One morning last August, I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed into my home office to join a conference call. I fired up Skype, and joined the call using my Logitech C920 webcam. Within seconds Skype froze. I tried again with the same results. I checked my Windows notification area to see FileHippo App Manager had detected any new updates for Skype. It showed I was running the latest version, but I reinstalled it anyway. I did the same with the Logitech Webcam Software, but neither update helped. Within seconds of joining the conference, Skype would stop working.
I eventually called into the conference over VOIP without using my webcam. A few days later I read about how other webcam users were having problems after installing the Windows 10 anniversary update. Eventually, Microsoft confirmed the issue, and promised to deliver a fix within weeks.
If you’ve been using Windows long enough, you’ve probably experienced your own set of issues after installing a Windows Update. Patch Tuesday became a source of humor or many of us in IT, although it does seem like each version of Windows has become more stable. Traditionally, Microsoft has released individual Windows patches with cryptic descriptions. Some reference knowledge base articles while others did not. For IT managers, Windows updates required a lot of trial and error.
There must be a better way? Maybe.
Microsoft announced how they plan to release patches and updates going forward. While Microsoft provides some valid reasons for changing their patching model, major changes always introduce challenges for IT. This week I’d like to look at what these changes are as well as their potential impact.
What’s Changing in Windows Updates?
A lot is changing. The TL;DR version is that starting this month (October 2016) Microsoft will release a single monthly rollup instead of individual updates. Here’s the official version:
From October 2016 onwards, Windows will release a single Monthly Rollup that addresses both security issues and reliability issues in a single update. The Monthly Rollup will be published to Windows Update (WU), WSUS, SCCM, and the Microsoft Update Catalog. Each month’s rollup will supersede the previous month’s rollup, so there will always be only one update required for your Windows PCs to get current. i.e. a Monthly Rollup in October 2016 will include all updates for October, while November 2016 will include October and November updates, and so on.
One thing to keep in mind is that these changes apply to Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012. Windows 10 updates have already adopted the rollout schedule.
Microsoft gives a number of reasons for making this change. They include:
- Various combinations that caused sync and dependency errors
- Testing complexity increased for enterprises
- Increased scan times
- Going back to apply the right patch was challenging and time consuming
It’s clear from reading the announcement that Microsoft wants to mitigate these issues. Having a single, cumulative patch to install each month will sound like music to the ears of many Windows users. Microsoft’s intentions are admirable. But the road ahead could be bumpy.
Microsoft understands that nobody enjoys applying patches and updates, especially when the updates interrupt the workday. When I sit down each morning to go through my email, I don’t want to be stopped in my tracks by a pop-up warning me that my computer needs to reboot and apply updates. Assuming the updates install without any issues, I’m still left not knowing when I can regain control of my PC. Until my webcam stopped working, I don’t recall the last time a Windows update broke a peripheral attached to my PC.
IT knows that Windows updates can interrupt the workday so they schedule them during off-hours. And because they have encountered issues in the past, it’s not uncommon for IT to roll them out first to a small group of users. Once IT determines the updates installed without an issues, they schedule a rollout for the rest of the company. But following that plan with the changes Microsoft has proposed is a lot more difficult. When Microsoft issued separate updates, it was a lot easier for IT to pinpoint the problem and defer the specific patch. I see this change as one that’s better for end users. But it introduces a number of challenges for IT.
I hope that Microsoft continues to provide details for each monthly patch. With only one update a month, it would be great for Microsoft to give consumers a simplified explanation of the update while providing IT with a more detailed rundown of exactly what changes will be applied.
In case you needed another reminder, Microsoft is in the position of power. Many of us work for companies which partner with the Redmond behemoth and know all too well that they make most, if not all of the rules. This approach has worked well for Microsoft and many of its partners. Having a standardized platform on which to build a business is generally a very good thing. In a nod to utilitarianism, I believe that Microsoft puts policies in place that do the greatest good for the largest number of customers.
One challenge I see going forward is how Microsoft keeps both business and consumers happy. Historically, IT managers decide what software to purchase. Employees, for many year, had little to no input. If you used Lotus Notes during the 90s, you know what I mean. IT loved the platform while users despised it. Both smartphones and cloud services have ushered in an era where some of the decision making authority of IT has been transferred to the end user. Microsoft knows how to keep IT people happy because that’s been their focus for decades.
Few instances illustrate this dichotomy better the video of Steve Ballmer questioning whether there was a market for the iPhone because it didn’t have a physical keyboard. Ballmer absolutely understood what IT people wanted. But he failed to see that consumers would love the iPhone and bring it to work, forcing IT to accommodate it. Years later he’d regret that comment, but it goes to show the challenges in keeping both camps happy.
The changes Microsoft is making this month will also invariably affect MPS, and especially those who use RMM tools to monitor their customer’s infrastructure. RMM tools cover a lot of areas in IT, but one of the most important is patch management. MSPs will want to keep an eye on this development because they may need to adapt their model to fit the new update schedule. Some may even want to defer updates.
Customers will scrutinize every decision Microsoft makes, and rightly so. Microsoft’s decisions trickle down to their partners and customers.
Changing how security patches are delivered is going to make some people happy and others upset. I don’t believe Microsoft makes these decisions in a vacuum. I believe Microsoft will monitor how this change affects all their customers.
Based on the past, we know that Microsoft is willing to change course or modify their plans. Let’s hope Microsoft has performed its due diligence and is willing to listen if things don’t work out as planned.