to accept updates will likely be a positive change overall — preventing and combating security threats will be easier once the majority of Windows users are running the latest version of the operating system — but it’s sure to cause issues for some users, especially in the early days. That’s where System Restore comes in.
Chances are that you’ll be running a version of Windows 10 covered by Microsoft’s mandatory update policy. In addition to proper user backups (you’re keeping good backups of your data, right?) and the recovery tools included in Windows 10, System Restore can provide another layer of security if one of these upcoming mandatory Windows updates has an inherent problem, or at the very least causes a compatibility issue unique to your PC and configuration. You’ll need to give up a small portion of your drive for system restore points, but it’s likely that you won’t give that small sacrifice a second thought if a future botched update forces you to turn to System Restore.
We hope that Microsoft eventually sorts out this new process for updating Windows, and that future updates are extremely reliable. Until then, however, it’s almost a certainty that some Windows 10 updates will slip through with potentially catastrophic bugs and compatibility issues. Absent abandoning Windows entirely, users will be forced to accept this new reality, and while the vast majority of users will be completely fine, it won’t hurt to have a handy System Restore point standing by in case of trouble.