It would be a spectacular understatement to say Microsoft has a mixed record with Windows 10 updates. Updates are good when they add new features and improve security, but Windows 10 is quite insistent about updating sometimes. That’s particularly annoying when the update is going to make your computer unusable for more than an hour. Microsoft says it won’t be so much of an inconvenience in the future. Upcoming major OS updates will take longer to install, but your PC won’t be offline for as long.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 updates currently consist of two steps. There’s an online step where the OS downloads and organizes the new files. Then, there’s the offline stage when the PC reboots to migrate user content, install the new OS files, and update hardware drivers. During the online stage, you can use your computer normally, but the offline stage is just a loading screen as you wait for the system to fully reboot.
When Microsoft released the Creator’s Update last year, the offline phase took an average of 82 minutes to complete. The Fall Creators Update improved that to a somewhat more reasonable 51 minutes. It’s not ideal to leave your PC unusable for almost an hour, but Microsoft is looking to continue this downward trend. The next major update to Windows 10 should require an offline phase of just 30 minutes.
There’s a downside to the shorter offline period — the update will actually take longer overall. Microsoft is shifting more of the work into the online stage, so you might notice your PC chugging along in the background when it’s time to update. When that’s done, you can reboot and be back up and running much faster. It’s a bit similar to the way Android devices update when they support Google’s seamless update system.
According to Microsoft, the new update process moves two of the more processor intensive tasks into the online phase. Your user content will be prepared for migration to the new OS, and the new OS files are placed in a temporary working directory. That leaves less work to be done during the reboot.
Microsoft says the setup process runs at a low priority in online mode, which should limit performance impact. The downtime for updates could shrink even more in future updates as Microsoft develops new ways to make changes to the system during the online stage. Maybe one day you’ll just be able to reboot instantly into a new version of Windows.