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A Question of Upgrade Cadence

I’ve been following the work of Susan Bradley, often known as “The Patch Lady,” for more than 10 years. I’ve been a subscriber to the Windows Secrets Newsletter for at least that long. And I believe she was already working with Brian Livingston back in the day when he still ran that particular show. Recently, Ms. Bradley obtained survey results from over 1,100 respondents, in which she asked “how satisfied they were with Windows partching in general and Windows 10’s specifically” (ComputerWorld, 8/7/18). Her results are interesting, but hardly surprising.
Upgrades Twice a Year Is One Time Too Many
Respondents were nearly unanimous (80+%) that two feature upgrades yearly is too many, too often, with too much work involved in handling that cadence. Gregg Keizer, in the afore-cited ComputerWorld story, quotes Ms. Bradley on this to devestating effect:
“If Microsoft cannot see that [those who are] in charge of patching [are] now waiting and not immediately sending out updates [to workers], then Microsoft isn’t listening to [its] customer base,” said Susan Bradley in an email reply to questions.  “If Microsoft is not realizing that [its] enterprise customers are having issues with the timing of the feature updates, then Microsoft is not listening to their enterprise customers.”
After receiving and processing the responses to her survey, Ms. Bradley wrote an “Open Letter” to Microsoft executives about Windows updating (6/20/2018) that’s worth reading over in its entirety. She even offers up an Excel spreadsheet that captures the entire survey contents and the responses it elicited from those who filled it out and returned it to her (fascinating!).
Too Much Change & Instability
The biggest cause for concern for business users faced with twice-a-year feature upgrades and ongoing monthly updates, says Bradley, comes from the speed and volume of patches in general. Her letter refers to “47 knowledge base bulletins with known issues” in July 2018 alone. It also calls out “.NET side effects” with Microsoft’s own software, including SharePoint, BizTalk and Exchange servers all of which, she asserts, “were impacted by these July 10 updates.” Ms. Bradley cites to her long-standing experience at patchmanagement.org where she serves as a moderator for a community listserve on issues and answers for patch management. She sums up prevailing sentiments diplomatically by saying that “Recently many of the participants on the listserve have expressed their concerns and dissatisfaction with the quality of updates as well as the timing of updates.” Here’s the bottom line for the current situation as Ms. Bradley sees it (and I concur wholeheartedly, based on my own experience and what I’m hearing first-hand from full-time enterprise Windows admins and help desk staffers):
I urge you to take the time to read the [survey] responses. It showcases that your customers who are in charge of patching and maintaining systems are not happy with the quality of updates and the cadence of feature releases, and feel that it cannot go on as is.”
This is a big problem for many enterprises, which find themselves more or less forced to move to the Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) Windows 10 release, just to regain control over update cadence, numbers of updates to process, and overall update quality. I don’t think that’s why MS introduced or offers the LTSC but it’s becoming a vehicle of choice for companies moving into Windows 10 just as a way to get a handle on testing and deployment of patches, fixes and upgrades. Perhaps MS can keep its cadence for end-user versions of Windows 10. But I’m convinced that enterprises will push back forcefully on Microsoft to slow the feature upgrade cadence, and to give enterprises time and opportunity to integrate new versions with their traditional, once-per-quarter frequency for minor updates and changes, along with a once-a-year or once-every-two-years frequency for major upgrades and changes. To do otherwise risks alienating a key and vital portion of the OS’s user base.  

Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.

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