Microsoft kills update descriptions, will no longer explain updates
When Microsoft debutedWindows 10, it began offering significantly less information about KB updates in any given package. Instead of getting a clickable link that provided more than a bare sentence of information, users have to manually search for KB articles based on the given name. While this isn’t difficult, it’s an example of how Redmond has made it a bit more difficult to know what the OS is doing or why it’s doing it. Now, the company has stated that this obfuscation isn’t an artifact of a rushed launch — the company will not explain feature updates unless it deems them significant.
Over the past few weeks, Microsoft has drawn increasing fire for its update policies. To date, Microsoft has released three KB Cumulative Updates (CUs) — KB 3081424 (August 5), KB 3081436 (August 12) and KB 3081438 (August 14). All are described in precisely the same way: “This update includes improvements to enhance the functionality of Windows 10.” All threecumulative updates contain an unexplained bug that traps some PCs in an endless reboot cycle, according to InfoWorld. Some users, who successfully installed the patch, have begun having trouble accessing the Windows Store and downloading updates from it. Others, who had problems with the store after the first CU, have reported that the second or third fixed their problem.
These cumulative updates are different from previous Windows Update releases in Windows 7 / 8.1. In the past, each KB was downloaded and applied individually, if Microsoft detected that the update should be offered to your system. Now, each cumulative update contains all previous updates. In theory, this allows for a streamlined download and installation process. In practice, it’s causing major problems. Microsoft no longer distinguishes between most security updates, feature updates, and bug fixes. It also gives no information about what bug fixes or feature updates do, which makes it nearly impossible to troubleshoot any given problem.
Cumulative updates, prevent the tech world knowing how many updates are actually being released or identifying how wise spread a particular problem is.
The Register reached out to Microsoft, hoping for clarification on what level of patch notes the company planned to issue in the future. According to Microsoft, “As we have done in the past, we post KB articles relevant to most updates which we’ll deliver with Windows as a service. Depending on the significance of the update and if it is bringing new functionality to Windowscustomers, we may choose to do additional promotion of new features as we deploy them.”
Comparing KB articles
Microsoft’s response states that the company will continue to offer KB articles with additional information and implies that this is business as usual. We can test this theory by examining a recent Windows 7 KB article and comparing it to what Redmond is offering with Windows 10. First, here’s the description for optional Windows 7 KB 3075851.
This article describes an update that contains some improvements to Windows UpdateClient in Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1. This update also resolves an issue in which certain Windows Update operations fail when you install Windows Update Client for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2: July 2015 (3065987) on Windows 7 Embedded editions.
That’s dry, but descriptive. If you have an issue with Windows update failing while running Windows 7 Embedded Edition, KB 3075851 applies to you. If you don’t, it doesn’t.
Here’s the KB file for Windows 10 KB 3081438. This is a cumulative update, which means it contains security fixes, feature updates, and bug patches.
This update includes improvements to enhance the functionality of Windows 10.
Microsoft wants people to believe that its level of disclosures haven’t changed, that it’s simply continuing on as before. It’s not true. Over on Reddit, user bileci picked up on the fact that KB 3081444 also pushed a kernel update to the operating system, without disclosing that it did so.
A troubleshooting nightmare
Going forward, there’s no way for users to tell which Windows patch caused a problem, if any. Microsoft may offer the ability to uninstall patches, but without some coherent method of determining which patches need to be uninstalled, there’s no way of telling what’s causing a problem. Short of using software products that monitor the registry and file system for every single change, it may not be possible to determine what changed or why it changed in every instance. Furthermore, what happens when a business or individual needs a security patch, but the feature update bundled along with it causes problems or breaks another aspect of the system? I’ll be the first to acknowledge that such issues are rare, but rare and “doesn’t happen” are not the same thing.
Microsoft’s stripped down communication model is essentially, “Trust us.” The company has yet to demonstrate that it deserves that kind of trust, and its decision to roll all updates together and say nothing about their contents could catastrophically backfire.