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Prevent Automatic Updates from rebooting Windows by accident

There's an annoying side to the Automatic Updates feature in Windows: It forces reboots when people aren't looking, causing them to lose work. But there's a way to prevent this in the Windows Registry.

Automatic Updates is a great feature in Windows. . .at least in theory. It silently downloads all of the most recent fixes for Windows and then applies them as needed.

Unfortunately, one of its features is a massive annoyance that drives people crazy. It forces reboots when people aren't looking, and sometimes the prompts it pops up to authorize a reboot get tripped by mistake.

This can have some truly wrenching side effects, which I've had the misfortune to experience first-hand. I was working on a computer that had Automatic Updates set to download and apply patches automatically. At one point I got up to fix a sandwich. In the ten minutes I was gone, Automatic Updates' reboot timer popped up and expired, and I lost the work I had open. I had been typing something into a Web browser window (admittedly, probably not a good idea), and the browser was shut down without a chance for me to save anything.

The good news is that Microsoft does provide a degree of configurability for the automatic-reboot functionality in Automatic Updates. You can staunch all the prompts and the reboot timer, so that the only reboot that takes place is at the user's explicit discretion.

  • Open the Registry on the target computer and navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\:Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate\AU.
  • Add a REG_DWORD key named NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers and set it to 1. This forces the computer to let the logged-on user choose whether or not to reboot, rather than activate the 5-minute reboot timer.
  • Add a REG_DWORD key named RebootRelaunchTimeout and set it to 720 (decimal). This value indicates how long the computer will wait, in minutes, between reboot prompts after installing updates. This can be set to a maximum of 1440, but 720 minutes is 12 hours. That should be long enough for most anyone.
  • Add a REG_DWORD key named RebootRelaunchTimeoutEnabled and set it to 1. This enables the previous value.
  • Add a REG_DWORD key named RebootWarningTimeout and set it to 30 (decimal). This value indicates how long the computer will count down before rebooting, once it pops up a reboot warning. This entry is also calibrated in minutes.
  • Add a REG_DWORD key named RebootWarningTimeoutEnabled and set it to 1. This enables the previous value you set.

These changes should take effect after a reboot, and you can also integrate them into a Group Policy or add them through a startup script.


Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!

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