Over the past ten years since Windows Update's inception, the update mechanism has improved greatly. Updating Windows XP was pure hell with crappy websites, slow downloading, and an even slower process of checking for updates (that could take ages!). You also had to endure many restarts, even in the same set of updates.
Windows 7, by contrast, downloads and updates quickly, all within Windows itself (instead of from a website), and other than the occasional restart, the process is entirely painless. Due to extensive architectural changes in the lower levels of the Windows operating system, restarts are few and relatively far in between - most driver updates, for instance, no longer require restarts. All this has improved the process greatly.
Still, the process can apparently be streamlined even further, and Microsoft is doing just that for Windows 8. Windows Update will consolidate all the restarts in a month, synchronising the system restart with Patch Tuesday. You will get three days to perform this monthly restart - if the three-day period is over, the system will restart automatically.
So, say Windows installed all the necessary updates around Patch Tuesday, and it's time for the automatic restart. Windows will display a notification on the login screen for three days, asking for a restart. Gone are the interrupting pop-up notifications in the bottom right corner asking for a restart.
After the three-day period, Windows will automatically restart. If critical applications are running, the restart will take place the next time you login (to prevent data loss). you will be given 15 minutes to save your data, and then the restart will take place.
The most welcome change? Everything is consolidated on the login screen - no longer will your workflow be interrupted by annoying popup dialogs begging for a restart. "Having a restart notification or dialog pop up in the middle of an important presentation, a game or a movie is not a pleasant situation, to say the least," Microsoft writes, "When attempting to automatically restart the PC, if you are in presentation mode, playing a game, or watching a movie full-screen, WU detects this state, and delays the automatic restart until the next available opportune moment or the next time you log back in to the PC."
Luckily, IT administrators - and thus, us geeks - will be able to change the update policies to our liking. I personally do not let my Windows machines update automatically, since I want to know what's being updated on my system (especially driver-wise), so I'm happy I'll still have the option to make changes to the update policies.
In the blog post, Microsoft also addresses the idea of letting third party software tap into Windows Update, but this is something that has been largely superseded by the arrival of the Windows Store. Metro applications will be updated automatically through the Windows Store, so there's no need to use Windows Update for that. As a sidenote, the fact that non-Metro software won't get any place for automatic updates is further proof that Windows applications as we know them today are considered legacy.