Windows CUs get a lot of hate these days. Rightfully so, occasionally. But you must consider times before CUs, and these were arguably even worse.
Going back to era before Windows 8, there was service pack + hotfix model. Deploy SP and get hotfixes for a few years. Deploy SP and cycle starts again. But over time less and less SPs came out and years between SP releases got longer. The worse with Vista+ releases. Vista SP2 came out in early 2009 that left 8 years of hotfix-only years until EOL. Windows 7 SP1 was early 2010 so we were 6 years in before CUs begun.
The ugly part. Massive majority of hotfixes were limited release. This meant that they never showed up on WU/WSUS. You just couldn’t find them. There was no general list of updates. Some of them couldn’t be downloaded at all. Some MS teams had their private lists of recommended updates. Better but always out of date. And still, most updates went under the radar. At one point I found out that Microsoft KB portal had a per-product RSS feed. It was a great somewhat obscure and semi-hidden feature to be up-to-date, sadly it stopped working about 2 years ago, I think around the time CUs became the new black.
Before Windows 7 2016 convenience update, I think I had ~500 hotfixes in my image building workflow. Maybe a quarter of them were public ones. Sure, quite a few were for obscure features and problems but I believe in proactive patching. But the really bad part was patching already deployed systems. These hotfixes couldn’t be used in WSUS/SCCM so custom scripting it was. But as WU detection is really slow from script and because of sheer number of patches and plumbing required to handle supersedence… it was unfeasible to deploy more then maybe a dozen or two most critical ones.
And there were a quite a few. I think folder redirection and offline files required 5 patches to different components to work properly. ALL had to be hunted down quite manually. These were dark times…
Over the years, some community projects started to mitigate the problem. MyDigitalLife’s WHDownloader worked best for me, it’s main maintainer Abbodi86 is a Windows servicing genius. I built a image building framework around it that I use to this day.
Windows 8 era started with monthly optional rollups. And these were great! Just great! Oh how much I miss them! Pretty much (or totally?) every optional hotfix was quickly rolled up into monthly rollup. These were not cumulative so you could skip buggy ones (there were a few…) and still deploy next month’s one. And they had proper detailed release notes. Every issue fixed, each with reasonably detailed symptoms, cause and fix. Sure, you had to deploy quite a few updates each month, but not having to hunt down limited hotfixes was a breeze. However this model was abruptly stopped at the end of 2014, I never saw an announcement about this.
Windows 10 came and later in 2016, cumulative updates came to downlevel OS. While not perfect, it’s a HUGE upgrade over what we had before Windows 8. I believe that Windows 8 model was still superior. If you think now is bad, you didn’t know the pain or you just didn’t know better