Microsoft rolls a D20 and attacks with Windows 10 1809 again

Microsoft has had several false starts for their updates to Windows 10 this year, what with Windows 10 1803 just generally being buggy, and Windows 10 1809 deleting user data in a couple of different ways. Microsoft says that they’ve been hard at work fixing the problems and that 1809 should be rolling out today.

Microsoft announced the re-release in a blog post on the Windows blog, and in the process of making the announcement also made announcements on how they’ll be moving forward. Michael Fortin, Corporate Vice President for Windows, explained that Microsoft chose to stop the rollout after users complained on social media about data being deleted. Fortin says that this is the first time in the company’s history of Windows as a Service that they’ve taken this route, but this isn’t strictly true.

When Windows 10 1607 was blue screening all over the place and being generally unstable, the rollout was limited and Microsoft took additional time to patch out the problems. Windows 10 1703 broke web cams for millions of users around the world, with the fix only announced a month later, and the update’s rollout was also limited. This is the first time that the rollout was indefinitely “paused”.

Critical to any discussion of Windows quality is the sheer scale of the Windows ecosystem, where tens of thousands of hardware and software partners extend the value of Windows as they bring their innovation to hundreds of millions of customers.  With Windows 10 alone we work to deliver quality to over 700 million monthly active Windows 10 devices, over 35 million application titles with greater than 175 million application versions, and 16 million unique hardware/driver combinations. In addition, the ecosystem delivers new drivers, firmware, application updates and/or non-security updates daily. Simply put, we have a very large and dynamic ecosystem that requires constant attention and care during every single update.  That all this scale and complexity can “just work” is key to Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

Windows 10 marked a change in how we develop, deliver and update Windows: What we call “Windows as a Service.”  We shifted the responsibility for base functional testing to our development teams in order to deliver higher quality code from the start. We also changed the focus of the teams that still report to me who are responsible for end-to-end validation, and added a fundamentally new capability to our approach to quality: the use of data and feedback to better understand and intensely focus on the experiences our customers were having with our products across the spectrum of real-world hardware and software combinations. This combination of testing, engagement programs, feedback, telemetry, real-life insight across complex environments and close partner engagement proved to be a powerful approach that enabled us to focus our feature innovation and monthly updates to deliver improved quality.

I had to block quote these two paragraphs because it illustrates Microsoft’s problems with how they run Windows as a Service today. Windows 10 was the company’s first major initiative that was design-by-data-driven, where the data gathered through telemetry from Windows 7 and 8.1 helps inform Microsoft about what their customers might want. This approach was key to why they removed the Start menu and decided to make the desktop an “app”. This is why popular problems get more attention than minor issues with supported features that are quite disastrous, and this is why Dark Mode got more attention (and far less polish) than a UI consistency overhaul because feedback from the Windows Insiders and the Feedback Hub told Microsoft that this popular thing is what people wanted. Confusion ensues when the much more hardcore userbase lashes out at the company for not doing or fixing something that they perceive as important, but which got little attention or upvotes.

This is also the first, real, open acknowledgement from Microsoft that they have no dedicated QA testing phase for their software. There is a set of points along the chain where testing and validation does occur, but developers working on the Windows team are expected to self-host their own changes to the software and debug issues on their own – as any teacher will tell you, marking your own work is a generally bad idea. You might gloss over some things because to you it’s not a problem, and your tests might not reveal what issues users might have with your work. As someone with perfect eyesight, would you know how to implement contrast in your design to benefit someone who is colour blind? As someone with good hearing, will you know how to implement functionality into a voice assistant that doesn’t hinder people with a hearing disability? As someone who doesn’t use a cheap webcam, how will you test if your update to a Windows component doesn’t break the H.264 codec that so many others still use?

Regardless, Windows 10 1809 is finally re-released today, two months behind schedule, and you’ll be seeing notifications about it in the coming weeks. Should you update to it? That depends. If you’re on Windows 10 Pro, I would say no. Extend your delay in installing new feature builds to around eight months, and wait for Windows 10 19H1 instead. There are still several bugs in 1809 that have not been fixed despite user complaints, and 19H1 will be the next point with which they can be addressed, like the workflow-breaking “Open file with” bug that forgets file associations for your installed programs, or the buggy volume mixer that sometimes doesn’t work or can appear on the other side of your taskbar randomly.

For Windows 10 Home users, ShutUp10 is about your only bet for now. You’ll have no choice but to install 1809 when it becomes available for your machine, and the only way to avoid this is to turn off the services that govern automatic updates. But that not only leaves you vulnerable because you’re not installing security updates, it’s also possible that Windows will just re-enable these services on its own.

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