Microsoft

Microsoft aims to improve communications about Windows testing and updates

Microsoft is planning changes that will help to maintain OS quality between major updates and in the long term.

Microsoft has restarted the rollout of the 1809 Windows 10 update and Windows Server 2019 to coincide with this month's Patch Tuesday. It's also keen to improve communications with users and IT pros by giving more details of the quality processes used by the Windows team and the contents of specific updates.

The Windows team is promising to focus not just on new releases, but also the ongoing quality of the OS between major updates (avoiding a repeat of the recent activation service failures, for example). This is what it calls 'sustained quality'; the team will also consider more substantial changes to how it ensures quality in the longer term.

Some of that communication will be blogs explaining how Microsoft tests Windows 10 and the quality results it sees from live deployments — like the way the numbers of support incidents both Microsoft and PC OEMs like Dell and HP have been falling steadily for the last two years. The more substantive information for IT pros will be more detailed and transparent information about not just the 1809 update, but also around the status of future servicing updates to help them plan ahead.

As part of improving quality, there's an increasing focus on drivers and driver quality. That could build on initiatives like the newly open-sourced Component Firmware Update model that OEMs can use for packaging firmware updates, so they can be delivered through Windows Update and applied to PCs without rebooting (as some of the Surface firmware updates already are).

If you've been feeling like you've had to deploy more driver updates recently to the PCs you manage, that's actually true. The volume of driver updates for Windows devices has increased substantially, because of the chipset vulnerabilities disclosed earlier this year: the usual 5,000 new drivers a month went up to 10,000 in April and 15,000 in June.

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One of the concerns Microsoft is hoping to address is how it tests for quality and stability on PCs with longer uptimes — something that's becoming increasingly common on desktops and laptops, as well as on servers. With early, internal testing done on builds that update daily and Insider fast ring builds coming frequently, especially towards the end of a development cycle, it can be hard to detect issues that take some time to emerge. In the Spring 2017 update, a combination of problems that caused UWP apps to open as small white squares rather than full application Windows persisted through the Insider preview and into the release, in part because visible symptoms didn't occur until hours or days after the initial crash that caused the problem, making it hard to track down.

Microsoft does do 'soak testing' on different builds, using stress tests that run over time to look for memory leaks and performance degradation. The slow ring Insider builds also come on once a month and are often run on machines that reboot only once a month. Many of those customers behave enough like live customers on release builds that they can act as a proxy for measuring performance, crashes and battery life on devices with long uptime.

Updating to 1809

For users who get their updates directly from Microsoft, 1809 is available again, for Windows 10 PCs and other Windows 10 devices like Surface Hub and HoloLens. Unlike the 1803 April Update, which had the fastest rollout of any Windows 10 release, the 1809 rollout will start slowly and will only speed up once telemetry shows installations are healthy and not causing problems. That means specific PC models will only be offered the update if telemetry from similar devices is positive, including application compatibility. Some 5.9 million machines have already received the 1809 update and telemetry from those shows good health indicators. But if you have BYOD Windows 10 PCs where users manage updates, the arrival of 1809 in your organization may be somewhat sporadic.

To make that easier to keep track of, Microsoft will be adding a specific status update dashboard for Windows 10 in future. But for the 1809 rollout, the update information will be on the Windows 10 update history page.

For enterprises and those with volume licences, 1809 is now available through Windows Server Update Services, Windows Update for Business and System Center Configuration Manager's phased deployment.

As usual, update speed will be up to IT admins, and Microsoft recommends using the Windows Insider Program for Business to manage flighting that out to pilot groups. More businesses are starting to use that — up by 43 percent in the last 6 months, Microsoft says. There's also a new version of the 'Olympia' test lab that businesses can use to evaluate deploying Windows 10 Enterprise releases in a Microsoft 365 environment, including System Center Configuration Manager. Enterprise customers need to apply for Olympia enrolment, and you can then deploy the test lab environment on your own systems.

A number of enterprise customers have already started evaluation of 1809, but there haven't been any broad-scale rollouts beyond Microsoft's internal employee base.

Windows Server 2019 and the SAC Windows Server 1809 release are also now available; media via the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) and licence codes from Visual Studio Subscriptions. The Windows Server 2019 image will arrive in the Azure Marketplace over the next week, and the Windows Server 2019 evaluation is already available in the Microsoft Eval Center (including Windows Server 2019 Essentials and Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2019).

IT pros can find links to the 1809 versions of the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit, the Windows Preinstallation Environment (Win PE is now separate from the ADK), the security baseline with GPOs in both spreadsheet and ADMX formats and the Group Policy Setting Reference here. As of 1809, the Remote Server Administration Tools are included in Windows 10 under Features on Demand (in Settings choose 'Manage additional features' and pick 'Add a feature').

Because of the delayed rollout, the servicing timeline for the Semi-Annual Channel (or Targeted) release of 1809 and Windows Server 2019 will run from November 13 2018. Enterprise and Education volume customers get 30 months of support for the September updates of Windows 10 and for 1809 that starts from this re-release date.

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About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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