There is an update available. No, seriously, have you taken a look at this update? Would now be a good time to install it? I’ll just go ahead and install that update now, thanks.
For those of you familiar with Windows 10, Microsoft’s latest and greatest version of the Windows Operating System, its proclivity for installing updates (or in IT parlance, “patches”) can seem downright pernicious. Windows 10 doesn’t seem to mind if you’re in the middle of working on something—at times it feels as if it has a “deadline detector,” a feature heretofore only commonly found on printers. If you’ve found yourself frustratedly declining an update for the second or third time, only to have your computer suddenly restart to install the same update, you are not alone.
To provide insight into the tack that Microsoft has taken with the update strategy in Windows 10, it is important to delve a bit deeper into their revenue model. Microsoft makes most of its money from the enterprise. Prior to the invention of subscription based services, much of this revenue was from licensing—Windows licenses, licenses for Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange, Office, etc. The shift towards subscription based models for software and service licensing (a monthly fee rather than a single large upfront cost has been a sea-change across the IT landscape, and Microsoft has not been left behind by this shifting revenue model. Windows 10 was designed to be the first subscription based Operating System, in line with Microsoft’s pivot towards Azure and Office 365, to replace on-premises Active Directory and Exchange respectively. Since Azure and Office 365 are licensed based on a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, updates to their infrastructure are wholly controlled and managed by Microsoft. What then could be done about Windows itself?
The Operating System on your laptop or desktop computer is likely to be the Microsoft product that you visibly interact with the most on a day to day basis. It is the frontend with which you access backend services, like the aforementioned Azure and Office 365. Because of this, it also represents an enormous potential security vulnerability if it goes unpatched. Historically, the Enterprise and SMB market have been amongst the slowest of Microsoft’s customer’s to install provided updates. Sometimes updates cause unintended problems, whether with software or the operating system itself, and common IT best-practice is to not install most updates as soon as they become available. Indeed, this problem can compound itself if a particular piece of Line of Business software conflicts with the proposed update—some IT departments, even in large Fortune 1000 corporations, are forced to prevent updates from installing for months or years to mitigate software compatibility issues. With Windows 10, Microsoft sought to change that.
Windows 10 removes the ability of the end-user (or their IT department) to permanently decline important updates, especially those that are security related. Updates can be delayed, and the amount of time that delay can be is dictated by the importance of the update, from 90 days for common updates and up to a year for major revisions—what used to be called Service Packs.
Having made it to this point, you may be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with me?”, or “Doesn’t my IT guy handle this stuff?”. This biggest takeaway should be this: software vendors and some IT providers are still trying to play catch-up to this new patching model. Many software companies release updates for their products at a much slower pace than Microsoft’s new update strategy will allow for. Some of you may even be using products that are no longer supported, sometimes referred to as End of Life. While those pieces of software may work now, the future may bring an update that will disrupt or cripple their functionality permanently, and you will no longer have the option to simply not install the update causing the problem.
The bottom line is this: SMBs and their IT providers will need to be more agile both in updating 3rd party software, and locating replacements for aging applications that are no longer supported. Gone are the days of staving off the inevitable indefinitely. As I believe I mentioned earlier…there’s an update available.