Mandatory updates on Windows 10

Mandatory updates on Windows 10

Over the course of the weekend Microsoft issued an update for Windows 10 systems, KB3074681, that caused some issues with Windows 10 Build 10240.

The patch, which became available through Windows Update on Saturday, caused the user interface process called Explorer to crash when performing certain actions such as uninstalling a program or disabling a network adapter.

Microsoft provided us with a work around that allowed you to perform those functions without causing the crash and told us a fix was in the works and would be released as soon as possible. As of this morning that fix has not been released yet.

The entire situation fanned the flames of debate around Microsoft’s decision to make all Windows updates mandatory for Windows 10 Home users.

Whether you agree with mandatory updates or not the course of events this weekend relating to the issues caused by KB3074681 worked exactly to plan.

They were quickly discovered by Windows Insiders and that word got back to the Windows team at Microsoft via social media, user forums and system telemetry. In turn, Microsoft began working on a fix for the crashes but also communicated a work around for Insiders.

If this broken patch had occurred after 29 July, when Windows 10 hits General Availability, it would not have been available to all Windows 10 users but those Windows Insiders who had opted into the Fast Ring for updates.  Slow Ring Insiders would not have likely seen the update yet because it was being tested in the Fast Ring. If the numbers bear out as they did in the preview program then a small percentage of Windows 10 Insiders will opt into the Fast Ring while the vast majority will instead choose to wait for updates in the Slow Ring where the risk of issues is much lower.

Microsoft confirmed at their Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) held in Orlando, Florida a couple of weeks ago that this ringed approach to testing updates and patches to Windows 10 would be the norm in the future with Windows 10.

During the Day 1 WPC keynote Terry Myerson, the head of Windows at Microsoft, explained that updates for Windows 10 would be rolled out to Insiders based on their choice of Fast or Slow Rings before those updates are pushed to non Insiders.

If you opt into being part of the post-release Windows 10 Insider program then you can choose to take on the Fast Ring updates which may be less stable or you can opt into the Slow Ring for updates that would likely have a much lower risk of being buggy.

Just like in the Windows 10 Insider Preview program if you opt into the Fast Ring you are more likely to see issues because that ring is the first outside of Microsoft’s own to receive and run any updates.  Being a member of the Fast Ring could result in a patch like KB3074681 hitting your system and causing Explorer crashes such as what happened this weekend.

However, everyone’s feedback to Microsoft quickly identified those issues and within 24 hours Microsoft was working on a fix.  Slow Ring Insiders would have never seen the faulty patch and most definitely everyday users of Windows 10 Home would have not even been close to receiving the update.

What should happen now is that the fix for KB3074681 will be pushed to Insiders on the Fast Ring to validate the fix works and then Microsoft can use that feedback and telemetry to determine its quality and subsequently push it to the Insider Slow ring.  If validation continues to be positive then that update will then hit Windows Update for all Windows 10 users.

This is exactly how Microsoft has explained the updating process for Windows 10 will occur and so far it has worked to plan.

Now this does not change the fact that all users, even those in the Windows Insider program, do not want to see patches breaking their system.  It is unsettling that such an issue did get outside of the internal testing rings at Microsoft.

However, Windows Insiders sign up and opt into this early access and accept a certain amount of risk just like we have throughout the Windows 10 development process. If that level of risk is too much then ultimately you have a choice to not be enrolled in the Windows Insider program and avoid those early patch releases and their possible instability.

In this situation you should take Microsoft’s own advice from the Insider program and not enroll any primary or critical system into the program.  As I discussed with our own Rod Trent he recommend enrolling a secondary system or even a virtual machine (VM) if you want to test updates to Windows 10 yet not risk disrupting your own daily work flow.

There is another area of patches that I think need to have the option that allows the user to opt out of them and that is routine driver updates.  Of course security related driver updates are another story and should be pushed out just like other critical system updates.

Anyone who has been using Windows for any length of time knows that the driver pushed out over Windows Update is not necessarily the best choice for their system. In past versions of Windows many users would hide those updates in order to keep their own driver install intact.

In Windows 10 – that is not possible.

Allowing end users to choose which drivers to install would alleviate these type of issues and provide end users some level of control on their systems.

In the interim there is a tool from Microsoft, which ZD Net’s Ed Bott wrote about earlier today, that will let end users block driver and some other Windows Updates. The tool, a troubleshooter package under KB3073930, works with Windows 10 Build 10240.

According to Bott this is a good indicator that it should be compatible with Windows 10 after it hits GA on 29 July 2015.

Microsoft is nearly always blamed when an update or driver breaks Windows whether it is a third party driver or not. Sometimes that blame is rightly Microsoft’s but at other times it is poor third party driver support that wreaks havoc with Windows. This new process of issuing and testing updates that is being implemented with Windows 10 and the ringed approach to testing system updates and patches is an effort to prevent widespread issues from impacting end users.

Ultimately you can choose to be part of that testing process as a continuing Windows Insider and prevent those issues from impacting the wide variety of users like what happened over this past weekend with KB074681.

Your only other alternative is to not be an Insider and sit tight waiting on updates and patches while they get processed and tested through the various rings along their way to broader releases.

As I mentioned earlier, I think a good balance is to not enroll all of your machines into the Insiders program so you maintain a stable build. By choosing to have a secondary device in the program allows you to help identify bugs that can be fixed before full distribution yet not risk your primary machine.

Bottom line though is the choice is yours and we always have to live with the consequences of our choices.

I think this approach has a chance to actually improve the overall patching and update experience for the vast majority of Windows users. Since updates will be tested on a wider range of hardware through these various testing rings the opportunity to identify issues is much higher.

Let’s admit it - Windows Insiders can be the most vocal, observant and critical testers available. If  Microsoft continues to be willing to listen to that feedback across multiple channels then it can only help improve the overall product in the long run.

While Windows 10 is not everything that everyone wanted to see it is what we are starting with on 29 July. The base is solid and ready to be built upon as we move into the world of Windows as a Service.

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