Microsoft jerks Surface Pro 2 firmware update

Slates re-release for early 2014; tablet owners report a slew of power and sleep mode problems

Microsoft pulled an update for the Surface Pro 2 after owners complained that it crippled their tablets with reduced battery life and spontaneously changed how the device went into or out of the power-saving sleep mode.

The company said it would address the problems and re-release the update early next month.

"To ensure the best experience for our customers during the holiday season, we have taken steps to remove the update for Surface Pro 2 that was previously published through Windows Update on December 10," said a Microsoft employee on the company's support forum. "We are working to release an alternative update package after the holidays."

The plural of "holidays" hints that a re-release won't appear until after New Year's Day.

WinBeta.org first reported on Microsoft yanking the update, which was released Dec. 10 as part of the non-security component of its monthly Patch Tuesday collection.

Almost immediately after the update was issued, Surface Pro 2 owners reported problems in messages posted to the Microsoft support forum. The vast majority said that they had encountered an error message while attempting to install the firmware update.

Later, a Microsoft representative said the error code was spurious and that the firmware update "should be installing correctly."

But users said that after the update, their Surface Pro 2 tablets drained battery power much faster than before, refused to charge completely or declined to show charging progress, and exhibited odd behavior related to sleep mode. Some said that closing their keyboard covers shut down the device rather than making it go to sleep, while others said the opposite, that the tablet remained powered up even after the cover had been closed or sleep mode engaged.

Ironically, one of the issues the firmware update was to correct was identified as, "Improved Surface Cover interaction including power-saving sleep functionality."

Several different long threads on the support forum dedicated to the Surface Pro 2 contained a litany of reports -- some from very angry customers.

"Pardon my French, but all of us trying to dick around with this is just stupid," said a user identified as jamespop07 on Dec. 12, referring to the back and forth between users about possible workarounds. "How about finally doing something to fix this for the customers you do have so they don't end up using Apple products as well? Spend some time and money on us, getting this fixed for God's sake, and less time trying to figure out who will be your next CEO."

"I mainly bought the Surface Pro 2 to work during these holidays ... but it looks like I will have to [a]wait your patch to have the battery working again....it is just ridiculous," said another user, pegged as andics, on Wednesday. "I will just wait [for] an update to fix it and sell the Surface Pro 2 ASAP."

Microsoft launched the Surface Pro 2, its second-generation Intel-powered tablet, in late September.

Microsoft has pulled Surface updates before. In October, the Redmond, Wash. company yanked the Windows RT 8.1 update from its Windows Store after some Surface RT owners reported seeing the notorious "Blue Screen of Death" screen and an error message stating, "Your PC needs to be repaired. The Boot Configuration Data file is missing some required information."

Several days later, Microsoft re-released Windows RT 8.1.

Firmware updates are especially hazardous if they go wrong, as the code stored on a device's non-volatile memory -- the "firmware" -- is required to successfully boot the hardware and control aspects of the machine or device before, during and after the operating system loads. A faulty firmware update can easily "brick" a device, or render it completely inoperable.

In June, for example, Sony pulled a PlayStation 3 firmware update after customers reported that their consoles had gone to pot.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies