Visual Studio Devs Quick to Sound Off on Automatic Updates: 'Please No'

A five-year-old Visual Studio feature request for automatic IDE updates is finally getting enacted by Microsoft amid a lot of initial developer pushback, seemingly misplaced.

It was June 7, 2019, when developer Daniel Kaufmann took to Microsoft's Developer Community site to opine:

There are luckily lots of updates for VS... but it's still the pain of installing them manually. Would be cool to integrate them in Windows Update - or at least be able to enable an automatic updater in background.

A full five years later, Microsoft is testing the behavior in this month and in July before rolling it out broadly in August.

When the company's Mads Kristensen took to social media last Friday to announce the news, the response wasn't positive. A post engaged more than 54,000 times also drew a whopping 97 comments at the time of this writing. It said: "Wouldn't it be cool if Windows Update could handle updating Visual Studio for you and your organization automatically - keeping you secure and up to date? We think so too. Coming soon..."

Coming Soon
[Click on image for larger view.] Coming Soon (source: X).

The post showed Windows Update options where users can flip a switch to "Receive updates for other Microsoft products. Get Microsoft Office and other updates together with Windows updates." [The full text of the announcement is below].

But many developers expressed concerns about the need for control over updates and other concerns. A follow-up post quickly penned by Kristensen sought to clear up "confusion" but didn't seem to help quell the misplaced ire much. The new functionality basically lets consumer developers opt-in to automatic updates for their own machines.

As of now, users have to tweak a registry setting to enable the feature until August, after which Visual Studio will receive updates through the Microsoft Update (MU) system for users who have opted in to receive "other products" updates along with the OS. Users who have enrolled in MU but don't want accompanying Visual Studio updates will be able to opt out by setting a registry key.

Having to mess with registry keys -- something generally not advised for most users -- was just one sticking point for users, who weighed in on the topic:

  • No. nope. no way.
  • No. Please don't do this.
  • Please no. Applications should not be updated by the operating system. We worked so hard to move away from this!
  • Sounds like a terrible idea @mkristensen. I want to know and control when these updates are happening. Please abandon.
  • holy [expletive] hell no
    you guys do know you ship with bugs
    that's not a problem, it will happen
    but I absolutely cannot have my guys getting auto-updated
  • Unless i am misunderstanding this feature, this is *not* what most dev want; especially when windows decide when to install those updates. We need full control of the dev stack.
    Workloads versioning is still an issue with each update, i would suggest to not make it even harder
  • Yay! We're back to Windows 7 features!
  • I don't want to wake up on a super important release day that something broke overnight, or when I have a presentation that day, to find some weird UI changes I didn't want. I'll update myself on appropriate times when I have time to read the release notes.
  • Personally I don't think this will be cool.. In fact, I think the current VS installer is one of the better experiences for managing a carefully configured setup. I can only guess how dumbed down (or needlessly bloated) it will be through Windows Update
  • There's definitely a lot of confusion on this - it's opt-in at the machine level, but then opt-out (via registry tweak) at the application level. I would imagine a LOT of folks wanting the MU setting ON, but the VS setting OFF - and hacking the registry isn't a solid experience to do that.

There were some positive comments, and Kristensen's typical reply to the naysayers was something along the lines of "Then don't opt in." He later tried to explain more: "Organizations have been able to control VS updates for several years using Microsoft Update. This gives consumers the ability to do the same if they wish."

That followed his repost of a clarification from Microsoft's point person on the project, Christine Ruana, who previously tried to calm things: "The capability being announced here is an extension of the VS administrator update solution, which has been available for admins to enable via policy for several years now. This new capability allows for consumers who presumably own their own machines, to opt themselves into it."

For the veteran Kristensen, the initial pushback followed a familiar pattern:

Familiar Pattern Soon
[Click on image for larger view.] Familiar Pattern (source: X).

Here's the full text of Microsoft's explanation of the feature rollout, published in March by Ruana:

Starting in August 2024, Visual Studio security updates will be delivered through the Microsoft Update (MU) system, which is designed to run in the background in a non-intrusive manner. This means that Visual Studio will automatically receive and install monthly security updates on any computer that has opted into "receiving updates from other Microsoft products". We encourage you to enroll in this feature, as it's by far the easiest way to stay updated and secure on a monthly cadence. This capability applies to supported release and LTSC channels of Visual Studio 2022, Visual Studio 2019, and Visual Studio 2017. It does not apply to Visual Studio Previews.

Opting in To manually opt into this capability, you'll need to launch Windows Update, choose Advanced options, and then enable the option to "Receive updates for other Microsoft products" (see pic below), which is often referred to as "opting into MU". If you belong to an organization that manages updates for you, this option may be already turned on and greyed out and not under your control. In these types of situations, your organization has assumed control of your machine's update policies, and they may have already enrolled you into the Visual Studio administrator updates solution which this new capability is based off of.

Opting out If you have already enrolled into receiving updates for other Microsoft products, but you don't want to receive Visual Studio updates through this channel, you can opt out and exclude Visual Studio updates from MU by manually configuring this registry key: HKLM\Software\Policies\Microsoft\VisualStudio\Setup\VSthroughMUUpdatesOptOut (REG_DWORD) = 1.

Preview the experience in June and July 2024 We are delivering Visual Studio update packages through the Microsoft Update system in the months of June and July so users can preview this experience before it goes live in August. To opt into previewing this experience and seeing VS updates through MU, you will need to manually configure this registry key: HKLM\Software\Policies\Microsoft\VisualStudio\Setup\PreviewAutomaticUpdates (REG_DWORD) = 1. In August, this registry key will no longer be necessary. Once you opt into receiving Visual Studio updates through this Microsoft Update channel, we ask that you just close Visual Studio that evening, and then check the Windows Update history in the morning to verify that the update was successful morning.

All of the Visual Studio update delivered through Microsoft Update during this June and July preview period will have the "[Microsoft Update Preview]" prefix in the title and it will look something like this:

You're Up to Date
[Click on image for larger view.] You're Up to Date (source: Microsoft).

Some of you may have already updated to the latest release, which is preventing you from getting the update through MU and trying out this experience. With Visual Studio 2022, you can "rollback" your most recent update, and that should put you back in a "need to be updated" state.

Update behavior expectations Visual Studio updates delivered through the Microsoft Update channel follow the same rules as regular Visual Studio updates. First and foremost, Visual Studio must be closed in order for the update to apply. Microsoft Update or Visual Studio will never force closing Visual Studio to apply the update. Rather, Microsoft Update will simply offer Visual Studio updates in the background, and if the machine is in a "ready to be updated state", which means that VS is closed and the right configuration settings have been met, then Visual Studio will be updated. Most of the time the updates will happen in the background during the night so users won't even realize that it happened. You are also welcome to initiate the update anytime by executing the Windows Update "Check for updates" button.

Caveats and known issues There are a couple known caveats to the experience that we're already aware of and working on. These issues are mainly UI related, which is more noticeable when people manually try out the experience; they're less problematic when people let and trust that it runs automatically. First of all, the error messages in the Windows Update UI are a bit cryptic now, but they will be improved soon. Secondly, if you decide to manually "Check for Updates" using the Windows Update UI, the progress bar will be stuck at 0 all the way until the update finishes, at which point will immediately goes to 100 percent. We just ask for your patience here. Users will try to "Check for Updates" after they initially enable this feature, and having the progress bar being stuck at 0 leaves the impression that nothing is happening. Please keep in mind that Visual Studio updates can sometimes take a while, so just wait a bit and it'll eventually finish. We're working with the Windows team to improve the error messages and progress bars.

Feedback We hope you enroll in this new capability to easily stay automatically updated and secure on a monthly basis, and we hope you find it valuable. We welcome your feedback on this experience, and feel free to leave it below.

Thank you,

The Visual Studio Setup Team

Windows Update > Advanced Options
[Click on image for larger view.] Windows Update > Advanced Options (source: Microsoft).

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.

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