Dealing With Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface Tablets

Dealing With Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface Tablets

When Microsoft rolled out Windows 10, they came up with an effective way to make sure people keep their computers fully updated….. they made it happen automatically.

With Windows 8.1, you had the following choices for updates:  (1) to automatically install updates, (2) download updates but choose whether or not to install them, (3) choose whether to even download updates, and (4) never check for updates. These options allowed Surface owners to have a lot of control over how updates were applied to their Surface tablets.

However, with Windows 10 you have one choice by default: automatically download and install the updates when Microsoft releases them.

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface: So What?

The main problem really is Microsoft’s past record of updates going badly: 20 epic Microsoft Windows Automatic Update meltdowns.

However, if you aren’t worried about that kind of thing, then you don’t need to do anything. Your Surface is (by default) setup to download and install updates as soon as Microsoft releases them.

While this is a security administrators dream come true, I have concerns about the Windows 10 forced updates as they currently function. My main complaint isn’t the loss of control over MY Surface (though troublesome) but the possibility that if Microsoft puts out a bad driver, firmware, or system update it (in the absolute worst case) could turn my Surface into a very expensive paving stone!

Considering the number of updates Microsoft issues it IS LIKELY that – sooner or later – a significant number of Surface owners could have problems or lose data through no fault of their own. I’m not saying Microsoft would do this on purpose, of course, but they can’t possibly test for every scenario and mistakes do happen, and they do get installed on machines before anyone even knows there is a problem.

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface: Can Anything Be Done About It?

While you can’t control Windows Updates like you did in Windows 8.1, there are some things you can do to help prevent these forced updates from breaking your Surface. At a minimum, you can change the settings, so that you know the updates are coming before they install. You might even be able to delay or prevent their installation until a time of your choosing.

Unfortunately, most of the things I’ll cover will only work on a Surface Pro but not a Surface 3. This is because, by default, a Surface Pro will be running Windows 10 “Professional” and the Surface 3 will be running Windows 10 “Home“. The “Professional” version allows you to access more settings than the “Home” version.

Now that you understand that important point, let’s take a look at what you can do to manage Windows 10 Updates on your Surface. We’ll start with changing your settings, so you get notified when updates are available to install…

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface: Get Notified

In order to know that updates are coming before they install themselves, you will need to change the Choose How Updates Are Installed setting to Notify to Schedule Restart. This will also give you the chance to schedule when you want the updates to happen, as opposed to Windows picking a time.

All you have to do to find that setting is the following:

  • Search for Windows Update Settings then select Windows Updates Settings from the search results.
  • Tap or click the Advanced Options link.

Windows 10 Updates on Surface - Settings

  • Change the Choose How Updates Are Installed option to Notify to Schedule Restart.

Windows 10 Updates on Surface - Notify

You might want to do that right now (I’ll wait) so that you’re ready when Microsoft releases the next batch of updates. After that, you will get a notification that updates are ready to be installed.

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface: Defer Updates

If you have a Surface Pro, you can set it to defer updates. When you defer upgrades, new Windows features won’t be downloaded or installed for “several months” (however long that really is, Microsoft doesn’t say). This gives Microsoft a bit of time to fix problems, if these new features turn out to be problematic out of the gate.

However, there’s a few issues with deferring updates:

  • Deferring upgrades doesn’t affect security updates, they will still be installed as soon as Microsoft releases them.
  • It’s an all or nothing setting. There’s no granularity at all.
  • If Microsoft puts out a new feature, you won’t get it for “several months”.

Still, if you’re not concerned about being on the bleeding edge of updates and you have a Surface Pro, you can easily turn this on by doing the following:

  • Search for Windows Update Settings then select Windows Updates Settings from the search results.
  • Tap or click the Advanced Options link.

Windows 10 Updates on Surface - Settings

  • Check The Defer Updates checkbox.

Windows 10 Updates on Surface - Defer Updates

Unfortunately, if you have a Surface 3 (i.e. Windows 10 Home) this will not work and you will find the Defer Updates option is greyed out on your device.

