Microsoft says Windows 8 will make its OS updates less annoying, limiting restarts to once a month. But system reboots are still often necessary--namely when a file that needs updating is open at the time.

Updates offer a tenuous trade-off, providing more security and reliability, but forcing you to spend time to reboot--or worse yet, causing you to lose work during an automatic reboot. The best way to prevent the problems is to eliminate the need for a restart at all. However, Microsoft says Windows 8 will at least boot faster.

Three Things That Will Help:

1. SSDs

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are generally twice as fast as hard disk drives (HDDs) at transferring data. Many high-end laptops and ultraportable computers are now using SSDs, and as the prices drop, they will become more common in mid and low-end laptops and desktops as well, so it's likely to be an option on many Windows 8 computers.


Most current PCs use BIOS as the system to initiate the start of your computer. BIOS has been around for 25 years, and can often take 10 to 15 seconds before launching Windows and telling it about your hardware. Universal Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is the modern version of this, with even more features, and more importantly, in only a few seconds, largely due to the ability to be optimized for the hardware it runs on. Windows 8 works with UEFI and will use it for its "Secure Booting" feature.

3. Boot Code

Windows 8 makes some changes to improve startup or reboot time. Initializing the device drivers in parallel instead of one after the other is one improvement. Another is "Trigger Start Services" which only loads services if and when they are needed, instead of loading most of them at startup. It also delays reboots if unsaved data is detected.

What's Still Needed

Most complaints about automatic updates refer to unexpected reboots that can lead you to lose unsaved data, which Microsoft is addressing with Windows 8. A better way to solve that problem is to have a computer wake itself up at night, install the update, and shut down again. Since the computer wasn't on in the first place, no unsaved data is at risk of being lost.

For computers that don't get shut down often, the system could update and reboot itself after sitting idle for some time, and return to the same state it was in before it started, with all applications and user data intact. Users shouldn't even know the update occurred. Apple's Mac OS X Lion has a feature called "Resume" which restores the user state after a reboot. Though Windows 8 isn't out yet, we haven't seen a comparable feature announced.

First, Do No Harm

Until a way is found to update system files that are open, reboots will be necessary. Making those reboots less painful is the next best step--and hardware and software optimization is helping, with boot times now approaching 30 seconds on some modern systems. In the end, computers need to take care of themselves without disrupting our work; protecting our work before running updates is a great way to start.