Microsoft drags customers 'kicking and screaming' into its world of faster updates

Mandates Windows 8.1 Update to receive future patches; evidence of commitment to constant OS refreshes, say experts

Microsoft's demand that Windows 8.1 users install this week's major update was another signal that the company is very serious about forcing customers to adopt its faster release strategy, experts said today.

"Microsoft is going to drag organizations and users into this new world of faster updates kicking and screaming," said Michael Silver of Gartner in an email. "Microsoft wants users to trust it to keep their systems updated. Maybe they figure forcing organizations to deploy [Windows 8.1 Update] will get them used to taking updates and keeping current."

Earlier this week, Microsoft shipped Windows 8.1 Update (8.1U), adding that to obtain future updates, including fixes for vulnerabilities distributed each month on "Patch Tuesday," Windows 8.1 users had to install 8.1U.

"Failure to install this Update will prevent Windows Update from patching your system with any future updates starting with updates released in May 2014," Microsoft said.

May 13 is the first Patch Tuesday that will require 8.1U.

That requirement got the attention of users. And not in a good way.

"What happened to Microsoft's Lifecycle policy with providing customers with a 24-month timeframe before ending support of a superseded operating system RTM/Service Pack?" asked a user identified as "wdeguara" in a comment appended Tuesday to Microsoft's blog-based announcement. "By immediately withdrawing all future security updates for Windows 8.1 RTM, in the eyes of most enterprise customers you are effectively performing an immediate End-of-Life on Windows 8.1 RTM.

"I know that Microsoft wants its customer base to adopt updates to its Windows platform faster, but immediately dropping security patching on the Windows 8.1 RTM release is just plain crazy," wdeguara added.

But to Silver, that is exactly Microsoft's intent.

Others see similar method to Microsoft's madness.

"The reality is that Microsoft is moving the OS toward a more service-oriented model," said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, in a Thursday telephone interview. "This reflects the fact that there are shifting sands, that Microsoft is trying to move toward one servicing model for a variety of platforms. They're trying to harmonize Windows Phone and Windows with one servicing model that works for everyone."

From Miller's perspective, Microsoft was striving for a mobile-style model for Windows that would not only rely on more frequent updates, but one with a goal of getting the bulk of users onto each new this-is-current update or version.

Other Microsoft customers joined wdeguara to criticize the forced migration, which had not been announced prior to Tuesday and which they saw as a betrayal of the 24-month rule that has given them two years from the launch of a service pack to upgrade from the original, called "RTM" in Microsoft-speak to reference "release to manufacturing."

"This is a massive shift from a patching perspective," said Julian Harper, an IT manager, in one of several messages posted to the Patchmanagement.org mailing list on the topic. "For years, we've had [two] years to plan service pack roll outs and now we're given one month. And this is on top of the fiasco that was Windows 8.1 for volume license customers."

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