Microsoft’s Update Delivery Process Could Use a Tune-up

Don’t experiment on people

  • A recent Windows 11 update caused issues for some people, despite a couple of weeks of testing.
  • The issue caused Microsoft to ask users to uninstall the update.
  • Experts understand Microsoft’s predicament, but suggest it step up to reassure people that they aren’t being subject to untested code.
computer keyboard smashed through screen

Martin Poole / Getty Images

An update is supposed to make things better, right?

Microsoft seems to have missed the memo, as a recent update troubled some people and caused all sorts of issues, such as app crashes. Microsoft’s workaround? It asked affected people to uninstall the update, then invalidated the problematic update altogether by delivering a fix. As if installing an update wasn’t jarring enough already, people now had to go out of their way once again to rollback the update. Shouldn’t Microsoft do a better job of testing its software before pushing them to people?

"Microsoft tries its best around updates and quality, but it is staffed by people and they will sometimes make mistakes around an update," Eran Livne, Director of Product Management Endpoint Remediation at Qualys, told Lifewire over email. "They do try their best to find and fix issues before release, but it’s not perfect."

Going for Broke

The update, KB5012643, which was released on April 25, 2022, was an optional cumulative one for WIndows 11 21H2 with lots of small changes. However, for some users, the update crashed apps that used certain components of the .NET 3.5 framework, a crucial component of many Windows apps.

According to Dale Dawson, Director of Product at Syncro, the issue arose simply because people use Windows on all sorts of configurations, and Microsoft can’t test all of them. In an email exchange with Lifewire, Dawson said Microsoft released the Windows 11 Build 22000.651 (with the KB5012643 update) in the Release Preview Channel to Windows Inside users on April 14, 2022 in order to test the update, before releasing it to all users a couple of weeks later.

"Testing can be complex in the most controlled circumstances, even with large communities supporting the effort," explained Dawson.

Kevin Breen, Director of Cyber Threat Research at Immersive Labs, explained the issue in more detail. Breen told Lifewire over email that modern operating systems are incredibly complex, and all the different settings, software, and hardware makes it impossible for Microsoft to test every possible permutation. "Such a high level of variance is what ultimately leads to situations where patches and updates cause issues," said Breen.

To further drive home the point, Mitja Kolsek, co-founder of the 0patch project, told Lifewire that Microsoft has a much harder problem than, for instance, Apple, when it comes to testing updates. Unlike Windows, macOS only runs on a handful of "standardized" Macs.

Don't Trouble Users

Instead of faulting a lack of testing, Kolsek believed the real issue is in the update process itself, which he felt is antiquated and unsuitable for today's world of rapid exploitation of vulnerabilities, especially for security updates.

"Microsoft has demonstrated that reducing testing effort results in increased functional problems and revoked updates, which would not be such a problem if both applying and un-applying updates did not require restarting the computer," said Kolsek. "Where they draw the line of "acceptable level of problems we cause our users on a regular basis" is then a matter of their business strategy."

woman yelling at laptop

Francesco Carta fotografo / Getty Images

Livne agreed, saying the important thing now is handling the process for rolling back the faulty update. In his opinion, making this process easy and understandable is paramount to get people to go through with it. If people aren’t convinced, Microsoft would have to pool in additional resources to flesh out their testing process in order to cover more potential use cases and combinations.

Furthermore, Livne thinks Microsoft should also use the opportunity to provide more technical details for people who want to understand the specifics of the faulty update, and list steps the company will take to ensure something like this doesn’t crop up again in the future.

"Users will be understanding as long as they see that their time is [being valued]," opined Livne. "If they think that they are being treated as guinea pigs, then they will be less likely to carry out updates promptly in the future."

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