| The Rife Report
Vol 1 Issue 190
Microsoft Changing Gears;
Microsoft's annual BUILD developers' conference in San Francisco was one of April 2014's surprises. Not the show itself, but in the manner of presentation - the more fulsome revelations, the new speed of releases. Can we expect more open discussion, more of those quicker releases from the software giant?
That appears to be the new face of Redmond - an interesting change. But never forget it is a business and the bottom line is making money. The new focus is mobility. Prime example - its $ 7.2 billion buyout of Nokia's devices division (phones) on April 28. Remember too, that Windows holds to course. Not unlike the Windows logo. It has changed design over the years - but the (window) panes always remained!
As you know, Windows 8 Update 1 arrived on a new schedule. Exciting yes, but its news flare was overtaken only days later with word of yet another update for the same OS! That next update will have yet more mousing-cum-desktop features, including - wait for it - a Start Menu. We're also told it will be coming in August - only four months after Update1! Let the drums beat faster!
Mary Jo Foley (April 22,) on All About Microsoft confirms that speedup: "My sources say that date could be August." She adds that: "Instead of rolling out a new version of Windows once every 2.5 to three years, the team's now on something closer to an annual rollout schedule."
Paul Thurrott on his Supersite for Windows on April 23, agrees: "In the old days, Windows proceeded very mechanically and regularly . . . Three years was indeed a good time frame for major releases. Service Packs and cumulative updates - and sometimes even Feature Packs - could fill the interim. It's not the old days anymore. In this age of cloud computing . . . Windows needs to be quicker. And Terry Myerson is making it happen. The trains aren't running on time. They're arriving ever earlier."
"I don't just approve of this change, I applaud it. And while I always believed it was reasonable for Windows to speed up, I had sort of figured that the once-a-year cadence we saw with Windows 8.1 would be the new normal. Nope. Not even close. Bravo."
So, lots to ponder as I began collecting material to write this article in those first weeks of April, there was still snow on the ground hereabouts. Yet, as we now know, spring was in the BUILD conference air and there are changes (beyond personnel at the top) on the Microsoft campus.
In an article on Windows IT Pro, Thurrott labelled it: "Morning Again in Redmond . . . . Microsoft gets back its mojo." He added: "Sure, we're just a few months into Satya Nadella's tenure as CEO, and . . . it doesn't guarantee success. But it does feel like we've turned a corner."
Then he said: "it was the overall mood at the show that really struck me in a positive way. And part of the reason is that Microsoft is finally listening. This is a big deal."
Of course the leakers churned up the rumour mill. And the hottest of the hot was WinBeta's Ron who translates the Russian leaker site Wzor claiming: "the Start menu will be part of a major update to Windows 8.1 . . . . The menu will combine the familiar, old-school design with a pane of Modern UI tiles."
Ron also says Wzor claims that: "a next generation Metro interface will premiere in Windows 9 . . . and that there's also to be a prototype operating system called Windows Cloud." No details - of course.
In another translation Gareth Halfacree on bit-tech says Wzor claims: "Windows 8.2, like Windows 8.1 before it, will be released as a free upgrade . . . . the site has conflicting reports that Windows 9 will also be a free upgrade for Windows 8.2 users." He says the Russian site also says to expect: "a release of Windows Cloud, a virtualized version of the company's operating system designed to provide competition at the extreme low-end of the market for Google's Chrome OS. . . . Cloud would allow users to access core functionality for free and pay a subscription fee for more advanced applications."
No one has an official name for that August download yet, but it holds to the new Microsoft mantra - updates will be coming thick and fast - released as developed, no waiting for three years or a "product" cycle.
Sebastian Anthony at BUILD for ExtremeTech saw change when Microsoft's corporate vice-president Joe Belfiore, hilariously jibed: "these desktop-oriented changes (which many have asked for since Win8 beta two years ago) won't impact Windows 8s usability on touchscreen devices." Anthony's comment: "Phew."
Mary Jo Foley also at BUILD, interviewed Terry Myerson, Microsoft's executive vice-president of operating systems. He said: "We actually value using the desktop. I feel highly productive using it. It's very familiar to me. We plan to bring modern apps to the desktop. We are going to have machines that have a great desktop experience . . . the desktop is part of our future. It's absolutely core to Windows."
Foley continues: "you showed a mockup of a Start Menu (at BUILD). You confirmed the Start Menu and windowed Metro-Style apps are coming some time after Windows 8.1 Update." Myerson confirmed that, adding: "The reason we (showed) that work is we thought it was important to share . . . . " Although he gave no release date and no official name.
Update 1 - the Pre-requisite and install
Getting back to Update 1 - on Tuesday, April 8 about a minute past 1pm (the Official release time) I tried getting the download via Windows Update. It was destined for an Ivy Bridge desktop affair with a non-touch monitor. That machine has carried Windows 8 since that operating system became generally available back on October 26, 2011.
As an enthusiast, I had duly upgraded a year later (Oct. 17, 2013, to be precise) to Windows 8.1. . And, of course on Patch Tuesday, April 8, 2014, I had planned to move that machine (and others) up the ladder again - to Update 1.
