Windows Reboot

Dear Microsoft, every time you reboot my computer overnight without me having any interaction I lose unsaved documents and messages. It completely breaks my trust in a way that’s irreparable. It’s been six years since I first wrote about this. At the time Robert Scoble saw my entry and apologized on his blog in a really heartfelt way. This meant more to me than you will ever know; it was the day I went from being a childish Slashdot-reading Micro$oft-hater to having great respect for a large company made up of individuals who made mistakes but had changed the world. Six years later, though, the bug is still there. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice… well, you can’t fool me again.

70 thoughts on “Windows Reboot

  1. Well, there are other operating systems on the market, which always (ok, most of the time) do what YOU want to do and don’t surprise you every other day with something “new” which keeps you away from work… πŸ™‚

    1. Yes — I own many Apple devices as well, but if I’m going to go through the pain of a 100% switch it should be to something like Ubuntu. I’m just not looking forward to figuring out how to make my built-in EVDO card, graphics card switcher, etc work.

      1. I don’t know β€” if I was going to switch to something, I’d go to something that respected my time (and thus was easy to setup and run). If I knew it was going to be a headache beforehand, I wouldn’t even consider it.

      2. Just FYI, Dave Airlie has been doing some work with regards to GPU switching, but it’s nothing mature or integrated into distributions thus far.

        I’d say not running anti-virus or memory-hogging utilities will more than compensate for the lack of GPU switching. πŸ™‚

        As for your EVDO card, well, my Dad had a 3G dongle that now works out-of-the-box as of Ubuntu 10.04. (It previously needed some usb-modeswitch hacks.) You might be lucky. Tried a live Ubuntu 10.04 system on there?

      3. Amen to Ubuntu. Been using it for a couple of years now. I don’t think I’ve restarted my home office desktop PC since Winter. Now that’s a stable OS.

      4. I’ve heard good words for Windows7 so far, expect what you are saying, Matt and the fact that it’s closed source.

        It’s almost 3 years now that I have 100% switched to Ubuntu – it works great ant the latest version 10.04 is better than ever. Everything works great. I have a Nvidia graphic card and Ubuntu would run perfectly even without the drivers provided by Nvidia.

        Every other device works great. I don’t know about a integrated camera as I don’t have one on my laptop. So, this is my experience and it’s all GPL πŸ™‚

      5. I used Ubuntu for quite a while. The only thing that bugged me was that there was no mainstream software for it. If I was sent a PSD, I couldn’t open it (most of the time – sometimes the GIMP would read it properly).

        I still have a soft spot for Ubuntu, though. Have the server edition running on my home server, and have it in Virtualbox on my Mac.

      6. Hi Matt, you can try the Ubuntu live CD reboot on the CD and find out if Ubuntu works with your hardware, I use Ubuntu and I am a MS developer, not in-house.

  2. I absolutely hate that. There are few computer related things worse than setting a huge system task or backup for overnight performance and coming down the next day and seeing my startup screen. Ahhh.

    I can manage my own affairs. There is no need for you to force a restart without my consent.

    I already have to fight off various virus and malware. Microsoft isn’t saving me by forcing the restart..

  3. First, Microsoft does pop a message on the screen when installing updates on Wednesday nights that will allow you to “Restart Later” and warns you it is automatically restarting and to save an unsaved documents, etc. But that doesn’t do anyone any good if they are sleeping and not sitting in front of the computer. Secondly, there is an option in automatic updates (depends on what version of Windows you are using as to specifically where the option is located) that will only allow Windows to tell you updates are available and you can install them (and restart your machine) at your own convenience. Googling “Turning Off Automatic Updates” for whatever version of Windows you are running should yield how-to results on how to accomplish this.

    1. I had done this on a previous computer, but this one uses their recommended settings. (Everything is “green.”) The vast majority of people in the world will use their recommended settings. How many millions of hours of work were lost last night?

      1. And if they *didn’t* force a reboot, and another “Code Red” type worm was released, they would be hounded for not enforcing safe computing practices. Code Red relied on lazy users and administrators not maintaining their computers – to the extent that it exploited a vulnerability for which a patch had already been released for over a year.

        I understand your pain, Matt, but frankly, most people wouldn’t install updates or reboot their computers if they weren’t forced to. And the ones that are at least willing to do the updates, are probably aware that settings exist to control how they operate. You are obviously aware that this is the case, since your last computer had the option disabled.

        And for the “millions of hours” lost – that’s entirely possible, I suppose, but again, it’s millions of hours from people that don’t actively maintain their own computers. On a per-machine basis, I guarantee that far more hours of work are lost when a computer is infected with malware than when the machine reboots unexpectedly following updates.

        On that note – tomorrow there’s going to be an important Flash Player security update released. Adobe usually releases them in the late afternoon or evening.

      2. They have a mode where it bugs you a ton every 5 minutes until you reboot. Assuming anybody used the machine, it pretty much forces you to reboot. I just want a chance to close my browser tabs, IM windows, etc. first.

      3. Matt, he just told you how to fix it. Go fix it…and post it on your blog in case others need it. πŸ˜›

        Microsoft’s default settings won’t change, but at least you will be able save your work (and others who read your blog.)


    2. My mother’s Windows Vista computer actually wakes from sleep during the night in order to restart itself. Don’t know if this is usual… She disabled Automatic Updates and it still does it sometimes. Weird.

  4. I’m guessing this has to do Windows Update installing the latest batch of security fixes overnight? Don’t know what version of Windows you use, but I know XP had the option to notify you of updates but not install without your approval. Check the Windows Updates settings in your Control Panel.

  5. This is irritating, however there’s an easy fix: set Automatic Updates to “notify only” and run Windows update manually when the yellow shield icon shows up in the system tray.

  6. Are you sure this is a Windows fault? I had problems where computer will reboot but reasons were oscillations of power voltage.

    Anyway, you mentioned unexpected things that this makes (unsaved documents & messages). Don’t all PC and web based tools nowadays for this do automatic saving in case of crash etc?

    1. @Milan

      Why should we rely on third party tools for backup when we have already paid Microsoft? Windows is popular because it’s believed to be user-friendly.

      At my workplace we don’t have to worry about graphics cards and stuff. I suggested to switch all my office computers to UBUNTU; which they promptly did. My boss even recommended me for a raise!

  7. I just switched my sister to ubuntu and she loves it. Her computer is 8 years old. “Can’t just send something to the landfill if it still works” (Midwest thinking) Only hesitation for me is I need to test some things in IE from time to time. Are you running Windows 7 or XP? I have to say windows 7 runs pretty good and has the most compatibility I’ve seen of any os I started with a ti994a and sometimes miss DOS

    1. I run Windows 7, and I think it’s an excellent operating system. It does what I need, is fast, and stays out of my way. Except when it decides to discard all my open documents and windows for a reboot. There is no, no, no good reason for that.

      1. I always went by the advice of save early and often. There is not a good reason to avoid saving. Also, you should set it to notify and in Windows 7 it is easy to tell Windows to not bitch about it not being on totally automatic.

  8. Matt,

    I’m right there with you. My Windows 7 system was updated and rebooted last night. I wasn’t working on anything major, so it’s more annoying than anything else.

    Have you looked into Ubuntu? Because other than Netflix Watch Instantly being a no-go finding it very hard to find a reason not to use it full time.


      1. Matt, I hate that, too. Just change the settings for Windows Update to “Download & Notify” instead of the defaults. No big deal. It’s in the Control Panel, under “Windows Update.” In fact, Windows does ask when you install it what setting you want (unless, of course, you’re using the pre-installed copy). πŸ™‚

        And any OS needs patching. Ubuntu might be a nice OS but it needs updates, too. In fact, most Linux distributions have more security updates than Windows does. And unfortunately, using Linux often limits your choices in apps. I wish it weren’t the case, but it is.

    1. This would only turn it off for the current session. The service would restart again with the computer.

  9. When I finally switched to a Mac last year, I wondered why I didn’t do it sooner. I would’ve saved a lot of my life if I left Windows earlier.

    I can still work with Windows–based computers, but I prefer to play with Linux, specifically Ubuntu, when I’m not on a Mac.

    Every OS has its quirks, but it’s just too tiring dealing with Windows’ problems.

  10. Never had it happen on any of my machines….

    No matter if they did or not, you shouldn’t walk away without hitting save, that is just a no-brainer.

  11. Matt,

    I’ve been running a number of windows boxes nearly 24×7 for ages. I’ve yet to see one of these “hostile reboots” so I’m wondering if there’s just some setting you need to tweak?

