Microsoft Continues Their War Against Uptime

One of the things we’ve heard about Windows 10 is that it’s “the last windows version”, and from here on out, there’ll just be patches, incremental updates, and maybe the occasional service pack.

So, in some ways, it’s sort of like Chrome’s habit of silently upgrading itself with no muss and no fuss. Except for one problem:

Microsoft still can’t seem to send Windows updates without requiring you to restart the whole computer. Which means blowing away all your browser tabs, all the documents you were working on, and whatever other stuff you had open. It’s really annoying, and a major pothole in any workflow.

My Surface Pro Experience

I’ve had a Surface Pro 3 for a few months now. I’m generally pretty happy with it — it’s a wonderful balance of the form factor, weight, and portability of a (large) tablet, with all the power of a full Windows desktop machine[1]. It’s got decent startup time and pretty good battery life.

And it’s running Windows 8.1, so I’ve had some experience with its update schedule.

In a word, it’s pretty aggressive. No more “patch Tuesday”; they push updates all the damn time. I tried tracking them for about a week:

Sunday evening, around 9:00 pm, I had a forced reboot after a mandatory security update.[2] Then I had a few days with no action, until Thursday morning, at 11:00 am, when I saw a new message on the login screen telling me I had important updates. That evening at 9:00 pm, I ran the update, which at least didn’t require a reboot.

The very next day, at 5:00 pm on Friday, I got a new message about another update. that one turned out to be a definition update for Windows Defender… and then another Windows Defender update came in on the following Monday by 4:45 pm. After running that update on Tuesday morning around 11:00 am, I got yet another update message before 6:00 pm!

Granted, none of those later ones required a reboot. That took until the following week — so, just over two weeks between mandatory reboots.

It seems Microsoft has not stopped waging its tireless war against uptime.

If you let Windows 10 (or even 8, in my experience) download and install patches automatically, you will never have an uptime of longer than a month. It will keep on forcing you to restart after critical patches.

And if you don’t let it install them automatically, it will nag you every day to say there are uninstalled updates — because apparently they put out a new definition file for Windows Defender every day. You will constantly be nagged about patches.

Opaque, Black-Box Patches Aren’t Reassuring

Even scarier, they won’t tell us what’s inside any particular patch.

Since I study Japanese, I have the Japanese IME installed. At one point, I got an update marked “important”. When I looked at the “details” link, it basically said I should install this, and if I wanted more information, I should check out the associated Knowledge Base entry. Which, as you can see, is utterly useless and opaque.

Notice how this doesn’t tell you why in the world this is marked as an “important” update? How critical could it possibly be to update the dictionary in my IME? The presence of the headings “Symptoms” and “Resolution” on this page is laughable. They don’t discuss any “symptoms” of anything, so having the Resolution start off with “To resolve these issues…” makes no sense. There aren’t any issues.

I know that in the open-source world, even though we say, “you can inspect the source code you’re about to install”, still, nobody[3] actually does it. Not with patches, for sure. But at least we theoretically could (so the failure is on us, not vendors!). But in Microsoft’s world (and Apple’s to be quite honest — it’s endemic to the proprietary world), we don’t even have the option.

And training users to blindly install things that don’t even have a half-decent description is bad for security.

[1] At least for my purposes — I don’t know if it’s good enough for PC gaming, but I don’t do that with my desktop machine, either. I mostly do client-side web development, plus writing, email, and web browsing, of course. ↑↑

[2] This is the part where someone says, “That’s what you get for leaving the update settings on the ‘Install updates automatically’ default.” And they might well have a point. Still, what I’ve been experiencing is what most users will get with Windows 10 — and I’ve just changed my own settings to let me choose when to download and apply updates. ↑↑

[3] Except for a few security researchers — and may all the Gods bless them for it! Please folks, keep doing that. ↑↑

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