Microsoft says it was designed: "to fix several issues present in Win8.1 besides adding new features - power options on the Start Screen, the ability to pin metro apps on the Taskbar, add a titlebar in metro apps and add context menus for Start Screen tiles. It is an attempt to make Win8.1 a good OS for both desktop machines as well as touch-enabled devices such as tablets."
But back to my personal update efforts - I made two prep moves. First a regular procedure when installing big changes to my system - I disabled my antivirus and firewall software. The second was Update 1 specific - to check my list of installed KBs. I've heard (and you should be aware) that "KB2919442" is a pre-requisite update for getting Update 1. That means your Windows 8.1 computer must have that KB update installed to be able to receive Update 1 via Windows Update.
As you might expect, trying to get the download early was not the best plan. My connection message said: " No updates are available." I later learned (from inside sources) that Microsoft had "throttled" automatic delivery of the Update, so users "might not see it until some time later." They didn't want servers crashing in the initial rush.
Time marched on. Around 3:45pm, I tried again - success! The key component arrived. It is labelled Windows 8.1 Update for x64-based Systems (KB2919355) - Update type: Important. It was one of 10 updates for that 64-bit system on that Patch Tuesday. When the instal was complete, a restart was required.
On reboot my system went right to the desktop. The first thing I noticed was that the tasklbar included a new green icon - Windows Store. Obviously I was now indeed successfully on Update 1.
The update's Important tag is for real. Why? Actually Update 1 is mandatory! If you don't get it installed before May 13 (Patch Tuesday for that month) you won't get any future patches! Microsoft has never done that before! Officially the company states: " Failure to install this Update will prevent Windows Update from patching your system with any future updates - starting with Updates released in May 2014."
So, I decided to immediately also update a Sandy Bridge machine. It was still on pure Windows 8. - had not yet been updated to 8.1. Fortunately from that starting point, the upgrade is much simpler - the updates are integrated! Just go to Windows Store and click for the update to 8.1 and you get BOTH 8.1 AND 8.1 Update 1 in one piece - a faster and easier operation than I had expected.
This Sandy Bridge machine also has Stardock's Start8 installed on it (yes, I miss the Start Menu.) Its presence proved no problem for the Update 1 installation. Start8 will also now go onto the Ivy Bridge machine. Why? Because Update 1 still lacks all that I miss - although that may change as the Microsoft updates keep rolling out.
One thing I admit - both Win8 systems are now more stable. So I do look forward to further faster updates.
Some installations go awry
Unfortunately not everyone succeeded with the update as I did. Some installs, by both individuals and businesses, resulted in serious troubles.
Cries for help on the Microsoft Community site began soon after the download was released. Users complained that, despite the fixes offered, Update 1 still fails to install. They say a subsequent work-around also doesn't work for them.
While the race to correct the problems continues, an article giving all Redmond's ideas for fixing the Update 1 problem is at Microsoft News.com
On the business side, Microsoft has, of April 16, fixed a bug discovered in Update1 that affected some clients connected to Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) servers. A new update allows PCs scanning those servers to proceed with the update.
John Callahan writing for Neowin says the WSUS bug fix was revealed on Microsoft's Springboard Series blog, which also said that: "In order to receive future updates, all customers managing updates using WSUS . . . have until August 12th to apply the new updates. For those that decide to defer installation, separate security updates will be published during the 120-day window." Good show - I'd hate to be an IT facing a multitude of upgrades - more time helps.
This latter change does not affect we ordinary consumers, we still need to download and install Windows 8.1 Update 1 by May 15 to get any further security and software patches for the OS.
Is the new Release Speed a problem?
Although there's lots to like about Microsoft's new cadence of rollouts, is the speed a root cause of its subsequent problems for clients? I've detailed above what happened with Update 1, but let's not forget what happened with Windows 8.1 itself!
Back in November 2013, Juan Carlos Perez of IDG News Service said : "the rocky rollout of Windows 8.1 should serve as a reminder for consumers, software developers, hardware vendors, enterprise IT pros and Microsoft itself that a period of careful testing and analysis must precede the release and installation of an operating system update.
"After it shipped on October 17, Windows 8.1 in certain scenarios clashed with incompatible software, crashed due to outdated firmware and stumbled over unrecognized drivers.
Affected users faced different problems, including computers that couldn't boot up, peripherals that malfunctioned, software that couldn't be run and OS installations that couldn't be completed. Some issues have been resolved while others have not."
He quotes Gartner analyst Michael Silver: "With Windows 8 shipping for more than a year and almost being a beta release for 8.1, the nature of the problems people are experiencing does seem to be unusual." Perez also says David Johnson, a Forrester Research analyst, concurs, saying: "the number and severity of the problems is out of the norm. . . It tells me they're making radical, deep changes, because they've had to."
So we consumers wait and watch - should one emphasize the wait aspect? Pretty hard on enthusiasts when it comes to the OS.
Its akin to the my CPU situation - I've been waiting for a cooler - running processor in the Haswell range. Will the "refresh" intros, expected in May by Intel be enough? Or will the now delayed Broadwell design coming later hold something better? Ah me!
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