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

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Previously, Microsoft had said that the 24-month rule for Windows, once reserved for service packs, would apply to Windows 8 and its successors, including Windows 8.1 of October 2013, even though the latter was not labeled as a "service pack." Customers on Windows 8 RTM, which shipped in October 2012, would have until Jan. 12, 2016 to migrate to Windows 8.1. After that date, Windows 8 RTM will not be eligible for security updates and other fixes and enhancements.

"Microsoft has the most generous and transparent support policies, but everything depends on what they call the new code," said Silver. "A 'service pack' has a support policy. A 'version' has a support policy. Something with a different name, well, Microsoft can do what it wants."

Miller wasn't shocked at the complaints from enterprise IT personnel, like Harper. "It bothered me, too," Miller said. "The support lifecycle page doesn't reflect this, and it absolutely should," he continued, referring to Microsoft's support timetable for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. "Customers need to be able to keep track of what they have to do for support."

Andrew Storms, director of DevOps at CloudPassage, a San Francisco-based cloud security firm, acknowledged the historic nature of the Windows 8.1 Update's deployment requirement.

"What was surprising to me was that there was no prior notification from Microsoft," Storms said. "But what was not so surprising was that they made this decision. The number of SKUs that they support is getting out of hand. Microsoft can only support so many products. At some point, they just have to cut it."

Storms sympathized with corporate IT administrators nervous about the rapid release pace.

"Given the environment they're in, the complaints were well justified," Storms said. Traditionally, that has been an environment where companies downloaded an update, tested it for weeks or even months, then slowly deployed it to devices.

"That's an ongoing process that's constantly in motion," said Storms of the practice. "But we know everyone needs to move to [a process] where you have to take the updates as they are. So this really calls for a new way of thinking. IT must rethink the environment that they're in."

In other words, enterprises may not like Microsoft mandating 8.1U but they'll have to learn to live with not only that, but future demands, too. "If the [software vendors] are moving faster than you can keep up with using the traditional methodology, you're going to have to just take [the updates]," Storms said.

Microsoft did not reply to questions, including why it mandated 8.1U and whether it believed the requirement is a change of its 24-month rule.

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

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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