    It’s puzzling, really. Is this a Windows Update issue? I have bot XP and Windows 7 configured to “download but ask me fist” when dealing with updates. Do you not do things similarly?

  12. This is interesting because of all the complaints I have heard about Windows, I’ve never heard this before. Probably because there is such an easy fix-don’t automatically install updates. If you want the control – you have if, why the complaint?

    And of course this should be the default setting. Allowing the average user to run unpatched programs is like installing a door with no lock. And yes, most things do auto-save, so what’s the big deal?

    This sound like complaining for complaining’s sake.

  13. while you’re at it, blog about how annoying it is to automatically bring ANY window into focus without user intervention. i complained about this to the “the old new thing” guy and he said that it was silly to never steal focus. can’t they just make it a preference? sheesh.

  14. Matt, I’ve run Windows since 3.1 and we’ve obviously had different experiences. The only time I’ve woken up to a login in screen is:

    1. Power failure
    2. It was a new system build, and forgot to go into the power savings and disable suspending and hibernating (set to ‘never,’ when plugged in).
    3. I forgot to change my Automatic updates to ‘Download and wait for me install.’

    If you change the settings for the last two, you should be good-to-go unless there’s a dip in your A/C current.



  15. As much as you customize your WordPress to suit your own needs, you do the same with Windows, especially the Windows Update function. It will let you set the time of the day for the automatic updates, or you may select just to be warned of new updates (and som other choices). Take a look, at least.

    Saying you just use the recommended settings is just lame. Leaving a computer overnight with unsaved work is also lame. If you have a desktop computer and there is a power loss? Do you blame the power company for loosing data?

    Of course Microsoft could change the recommended settings, but there would be complaints about those, too.

    The current options gives complete freedom on how to maintain your system, and that is how it should be.

  16. You could also get in to the eco-friendly habit of switching your computer off (or hibernate) during the night…

    That would not only save frustration, but it also saves a lot of energy!

  17. I’ve installed Windows Xp Home Editon from 4 or 5 years and with recommended settings and the only thing happen after uupdate download is a popup window that remeber me to reboot to make update effective.
    Are you sute you don’t have any virus or malware?


  18. You go to bed with unsaved documents?

    What if there’s a power outage?

    What if one of your apps decides to take a dump and closes unexpectedly?

    I’m not saying that it’s right to restart your machine without permission, but it also sounds like you have some poor computing habits that need rectifying.

  19. The problem is that there isn’t an effective way of determining whether you have documents or web pages open that need special handling. It has to be ‘to reboot or not to reboot’ mentality. By default, it is ‘to reboot’ and has an option for ‘not to reboot’. Linux and MacOS both default to ‘not to reboot’ because they do not have an automatic install enabled by default.

  20. [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate\AU]

    Setting the above will stop Windows Update from nuking all your work, but you’re right this should really be exposed through the GUI. πŸ™‚

  21. Actually, it’s not hostile.
    I’m firmly in the camp that thinks that if you don’t save your stuff, you _will_ loose it. Blame it on MS, blame it on a power strike, blame it on the moon, blame it on …
    Truth is, you’re blaming it on everything but yourself. Yes, I have lost work, but I’ve learned a lesson from it instead of complaining. Computers do exactly what we tell them to do, in exactly the order we tell them, _not_ what we think we said.

    Please, think of that and save you work (in more than one place.. you know when you last did your backups, right?)


  22. Matt – Personally I would recommend Linux Mint over Ubuntu. The Mint team uses Ubuntu as a base then they proceed to iron out all the bugs that are inherent with a new Ubuntu release (I know, I’ve used Ubuntu) then add their own excellent tools on top of it and they never release a new version until it’s ready (ever hear of that philosophy before?).

    It also provides just about all the codecs and plugins you would otherwise have to install manually in Ubuntu and the team fixes some of the rather unwise decisions that the Ubuntu developers make here and there.

    Lastly, the Mint forums have to be the most friendliest communities I have ever encountered. Who knows? They might even have a solution for your hardware problems.

    I’ve distro hopped now for a decent length of time and between Ubuntu, Mandriva, PCLinuxOS, Suse and Linux Mint I’ve found Linux Mint to be the best.

  23. Matt, start preparing your answer. The next time we’re at a WordCamp together I’m going to ask you (on stage, or at least in front of a bunch of people) why your OS of choice is the most inelegant and most closed source one out there.

