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Is It Safe to Install Optional Updates and Betas on Work Computers?

Windows 11 optional update: Why it’s better to wait
Microsoft recently announced an optional update to Windows 11. It isn’t the first one, and it won’t be the last. If you’re an Apple user (whether at home or at work), you might know about Apple’s relatively famous beta program, where users can try out the next version of iOS, iPadOS, or MacOS before it’s released. These optional updates and betas promise new, exciting features. But is it a good idea to install them on your work devices? Quick answer: almost always no. Here’s what you need to know about these prerelease updates — and how you can make sure your work machines stay up to date safely.

How Windows Updates Work in Windows 11

Before we explain why the optional update usually isn’t a good idea, we need to explain how Windows Updates work. With older versions of Windows, the Windows Update utility had quite a reputation. It’d take over your computer, sometimes for hours at a time, to install an update to the operating system. Usually you wouldn’t see any noticeable changes when it was done; you just felt the lost work time since you couldn’t use your computer during the update process. The last couple of versions of Windows have improved this workflow so that much of the updating process happens in the background. And with Windows 11, you’ll probably never even notice a regular update: they happen automatically, 100% in the background, and they never interrupt your work. So that’s a big thing to note: regular updates to Windows (to patch security flaws and vulnerabilities, or to release new features) happen automatically under normal circumstances. You don’t have to do anything to make them happen (assuming your IT controls and endpoint management are properly configured). (Apple devices aren’t quite this seamless, but you’ll still only see the main, “regular” updates unless you go out of your way to find the betas.)

What’s Different about an Optional Update

In Windows 11, optional updates don’t install automatically like the regular updates. That’s because they’re, well, optional. Microsoft uses these optional updates to release previews of features that might not be ready for a main release. It’s pretty close to a beta program: get access to features early in exchange for being Microsoft’s guinea pigs so they can find all the problems. And that’s the crux of why we don’t recommend installing optional updates on work machines. Is it exciting to get access to shiny new features? Of course! But it’s that “find all the problems” bit that you don’t want to deal with. You want your work machines to work, and you don’t want to deal with weird issues because of features that aren’t quite ready for prime time. The truth is, these kinds of optional updates (and every kind of Apple beta) are for advanced users who know their way around an operating system. They’re not for the regular folks in accounting or sales, who could get thrown off for hours if something starts behaving strangely.

Our Advice: Have Patience

We know it’s not the most fun advice, but patience is the best course of action here. Those features that are reserved for Optional Update or beta users will eventually meet one of two fates: they will either be rolled into regular Windows updates when the bugs are worked out, or they’ll be killed off (because the bugs couldn’t get worked out). If you wait for those features to arrive in the regular updates, you’ll be better protected. You’ll still get access to that shiny new tech eventually. In exchange for your patience, you’ll avoid dealing with compromised, slow, or badly behaved computers. That’s it for this week. If you have questions about your Windows build (or if you’re still chugging along on Windows 10), reach out to our team. We’d love to help!