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Windows users face update bloat, and tough choices

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 20, 2016
New cumulative updates for Windows 7 will swell to 500MB a month, Microsoft acknowledges

And while the increasing size of Windows 10 cumulative updates does not affect everyone -- about a fourth of Windows users are running 10 -- Microsoft recently expanded the cumulative concept to Windows 7, the operating system that powers nearly half of all personal computers worldwide.

In fact, Microsoft expects that Windows 7's updates, like those for Windows 10, will get bigger.

"The rollups will start out small, but we expect that these will grow over time to something close to the convenience roll-up size," said Nathan Mercer, a Microsoft product marketing manager, in the August announcement of the change to Windows 7's update scheme.

The "convenience roll-up" Mercer mentioned was about 477MB in size (for the 64-bit version). Microsoft issued the roll-up in May.

In another answer, Mercer got more specific. "Eventually [the Windows 7] Monthly Roll-up will grow to around the 500MB size," he said.

If Windows 7's updates were to grow at the pace of 10's, the former would top the roll-up within a few months: Using the expansion of Windows 10 1511's updates as a guide would mean Windows 7's cumulative update for April 2017 would be approximately 1.6GB, or more than triple Mercer's bet.

That's not likely, said McMillan, for the simple reason that Microsoft is not fiddling with Windows 7 features at this point, but instead patching vulnerabilities and fixing bugs. McMillan predicted that the Windows 7 cumulative updates would reach Mercer's 500MB estimate, probably within a few months, but then grow from there only slowly.

But even updates of that size will choke some customers.

A few users and IT administrators expressed concern about the expanding updates as soon as Microsoft announced the new servicing regime. "This may impact bandwidth to download and install," wrote someone identified as Kiran in a comment appended to Mercer's August blog post.

McMillan has been fielding similar inquiries from LANDesk customers. "I'm getting multiple calls each week about bandwidth," he acknowledged, referring to the Windows 7 cumulative updates. "A lot of them just don't have a fat pipe, so this is an entirely new problem for them."

McMillan cited retailers and healthcare organizations as examples of users with limited Internet bandwidth -- some with nothing more than dial-up connections, others who rely on satellite-based Internet -- who will face time-consuming downloads as the cumulative updates grow in size.

Previously, updates could be individually selected -- each security patch or hot-fix approved or rejected by IT administrators -- to fit the specific needs of each system, resulting in small-sized downloads. But with the all-or-nothing nature of the new Windows 7 cumulative updates, those users were suddenly locked into taking everything Microsoft offered, or leaving machines vulnerable to attack.

 

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