Microsoft resumes rollout of Windows 10 version 1809, promises quality changes
Microsoft has resumed the rollout of Windows 10 version 1809. The re-release of the so-called October 2018 Update comes more than five weeks after the company pulled the original installation files from its download servers and stopped its scheduled delivery through Windows Update just days after its initial debut on Oct. 2.
Must read: Microsoft pulls Windows 10 October Update (version 1809)
In a blog post, Microsoft’s John Cable, the director of Program Management for Windows Servicing and Delivery, says the data-destroying bug that triggered that unprecedented decision, as well as other quality issues that emerged during the unscheduled hiatus, have been “thoroughly investigated and resolved.”
Also: Windows 10 1809 ZIP bug now fixed: So will Microsoft rerelease October update?
This announcement also includes the re-release of Windows Server 2019, which was affected by the same issue. (That post by my ZDNet colleague Mary Jo Foley also includes a timeline of the quality issues that affected both the desktop and server editions of this Windows version.)
The first step in the re-release is to restore the installation files to its Windows 10 Download page so that “seekers” (the Microsoft term for advanced users who go out of their way to install a new Windows version) can use the ISO files to upgrade PCs running older Windows 10 versions.
Also: Windows 10 1809 delay: New Arm PCs having to ship with untested Windows 1803
The installation files will also be offered to commercial customers for deployment through Windows Server Update Services and System Center Configuration Manager.
Don’t expect to see this version on Windows Update just yet, however. You might be offered the new release if you manually check for updates, but the company says it plans a “slow, measured release” that will err on the side of caution before expanding the update to a broader population.
Also: Windows 10 October 2018 Update: The new features that matter most
The re-release doesn’t change the major build number, 17763, or the October 2018 Update name. The support clock will get a restart, however, with Nov. 13, 2018 now the official beginning of the servicing timeline for the Semi-Annual Channel (“Targeted”) release.
For customers running the Education and Education edition, that means this release will be supported under the new 30-month policy, until April 2021. PCs running Windows 10 Pro will be able to defer feature updates until one year after Microsoft declares this version ready for widespread business adoption, which will probably happen sometime in early 2019.
In a separate blog post, Windows Corporate Vice President Michael Fortin offered some context behind the recent issues and announced changes to the way the company approaches communications and “the transparency around our process.”
The dense post, billed as “first in a series of more in-depth explanations of the work we do to deliver quality in our Windows releases,” acknowledges the problems that come with the sheer size and scale of the hardware ecosystem that Windows is at the heart of. The company had previously announced that Windows 10 is running on 700 million monthly active devices; today’s post includes the additional detail that that ecosystem includes roughly 16 million “unique hardware/driver combinations.”
As I noted earlier, Microsoft’s data-driven approach focuses on the telemetry data it receives via each Windows 10 installation. Fortin confirms that observation about the company’s data dashboards: “We obsess over these metrics as we strive to improve product quality, comparing current quality levels across a variety of metrics to historical trends and digging into any anomaly.”
The problem, as the most recent incident illustrated painfully, is that even as overall quality has improved, low-volume, high-impact bugs managed to evade detection. And even though the number of people affected by the Known Folder Redirection bug was only in the hundreds, the impact on the public perception of Windows quality was devastating.
Even as the October 2018 Update begins its slow rollout, the next release of Windows 10, code-named 19H1, is well under way. Changes that Microsoft has made to its feedback process are intended to help make it easier to spot high-impact bugs before they reach the public, but only time will tell if those changes are enough.
Fortin’s post also includes a lengthy explanation of Microsoft’s testing policy, in response to critics who say that major changes in the testing process weakened Windows quality:
Windows 10 marked a change in how we develop, deliver and update Windows: What we call “Windows as a Service.” We shifted the responsibility for base functional testing to our development teams in order to deliver higher quality code from the start. We also changed the focus of the teams that still report to me who are responsible for end to end validation, and added a fundamentally new capability to our approach to quality: The use of data and feedback to better understand and intensely focus on the experiences our customers were having with our products across the spectrum of real-world hardware and software combinations.
We employ a wide variety of automated testing processes as we develop features, allowing us to detect and correct issues quickly. We are regularly looking to address gaps in tests and often find them based upon our internal experiences and issues we note with our insiders. This suite of automated tests grows over time. The most fundamental of these tests must pass for features and code to “integrate up” into the main Windows build that will eventually ship to customers. In a future blog we’ll detail the extensive testing we do in-house, but it is safe to say that testing is a key part of delivering Windows.
It didn’t help that last week’s activation bug, which caused some Windows 10 users to suddenly appear to lose their paid-for licenses, occurred in the midst of the separate crisis over version 1809. Although that issue was resolved quickly, it illustrated the need for better communication, and Microsoft now says it is working on a Windows Update status dashboard that will allow it to communicate issues the way it does with its Azure and Office 365 customers.
Meanwhile, the big question for anyone running Windows 10 is whether it’s safe to download the October 2018 Update. It’s hard to blame anyone for being skeptical, but it’s also a fact that this release, which is now running on just shy of 6 million PCs, is unquestionably the most heavily tested in the brief history of Windows 10.
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