Reading between the lines about Microsoft ‘pausing optional updates’

Yesterday, a post on the official Windows Release Information site said that Microsoft will, at least temporarily and starting in May, stop sending out the pesky “optional, non-security, C/D Week” patches we’ve come to expect. 

Those “optional” second-monthly patches are usually laden with many dozens of fixes for miscellaneous, minor bugs in Windows. For example, the second-monthly cumulative update for Win10 version 1903 released yesterday lists 31 different fixes, most of which only matter in very specific cases.

For example:

  • Addresses an issue that fails to return search results in the Start menu Search box for users that have no local profile.
  • Addresses an issue that prevents applications from closing. 

…and many more of that ilk.

Starting with Win10 1903, those “optional, non-security, C/D Week” patches aren’t automatically applied to your PC. They aren’t installed when you click Check for updates, either – a horrendous relic of a bygone era. In order to install the patches these days, you have to click on a specific link just for that patch that says Download and install now.

The “optional, non-security, C/D Week” patches are nothing more than a surrogate for a Windows Insider ring devoted to testing non-security patches on a released version of Win10. Microsoft should’ve turned the patches into an Insider ring years ago. But I digress.

Here’s what I don’t get. The official announcement goes like this:

Timing for upcoming Windows optional C and D releases

We have been evaluating the public health situation, and we understand this is impacting our customers. In response to these challenges we are prioritizing our focus on security updates. Starting in May 2020, we are pausing all optional non-security releases (C and D updates) for all supported versions of Windows client and server products (Windows 10, version 1909 down through Windows Server 2008 SP2).

There is no change to the monthly security updates (B release – Update Tuesday); these will continue as planned to ensure business continuity and to keep our customers protected and productive.

That’s the whole announcement.

I see what it’s trying to do – stop releasing “optional, non-security, C/D Week” patches – and that’s a laudable goal. That means fewer people will click and install a beta test version of Win10 without realizing what they’ve stepped into. But the specific wording of the announcement still has me scratching my head.

Here’s the ugly truth: Microsoft isn’t going to stop doing non-security patches. It can’t. Windows is so buggy in its current form that important things go bump in the night and need to be fixed. For example, this fix in the February “optional non-security, C/D Week” patch:

  • Updates an issue that prevents the Windows Search box from rendering properly. 

… tackled a problem that was encountered by thousands (millions?) of users. Then there are specific bugs that cry out for fixing, like this one from yesterday:

  • Addresses an issue that fails to return search results in the Start menu Search box for users that have no local profile. 

Win10 bugs aren’t going away any time soon, and Microsoft would be foolish to ignore them completely.

With that in mind, here’s what I think Microsoft is trying to say:

We won’t be sending out any more bundles of “optional, non-security, C/D Week” patches after April. (Hey, can we get an Insider Ring, folks?)

Patch Tuesday patches continue. Starting in June, the Patch Tuesday patches will include as few non-security patches as possible.

Of course, the point of this exercise is to improve the stability of Windows patches. I’m skeptical – after all, the non-security patches inevitably slipped into Patch Tuesday won’t be tested any more than the security patches. But there is hope. Perhaps by increasing the number of “Won’t Fix” bugs, the resulting patches will be more stable.

Perhaps.

And there’s one huge, looming question: How does Win10 version 2004 fit into all of this? Is Microsoft saying that the latest version of Windows will ship so bug-free that it doesn’t need loads of non-security patches?

One can always hope.

We’ll be following intently on AskWoody.com.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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