    1. I run Windows, but the applications I spend 90%-plus of my day in are open source, like Thunderbird, Firefox, Chrome, Filezilla, Putty, Pidgin…

  24. The reboot ‘bug’ is actually a feature. Aimed at the 90% of users who use the recommended settings because they don’t know better.

    You know better, and there are multiple ways of handling it. However I agree it should be part of the GUI. I don’t use any now but common was the time I would load up a powertoy for such things.

    However a move to Linux would seem appropriate for you, both from a productivity point and an image thing. The fact you use windows is a (pleasant) surprise to me. It seems everyone wants to use fruit.

    Linux has great hardware detection and plenty of distro’s to choose from. I wouldn’t be looking at ubuntu myself, but it’s a choice of personality as much as it is features. IMHO

  25. Ubuntu 10.04 is definitely what you should go for — I use linux for all code ‘n stuff and Win 7 for Games, and some software I have to use for School (Staad Pro, AutoCad, etc.) Dual Boot is pretty useful if you want to gradually migrate from Windows to Ubuntu as you get more comfortable with linux.

  26. Matt,

    You say you use mostly open source software on Windows. You’re the inventor and head of one of the most popular pieces of open source software in the world. As a person who has nearly 30 years in computers, peripherals and R&D I see no reason at all for you not to switch to one of the popular Linux distros. I would recommend a Debian based distros such as Ubuntu or Mint. Dual booting is an excellent option in order to have access to both Windows and your Linux distro. Also, using the excellent VirtualBox virtual machine software you can choose to run Windows in a virtual machine.

    With everything you’ve stated I see no reason for you to wait. You have the extra benefit of being a (flexible) programmer and Linux based OSs tend to be a programmers paradise.

    Just do it. πŸ˜‰

    1. Programmers paradise if you have tons of free time to play with the OS, a huge distraction if you actually want to do some work done quickly.

  27. Just set Windows Update to “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them”. It is not the “green” setting, but who cares? I don’t see the point in blindly keeping the defaults!
    And if Windows will bug you to change it back – tell it to shut up (in “Action Center” settings).

    Alternatively turn off your computer at night and minimize your carbon emissions πŸ˜‰

  28. Hey Matt it’s easy for people to say “Just switch”, but there are some things to think about. First of all as far as the reboot issue you already know how to fix that and you must realize that “recommended” is for the average user who may not otherwise know what to do when updates are available. I’ll take a leap of faith here and assume that you’re not an “average” user.

    If you’re seriously considering making the switch to Ubuntu or any other Linux based OS I would highly recommend you set up a dula boot. The beauty of doing an Ubuntu installation is that it will see your Windows installation and install Grub, which is a boot manager.

    I switched to Ubuntu about three years ago and for about two years I used nothing but. When I got into we’d design and development it was during that time and the tools at your disposal are excellent. With that said though I found myself missing Photoshop and just couldn’t get it to run well enough in Ubuntu to be satisfied with it. And while there are excellent tools to check how your site looks in IE there’s no replacement for logging into Windows and giving a thorough once over in the environment that IE runs in natively.

    By all means, make the switch but do a dual boot, you’ll thank me;)

  29. It occurs to me that although setting up Windows to not reboot might be a somewhat onerous task. Setting up a Linux operating system is somewhat more effort.

    I see the old lin vs win argument coming however it’s a mute point. I lways come back to the same two factors. Video games and Photoshop.

  30. Yeah the first thing I do with all Windows operating systems is change the update settings so that it notifies me when they’re available, but it doesn’t automatically download or install them. That way I can manage it myself. Microsoft should find out a way to update the system without requiring a restart πŸ™‚

  31. I am furious about this phenomenon/behavior of Windows 7. I am glad you are blogging about it, Matt. Your OS should not aggressively jettison your work, period. Call me demanding, but give me both!
    MS should figure out something that incorporates both aggressively applying new security updates AND aggressively preserves the system state from before the reboot. We have saving of precise memory states, we have virtualization, so I don’t see why they can’t reboot and pull things up exactly as they were. In the absence of this technology, clobbering work should NOT be the default!

  32. Hi! Would like to know how you progressed, whether you switched completely or are in some part of the process, or abandoned the idea completely. I am considering OSs (Windows 7, Mac OS X, Ubuntu 10.10) for WordPress related work, and am sure all systems are supportive thanks to software such as WAMP and MAMP and various text editors. Thanks.