Windows 10 updates – The challenges we face!

Windows 10 updates – The challenges we face!

Windows 10 has been out for a while now along with it’s new update cycle. So why now, am I deciding to write about how it handles updates? We’re finding there’s confusion amongst clients as to the what and why of the changes to Windows 10 especially on the differences between what’s an “update” and what’s a “feature update”, two very different things!

To give some background, before Windows 10 was created, Microsoft used to release a new operating system (O/S) every few years. You would buy a PC and typically run it with the operating system it came with. While some power users might upgrade their operating system if a new one came out, most simply kept what they had until they replaced the PC. As problems were found in the O/S, if they were urgent Microsoft would push out a patch relatively quickly, or for non-critical patches would simply leave them until “Patch Tuesday” (Second Tuesday of every month, sometimes also the fourth) to be released. This was the accepted practice of operating systems for years.

Microsoft felt the “every few year” release cycle of operating systems created two issues for users:

  1. Every few years users were forced to adopt an entirely different operating system which came with a learning curve
  2. New features had to wait years to be released. In our ever-changing world with apps releasing new updates weekly, this was deemed to be too slow.

As a result of the above (and probably other factors), Microsoft changed the game when it released Windows 10. This would be the last operating system released, not because Windows was dying and would be done away with, but rather because Microsoft was changing the O/S game to a software as a service (SAAS) model.

As we’ve worked with Windows 10, this model appears to work well to address the above issues. So what’s the problem? The problem is there’s a big difference in the way Microsoft treats updates and feature updates. Updates are regular patches to fix problems and security vulnerabilities. These are released in the same fashion they used to be. Feature updates are treated as O/S upgrades. While Microsoft touted Windows 10 to be the last O/S, the feature updates are still seen as an O/S upgrade. They can’t be deployed automatically using our patching tools because the end-user is required to click the “I accept” on the end-user license agreement. Any attempt to do this automatically fails. This means we can’t do this automatically for feature updates, which also means twice a year, we have to install the feature updates manually on all the machines we support. This means a lot of manual labour and also means that we have to bother the end-user to get the feature update installed.

So why not just leave the features updates out? Why not leave it up to the end-user if they want or don’t want them? The reality is that the new features only benefit a handful of users anyway, right? That would have been the simple answer, however, Microsoft in their wisdom decided that if a machine is missing more than two feature updates, they will no longer provide regular updates to the computer. So whether you need or want the new features, if you don’t install them, after two missed feature updates, you will be blocked from receiving regular updates. This is a problem since regular updates contain security vulnerability fixes. This would leave your system at risk to vulnerabilities.

Currently almost 60% of the systems we support are running Windows 10 and that number will only go up. Twice a year we have to manually update almost 700 machines, that’s a lot of manual labour and also a lot of time bothering end-users which is what we try so hard to avoid. It is our hope that Microsoft fixes or changes this so that at some point in the future these can be pushed silently in the background. Until that time, we simply have to put up with the head-ache of feature updates.