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface: Delay Updates

Another thing you can do if you have a Surface Pro (sorry, this one won’t work on a Surface 3 either) is use the Show or Hide Updates tool from Microsoft. This tool allows you to hide updates that haven’t yet been installed on your Surface. Once hidden the updates will not be installed until they’re un-hidden.

Of course, there is significant limitation to this tool in that you have to hide the updates BEFORE they’re installed but if you setup your update notifications correctly (As in the Get Notified Section) you won’t have a problem.

Here’s how to get and use the Show or Hide Updates tool:


  • Tap or click Next. After the tool finished looking for updates, it will offer you a choice. Select Hide Updates.


  • Check the box next to the updates you wish to hide and tap or click Next. The tool will tell you it is “resolving problems”. When it finishes, go ahead and close the tool.

Don’t worry about the fact the tool says it’s “looking for problems” or “resolving problems”. It was originally designed to troubleshoot problems with Windows updates, so it was assumed that someone would only use it if they were having problems. We’re using it as a preventative measure.

To un-hide updates, so they can be installed later, just use the same steps but select Show Hidden Updates when given the option.

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface: Kill The Windows Update Service

On a Surface Pro (sorry again Surface 3 owners) you can easily stop and disable the entire Windows Update service. This will pretty much guarantee that you won’t get an unexpected update but it may cause occasional errors referring to the Windows Update service to pop-up.

If you’re more concerned about Windows update sending update to your Surface than you are the occasional error message, here’s how to stop and disable the Windows Update Service:

  • Search for Services and select the top result. It should take you to the window below.
  • From there, simply scroll down until you find the entry for Windows Update then tap and hold (right-click) its entry and select Properties.

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface - Services

  • Change the option for Startup Type to Disabled then tap or click the Stop button to immediately kill the service.

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface - Properties

  • Tap or press OK when you’re done.

By setting the startup type to disabled, it will prevent the service from starting next time you reboot your Surface. To re-enable the service, just follow the same procedure but, select Automatic for the Startup Type and hit the Start button instead of the Stop button.

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface: App Updates

Up to this point we’ve been talking about system updates but did you know that, by default, Microsoft also updates your Windows Store applications automatically? Well they do and, as a result, you have to worry that applications you installed from the Windows Store could update (and potentially break/change things) at anytime.

On a Surface Pro, again, it’s pretty easy to turn off the application updates:

  • Go to the Windows Store and click on your account picture in the upper right corner and select Options from the menu that appears.

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface - Store

  • Turn the Updates Apps Automatically setting to Off.

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface - Store2

  • Close the Windows Store.

Surface 3 users can see the option to toggle Update apps automatically but it will be greyed out – sorry guys, I know this sucks!

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface: Rollback To Windows 8.1

If you’re concerned about Microsoft automatically updating (and potentially breaking) your Surface, you have one more option that is guaranteed to work and this actually works for the Surface 3 as well – rollback to Windows 8.1.

Just use the instructions here: Rollback To Windows 8.1 On Your Surface.

If you’re going to rollback, you might want to do so quickly as you only have 30 days from the time you upgraded to perform the rollback. After that, you would need a Windows 8.1 recovery disk and completely rebuild your Surface to get back to Windows 8.1.

You can always upgrade to Windows 10 again in the future if/when Microsoft changes how updates work on Windows 10. Drastic, I know but it is an option.

Windows 10 Forced Updates on Surface: Conclusion

So, whether or not you need to do any of the steps above, really comes down to how much you trust Microsoft. If you have complete faith in them, just leave everything as is.

If you’re paranoid about them screwing up your Surface (as Joanna is), you might want to kill the Windows update service or rollback to Windows 8.1 where you have more control (at least temporarily).

However, if you’re like me and fall somewhere in the middle then I’d recommend you make the notification settings change, I outlined, then you can use the delay or defer options as you see fit (on Surface Pro tablets, at least).

Oh, and in case you’re wondering; if you’re not using a Surface, this article still applies to you, as long as, you know which version of Windows you have.


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