Geffy had a complaint about an annoying aspect of Windows Update earlier today. The problem is that after the Automatic Update feature in Windows downloads and installs updates that require a reboot, the system pops up a dialog box informing the user that the machine will automatically restart after a specified period of time. You can postpone the process, but if you're away from your computer at the time, as Geffy was, Windows will simply close every app that you have open and restart itself when the countdown hits zero. My brother ran into the same issue a few months ago while running a MATLAB simulation.

I think this behavior is just plain irresponsible on Microsoft's part.

So I'm going to tell you what you can do to avoid being bitten in the future. These steps should apply to Windows 2000 SP3+, Windows XP SP1+ and Windows Vista.
  • Click Start, Run and enter gpedit.msc in the Run dialog box to open the Group Policy Editor.
  • In the left-side pane, drill down to "Computer Configuration - Administrative Templates - Windows Components - Windows Update"
  • In the right-side pane, double-click the "No auto-restart for scheduled Automatic Updates..." item, and set it to "Enabled"

Disable AU restarts

If you're using one of the Home SKUs (XP Home, Vista Home Basic, or Vista Home Premium), the Group Policy Editor isn't included, so you'll need to add a value to the Registry. You can either use the instructions below to do it manually, or download this file, unzip it to your desktop and double-click the disable_au_restarts.reg file to apply the setting.
  • Click Start, Run and enter regedit in the Run dialog box to open the Registry Editor.
  • In the left-side pane, drill down to "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SOFTWARE \ Policies \ Microsoft \ Windows \ WindowsUpdate \ AU"
  • Right-click in the white space in the right-side pane, and select "New > DWORD value"
  • Set the name to NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers and set the value to 1.