Microsoft’s Windows 10 – dubbed the last Windows by the firm and reporters covering Windows – is facing a crisis of sorts with regards to upgrades, updates and the smooth operation thereof.
With Windows 10, Microsoft has implemented auto-updates for users on both its desktop and mobile ecosystems, removing power from the hands of the users and placing it in the hands of the company itself. The power to push and remotely install updates is a great power, with an even greater responsibility accompanying it. Computers -whether they be in the form of tradition PCs or portable Smartphones occupy a privileged space in the lives of literally billions of people around the world. They can be portable radios, work machines, alarm clocks, music devices, emergency communicators etc. The ability to quickly pick up and use these devices with the expectation that they will remain vastly the same as they were upon purchase is one that I believe is a simple one shared by many. Naturally, this is incompatible with the modern treatment of software as a service whereby OS creators annual change and add features to their devices via software updates over the supported lifetime of the device, but even then, an expectation remains that a software update must add value to the consumer.
Windows users are typically not used to having to deal with massive and free major updates over the lifetime of the device. Previously Microsoft did not offer upgrades to newer OS versions for free, but users would have to shell out money or get a new PC with the new version already preinstalled. This worked out for a few years, but Microsoft’s need to turn Windows from an OS that is largely invisible and unobtrusive to one with Microsoft services and apps that users enjoy coupled with Microsoft’s shrinking market share in the OS market created a need for Microsoft to turn Windows into an OS that users “love”. To be honest, Microsoft’s Windows 10 Updates are typically nice and full of features and bug fixes, but they also come with show stopping bugs as well.
Just last week, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update caused several webcams to stop functioning with Windows 10 AU, while this week the same update reportedly causes Kindle devices to force Windows to BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). The Windows 10 November Update similarly had issues where it would reset user set defaults, remove incompatible programs and the like. While this is great news for news sites covering tech, consumers and prosumers are much less amused.
The first issue here I can see is that Microsoft is treating its customers – paying customers to mind you – like they are all voluntary participants of the Windows Insider program. When Microsoft is now “forcing” – and I do not use the word “forcing” lightly – tens of millions of users to automatically download updates, the onus is on them to ensure that the updates they are pushing out do not cause the hardware it runs on to fail. As I write, I am typing this on a Simplo equipped Microsoft Surface Pro 3 which routinely takes a stroll from 15% – dead in 3 minutes flat in what Microsoft claims is a “software issue” that was presumably introduced in one of the Surface firmware updates (the alternative would be the unpleasant notion of planned obsolescence) .
The point is, with Microsoft updates being automatic and forced – combined with the sheer mass of Windows 10 users – the type of bugs that get through are concerning. I can’t imagine that Microsoft thought of plugging a Kindle into a PC, or using a webcam as actions that were out there and extreme scenarios, so the alternative is just carelessness. This isn’t fair, not for users of Windows, nor on the engineers who do their best with what they’re given.
The second issue relates to a lack of transparency regarding what is removed and what is added. Sure Microsoft adds a lot of features in updates that are beneficial to users, but sometimes they strip things out without prior warning and notification.
This is something I noticed particularly in Windows 10 Mobile. Case in point, with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Microsoft stripped every Windows Phone everywhere of the FM Radio app – a standard for communication in some regions of the world – citing reportedly low usage. Personally, I don’t care about the FM Radio, and certainly not its removal, what I do care about is that Microsoft a) advertises and still advertises their Lumias as having an FM Radio app and that b) users aren’t given any notification that the feature is being removed. It’s just…gone. The same is true for Kids Corner and Skype’s integration with the messaging app on Windows 10 Mobile, it was there one day and gone with an update , no information, no warning, no ability to make an informed judgment on the matter.
Sure these two examples may have been limited to Windows 10 Mobile phones, but I selected them because of their visibility and user facing nature. These are two features that aren’t easily replaceable on Windows phones (integrated messaging and FM radio), as well as features that were present on the device when it was sold. We have no way of knowing if that was an issue that swayed many buyers, but I can imagine at least hundreds if not thousands of users may have been swayed by Skype Integration and FM radio functionality on admittedly software challenged devices. Stripping out features like these without prior notification in the form of a PSA or otherwise is distasteful (Yes, I know Microsoft inserted it one of the bullet points in an insider release earlier this year, but that doesn’t help Mom and Pop). Microsoft now wants everyone to install every and all update, trusting them to make the right call every time. But they haven’t earned that trust yet, no one software maker has. If they are to push out forced updates, in any case, it should prepare an easily accessible changelog that users who would be interested in knowing exactly what they gain and lose can easily view without jumping through hoops.
Windows Insiders may not mind having buggy updates -it’s part of the parcel – but regular users do. Even if Windows updates were regularly buggy before (and I’m not sure they were), Microsoft personally taking control out of the users’ hands and into theirs now transfers the blame for buggy updates firmly into their hands. For better or worse, Windows 10 is Microsoft’s biggest consumer play, and it is there their reputations will be built or tarnished. So far, it hasn’t been a good start for users.