Microsoft May Already Have a Reliability Strategy

Posted on September 9, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 0 Comments

Microsoft May Already Have a Reliability Strategy

With reliability issues unexpectedly dogging the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, I recently questioned whether Microsoft needed to make major changes to its servicing model. But with the update still rolling out in a measured fashion, I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t all part of the plan.

Premium members can and should check out Microsoft, It’s Time for a Reliable Computing Initiative if you haven’t already. But the short version goes like this: A number of problems with the Anniversary Update only came to light after it was released to the public. This despite the fact that it was the most-heavily-tested Windows upgrade that Microsoft has ever created.

But as I noted in a recent episode of Windows Weekly, it’s interesting to compare the speed of the Anniversary Update roll-out to the issues that have popped up since August 3. That is, I think we have enough evidence to state that Microsoft’s processes are in fact working, at least in part, because it has clearly staged this release to ensure that its users have a high-quality experience.

The notion that Microsoft would deliver any major update, and not just this particular update, to known-good configurations first is not new. Microsoft has been doing this since the initial release of Windows 10 a year ago, and it was transparent doing so. The Anniversary Update, like Windows 10 versions 1507 and 1511 before it, was rolled out first to those PC configurations that Microsoft knew would result in successful upgrades.

That’s common sense, even obvious, but this approach has some interesting side-effects too. As more and more people upgrade their PCs to the Anniversary Update, Microsoft is able to gather even more information about PC configurations. And it can adjust which configurations get the update based on the relative successes of those upgrades. If enough power users successfully install the Anniversary Update via ISO, for example, new configurations can be added to the known-good list.

But I think it works in the opposite direction too. And this is what I mean by the process working. When problems come up—as they must have with the webcam issue, or the even more recently discovered Kindle issue—then Microsoft can also shut off the spigot on what are now known-bad configurations. And do so until those issues are fixed.

This results in a high-quality experience for everyone. Those people who have known-good PC configurations will get the update and should see positive results. And as more data about all upgrades arrives, more PC configurations will be added to that known-good list. And yes, some may be added to a known-bad list because Microsoft has found issues too. The result? A slow but measured and reliable roll-out.

I have a few data points that speak to this belief. First is the anecdotal email I still receive regularly from readers: Many are amazed that they still haven’t been offered the Anniversary Update on very mainstream PCs over a month after its initial release.

“Any idea why my Dell desktop won’t upgrade?” one reader asked three days ago, in a typical exchange. “All my other systems got the update automatically.”

The other data point is perhaps a bit more definitive. In its most recent look at Windows device usage, AdDuplex noted that most Windows 10 PCs were still on version 1511 about a month after the initial Anniversary Update release. At that time, only 16.2 percent of Windows 10-based PCs were running the Anniversary Update. Assuming about 400 million Windows 10 PCs, a reasonable guess given the most recent usage data, that means that only about 65 million PCs had been upgraded by late August. Out of 400 million.

That’s lower than you’d expect, right? But that, I think, is the Microsoft processes at work.

For its part, Microsoft will, of course, report that Windows 10 is the most reliable version of Windows ever made, probably by some wide measure. And that the Anniversary Update roll-out has been quite successful so far. I don’t think we need to ask for a quote to know that.

It’s also clear that other changes around Windows have made an impact. Microsoft customers used to collectively hold their breath every Patch Tuesday, but these days Patch Tuesday is reserved only for bug fixes. I’m not sure when that happened, exactly, and I’m not aware of any official proclamation to that effect, but it’s a fact. And not just for Windows.

All that said, there are still problems to address. And it’s disheartening to see platform changes like the ones that triggered the webcam and Kindle issues sneak into Windows 10 in such a secretive fashion and then trigger customer issues. That’s true no matter how many customers were really impacted, and no matter how quickly Microsoft is able to respond.

Here, I can only speculate.

I think we all understand that Microsoft listens to customer feedback in a variety of ways. There’s telemetry, of course. The Windows Insiders that now toil as unpaid pseudo-team members. The customers who call, email, or visit Microsoft retail stores to get problems solved. And so on. Somehow, despite the unprecedented level of customer interaction, various problems still crept into the system. Somehow, the processes have in fact failed us all.

Microsoft will no doubt learn from this experience and improve its processes, ensuring that these types of problems don’t impact the next major Windows 10 release, now expected in Spring 2017. But I’d still like to see a less reactive stance on reliability. And I’d like to think that the sorts of issues that came up this time around won’t be an issue for the next release.

But I do see that evidence of processes working. And as we get further and further from August 2, it’s become more obvious that there are in fact some adults driving this car. They seem to know what they’re doing, but they should talk it up more.