Microsoft MSFT +0.43% has been on a roll lately. Office for iOS (and soon Android), free Windows licenses for small devices, universal Windows and Windows Phone apps, Siri rival Cortana, even a promise to eventually return the start menu before Windows 9. But when it comes to Windows 8, it seems the company has a permanently loaded pistol aimed squarely at its feet.
So it fits that just one week on from the launch of ‘Windows 8.1 Update 1’ (the smart upgrade mouse and keyboard users have long awaited) stupidity would strike once again.
“Windows 8.1 Update is a cumulative update to Windows 8.1,” said Microsoft Senior Product Marketing Manager Ben Hunter in an apparently innocuous blog post aimed at IT professionals. Then came the clanger: “It also becomes the new servicing baseline for Windows 8.1, so next month’s security updates (on May 13th, the next ‘Patch Tuesday’) will be dependent on Windows 8.1 Update.”
In English: Windows 8.1 will no longer receive security updates after 13 May. This is your 4 week countdown warning.
For many it is no big deal. Just update and be quick about it. But for anyone who chooses not to install every Microsoft update the moment it appears, like mainstream users or – let me think – most businesses around the world… it is another matter entirely.
So come 13 May Microsoft will issue security patches that detail flaws they are fixing and those flaws will be left unpatched for all Windows 8.1 users. A nightmare scenario. It is also the same scenario Windows XP users now face after Microsoft cut off security updates this month, a generous 13 years after its initial release. Come 13 May Windows 8.1 will be 8 months old.
An argument could be made that Microsoft is merely determined to keep all its users up to date. That argument is somewhat undermined by the fact users still on Windows 8 will keep receiving security patches until January 2016.
Furthermore Microsoft’s decision has terrible timing. It is announced against the backdrop of Heartbleed, a security bug which this month exposed user details on 17% of the world’s supposedly secure web servers. Heartbleed has hit headlines around the globe and made users paranoid about security. Microsoft could not see it coming, but in refusing to give Windows 8.1 users more time in its wake the company looks antagonistic.
It gets worse because Microsoft recognises Windows 8.1 Update 1 has problems. In a TechNet post Senior Microsoft Consultant Steve Thomas confirms there is “an issue regarding Windows 8.1 Update preventing interaction with WSUS 3.2 over SSL connections” and until it is fixed the deployment of Update 1 will be suspended to affected machines.
For affected users who have already downloaded Windows 8.1 Update 1 Thomas says “we recommend that you suspend deployment of this update in your organization until we release the update that resolves this issue.”
Yes, Microsoft faces a race against time entirely of its own making. It is a no win situation. Even if Microsoft issues a fix before 13 May every day spent is a day less for administrators to check for compatibility issues and apply Update 1 across all their Windows 8.1 machines.
And yet perhaps the most frustrating aspect to all of this is Windows 8.1 Update 1 is a great update. In fact it is arguably the best and most important update Windows 8 has received.
Amongst other things Update 1 intelligently boots users without touchscreens to the desktop by default and uses desktop apps by default, it reduces the sensitivity of hot corners, highlights newly installed apps and dramatically improves the Modern UI for keyboard and mouse users. It also cuts its install size in half (from 32GB to 16GB) on SSDs, runs faster on slower hardware and drops minimum memory requirements from 2GB to 1GB of RAM. The end result is a darn good operating system.
Cynics will quite rightly point out it is the OS which Microsoft should have released from day one, but nevertheless Windows 8 is now starting to realise the company’s lofty ambitions.
All of which has probably come too late. Love or loathe Windows 8, it has been a sales flop. It changed too much too soon, alienated large numbers of users and ever since Microsoft has fought to restore confidence. Windows 8.1 Update 1 looked to be the incarnation to do it, but in needlessly condemning Windows 8.1 to the same fate as 13 year old Windows XP it has all but confirmed its latest OS will never be remembered with the same fondness.