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Home / Technology / The problem with Microsoft is not how often it updates Windows, but how it develops it

The problem with Microsoft is not how often it updates Windows, but how it develops it



  Windows 10 during a launch in Tokyo in July 2015.
Enlarge / Windows 10 during a launch in Tokyo in July 2015.

Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg on Getty Images

It It is fair to say that the Windows 10 update from October 2018 was not the most successful update from Microsoft. Reports of data loss quickly occurred, forcing Microsoft to suspend distribution of the update. It has since been repaired and is currently being retested until it is re-released.

This is not the first Windows feature update that has had problems ̵

1; we've seen major hardware incompatibilities in previous updates – but it's certainly the worst. While most of us know the theory of backups, the reality is that a lot of data, especially on home PCs, does not have a real backup, and deleting that data is therefore catastrophic.

Windows as a service

Microsoft's ambition with Windows 10 should radically shake up the development of Windows 10. The company wanted to better respond to customer and market demands and bring improved new features into the hands of customers earlier. The core of this was the idea that Windows 10 is the "last" version of Windows – all new development will be an update to Windows 10, which is delivered several times a year through feature updates. This new development model was called "Windows as a Service". And after some initial fumbling, Microsoft opted for a cadence of two feature updates a year; one in April, one in October.

This effort was not without success. Microsoft has used the new model to provide useful new features without requiring users to wait three years for a new major version upgrade. For example, there's a smart way to run Edge seamlessly in a virtual machine to better protect against malicious websites. The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), which equips Windows systems for native Linux software execution, has proved to be of benefit to developers and administrators. The benefits to pure consumers may be harder to spot – though VR features that are compatible with SteamVR, improved gaming performance, and a dark theme, all nice additions. While the overall improvements are smaller, the current Windows 10 is certainly better than the one released three years ago.

  It's hard to imagine that WSL could ever have been a useful tool in the days when Windows was updated only every three years. "src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/wsl-neofetch-640x335.png "width =" 640 "height =" 335 "srcset =" https: // cdn .arstechnica.net / wp-content / uploads / 2018/10 / wsl-neofeetch.png 2x
Enlarge / It's hard to imagine that the WSL has become a useful tool in the days of Windows is updated only every three years.

That's a good thing and I would even say that some parts could not have been made without Windows as a Service (or at least they could not be so successful). For example, the development of WSL was led by user feedback, with WSL users informing Microsoft about the incompatibilities they found and helping the company prioritize the development of new WSL features. I do not think WSL would have got the traction every six months without the steady progress of the updates – no one would want to wait three years just to get a little repair for the package that matters to them to run properly. Regular updates reward people for reporting errors because they can actually detect these errors in a timely manner.

The problem with Windows as a Service is quality. Earlier feature and security update issues have already shaken confidence in the Microsoft Update Policy for Windows 10. While data is particularly lacking, there is at least a common perception that the quality of the monthly Windows 10 security updates has taken a leap, and this installation of the twice-yearly feature updates, once available, is amazing. These complaints have also been known for a long time. The unreliable updates have been a cause for concern since the release of Windows 10.

The latest issue has compounded this, with commentators saying that two feature updates per year are too much and Redmond should be reduced to one that Microsoft must stop developing new features and only fix bugs. Some fear that the company is dangerously close to serious loss of trust in updates, and some Windows users may already have this trust broken.

These are not the first Microsoft calls to slow down with its feature updates- There were fears that both the IT and consumer populations would be churning out too much – but with the obvious problems of the last update, the calls get one new urgency.

It's not like often, it's like

But Microsoft is saying that you should only produce one update per year instead of two, or criticize the idea of ​​Windows as a Service Point. The problem here is not the release frequency. It is Microsoft's development process.

Why is the process the problem and not the time frame? Regarding the release schedule, we can look at what other software is doing to get a feel for what's possible.

Two updates per year are more common than macOS, iOS, and Android, so Microsoft is trying to outperform in some ways. But it's not unprecedented: Ubuntu sees two versions a year, and Google Chrome OS, like its Chrome browser, gets updates every six weeks. In addition to operating system space, Microsoft's Office Insider program provides a monthly channel that provides office users with new features every month without causing too many complaints and providing new features and fixes at the same time. The Visual Studio team also creates frequent updates to its development environment and online services. Obviously, there are teams within Microsoft that have adapted well to a world where their applications are regularly updated.

Beyond the world of on-premise software and online and cloud services, and we see, both within Microsoft and beyond, increasing adoption of uninterrupted delivery. Any update made to a system is automatically deployed to production servers as soon as it has passed through adequate automated tests.

It's true that none of these projects are so complicated on Windows. Ubuntu may include a more diverse set of packages, but it benefits from the fact that many of these packages are developed as independent units anyway. Of course, Windows contains many individual components, and Microsoft has done a great deal of work to unravel them. But the fact remains that its scale is unusually large – and unusually integrated. Windows is also, at least in places, extremely old.

These factors certainly make Windows development a challenge – but so difficult that two releases a year become impractical. That's not clear at all. It just needs the right development process.


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