Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Windows 10 runs again — but for how long?

Microsoft finally issued a patch that released Windows 10 PCs from reboot hell. So why is ungrateful me just bracing for the next awful thing to happen?

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Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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Microsoft may need a refresher course on what constitutes good software support.

Almost a week after some Windows 10 PCs got trapped in reboot hell, Microsoft finally issued a patch — make that “a kludge of a script” — to finally enable affected Windows 10 users to get their machines working again.

The fix, “Windows 10 1607 Script fix to unblock update for Windows Insiders,” doesn’t explain what’s going on. It does work, however.

That’s nice. I’m glad that my Windows 10 PC is up and running again. Thanks.

I’d still like to know what the heck happened. The note that accompanied news of the fix wasn’t exactly informative. It reads:

We became aware of an issue with the recent Windows 10 cumulative update that impacted a small number of customers in the Windows Insider Program that were running a previous build of the OS. We have created a solution to resolve this issue.

Small? One thread on the Microsoft forums currently has 383 replies. On most online groups I’ve known and run over the years, only one in a hundred people actively comment. If that ratio holds true, that’s 38,000-plus users.

That’s not many out of tens of millions of users, perhaps, but it’s still too many for a showstopping bug. And am I the only one that finds it darkly amusing that this bug seems to hit mostly people who were Windows beta testers?

Microsoft promises that all will be revealed in KnowledgeBase article KB3197794. Which, by the way, isn’t a working link as of Oct. 9, more than a week after the killer bug appeared.

So what is this machine-freezing bug? You’re going to love this.

It’s a scheduled task, hidden away in the Windows 10 registry, that’s meant to save Xbox Live games. Well, OK, that sort of thing can happen. Except — hold on a minute! — I haven’t played an Xbox game since Halo 4 — in 2012, on hardware I gave away years ago.

But, no matter! Somehow, Microsoft enabled a system failure using a totally obscure registry entry for a program I’ve never used.

The credit for the fix does not go to Microsoft’s asleep-at-the-wheel quality assurance team, but to a user. As far as I can trace it, the credit for the complete fix belongs to a Dr. Peter Farquhasson, a Windows 10 Insider. All Microsoft did, days after the fix was created, was to turn it into a script.

Oh, one final observation: You must revert your system to an older, still-working version of Windows 10 and then download and execute the script. Eventually, it will be in Windows Update, but it’s not there yet.

You know what might have helped with this whole fiasco? First, better quality assurance.

While we’re talking about Xbox games on Windows 10, my fellow Computerworld writer John Brandon found that while he could download Gears of War 4 to Windows 10, he couldn’t find the blasted game! If, by the way, you’re looking for it, it’s hiding in the My Library option in the Windows Store app. Where’s that? It’s not easy to find either. Read his article.

I mention this as a trivial example of a serious problem. Even as Microsoft has gotten much better with its server and cloud offerings, Windows seems to be taking second place and becoming second rate.

It might also have been helpful if Microsoft still let you install only those patches you need rather than one large blob of updates. It’s bad enough that Microsoft has made this the default update system for Windows 10, but it is also bringing the rollup patch model to Windows 7, 8.1, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012 and Server 2012 R2, starting on Oct. 11.

This is going to be so much fun!

Are you worried sick about what these massive security and quality rollup patches are going to do to your company’s computers? I recommend joining Microsoft’s Security Update Validation Program (SUVP). It won’t get you an early look at the quality patch bundle, but it will let you establish an additional early validation ring and a direct channel back to Microsoft for any issues encountered.

Since I fully expect lots of issues, based on Microsoft’s long history of buggy patches, you really should join. You may still get some patch surprises, but at least the odds are you’ll avoid the worst of them.

I hope.

Windows has been fixed — sort of — now. But, it’s only a matter of time before it breaks again.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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