Samsung to stop Windows Update shenanigans

Company bows to pressure, will halt practice of changing patch service's settings on its hardware 'within a few days'

Samsung on Friday said it will stop disabling Windows Update on its PCs and tablets, bowing to a chorus of complaints -- including Microsoft's -- that it had interfered with the way users intended the patch service to work on their devices.

"We will be issuing a patch through the Samsung Software Update notification process to revert back to the recommended automatic Windows Update settings within a few days," a Samsung spokesperson said in an emailed statement Friday afternoon.

Samsung's pledge put an apparent end to the week's kerfuffle, which began when Patrick Barker, a crash-debugging and reverse-engineering expert, and a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional), charged the Korean company with silently changing how Windows Update delivers bug fixes and security patches to customers.

Samsung's own SW Update -- a tool used to update its branded personal computers and tablets with new drivers and refresh third-party, pre-installed software -- changed Windows Update's settings to prevent it from automatically downloading and installing updates, the default setting that Microsoft recommends. Instead, SW Update switched the setting to "Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them."

Microsoft didn't care for that one bit. "We do not recommend disabling or modifying Windows Update in any way as this could expose a customer to increased security risks," the company said Wednesday. "We are in contact with Samsung to address this issue."

Samsung first said it was, like Microsoft, looking into Barker's findings, but subsequently denied that it had blocked a Windows 8.1 update -- a red herring, since that had never been alleged -- and at the same time admitted it manipulated Windows Update.

By Friday, whatever conversations occurred between Microsoft and Samsung made the latter change its mind on messing with the former's patch service. "Samsung has a commitment to security and we continue to value our partnership with Microsoft," the Samsung statement read [emphasis added].

Microsoft is very protective of Windows Update, so it would not have been a shock if it pressured Samsung to stop. Not only is the service a core feature of Windows, but it is the only sanctioned channel for distributing code changes.

In fact, Windows Update is slated to become even more important in Windows 10, the upgrade slated to launch July 29. Microsoft will deliver the upgrade to Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users via Windows Update -- the first time the company has used the service for a major refresh -- and it plans to lock down Windows Update even further for most consumers.

The new OS will not let those running Windows 10 Home, the primary consumer-grade SKU (stock-keeping unit), pick and choose which updates they apply, as they now can. Instead, all updates will be automatically downloaded and installed, with no delay allowed.

That, and a host of other changes, are part of Microsoft's "Windows as a service" strategy designed to push new features and functionality, as well as alterations to the OS's UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) to customers on an accelerated cadence.

Although some of the commenters on Barker's blog -- where he posted the work he and others had done to figure out what Samsung as doing -- considered the issue a molehill made into a mountain, others decried Samsung's monkeying with Windows Update.

"I don't think it unreasonable that I should have full control over when updates are downloaded, and when they are deployed," wrote someone identified as Hendo yesterday. "By including [SW Update] in their systems, and then being very cagey about its existence AND making it so difficult to get rid of, Samsung are employing tactics that are not consistent with good customer-service."

Barker applauded Samsung's turn-about. "I'm very glad Samsung is committed to implementing a resolution to this issue so soon," he wrote in an email reply to questions. "OEMs need to disclose whatever they intend with their users with their software, and if possible, give them a choice. If this is done, it's not 'under the table,' so to speak."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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