What happened to Windows Update in 2013? Quality control seems to be suffering as Microsoft scrambles to update their software faster than ever. They’ve released quite a few buggy and broken Windows Updates this year.
Microsoft capped off a year of shaky quality control by releasing a broken firmware update for their Surface Pro 2 hardware and promptly going on vacation, leaving the problem unfixed for over a month. It’s been a rough year.
Surface Pro 2 December Firmware Update
On December 10, 2013, Microsoft released a firmware update for their Surface Pro 2 PC. Microsoft releases such firmware updates on a monthly basis. These firmware updates arrive via Windows Update, so they’re often installed automatically as part of the standard Windows Update process.
The firmware update’s notes indicated that it should fix some problems with battery life and power saving, but it actually did the opposite. Many Surface Pro 2 users began reporting that it dramatically lowered their device’s battery life and broke the sleep function. Because this is a UEFI firmware update — similar to a BIOS update — and not a standard driver update, there was no way to uninstall the update and get back to normal.
Microsoft pulled the update on December 18, over a week later. They explained they did so to “ensure the best experience for our customers during the holiday season.” They said they were “working to release an alternative update package after the holidays.” Microsoft didn’t want new Surface Pro 2 users to deal with these problems, but they left their existing Surface Pro 2 customers to suffer through the holidays without any form of fix.
They’re now saying that a firmware update will ship on January 14, 2014. That’s over a month from the time the buggy firmware update first shipped. Why the long delay? It looks like Microsoft employees decided to take the holidays off. Some people consider Microsoft’s monthly firmware updates an example of how well-supported Surface hardware is. This incident seems to suggest the opposite — there’s a reason most PC manufacturers don’t release such frequent firmware updates.
Luckily, for many people, the firmware update just silently failed to install. Bypassing this error requires another complicated workaround involving stopping a Windows service and deleting a system file.
Windows 8.1 Gaming Mouse Lag
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Windows 8.1 included many great new features and fixes to many of Windows 8’s rough edges, but it also caused some problems for gamers. Due to a change in the way mouse support worked, Windows 8.1 introduced additional mouse lag in quite a few PC games.
Microsoft’s fix for this is an update that added a special compatibility option. Gamers will now have to visit the registry and manually create compatibility keys for all their affected games.
KB2823324 Causes Blue Screens of Death
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The KB2823324 patch caused widespread blue screens of death at reboot on many Windows 7 PCs before Microsoft pulled it. The issue seemed to affect computers with certain third-party software installed, including Kaspersky Antivirus and the G-Buster browser security add-on in Brazil.
Microsoft released a repair disc that allowed users to repair Windows systems that refused to boot.
KB2803821 Breaks WMV Support, Steam Games
Update KB2803821 for Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP caused problems in a wide variety of applications using Microsoft’s Windows Media Video support. A number of Steam games had broken cut scenes and intro movies.
This update also caused problems with a variety of other programs, both playing back and encoding WMV files. Affected programs included Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premier, Camtasia Studio, and more.
Affected users had to Google up the problem and manually uninstall the update. The issue was bizarre, manifesting as videos that only played back on half of the screen, with the other half black.
KB2821895 Breaks System File Checker, Causes High CPU Usage
Update KB2821895 for Windows 8 caused some serious problems with the System File Checker — that is, the sfc /scannow command that scans your Windows system files and offers to repair any problems.
After installing the update, the sfc /scannow command would freeze the computer for about ten minutes before reporting corrupted files and asking for a reboot to repair the files. The error message is false, and running the same command after the reboot will report corrupted files again. Even worse, this process could run in the background and cause high CPU usage for no apparent reason
Microsoft’s recommendation is to use the DISM /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth command if you’re affected by this problem.
So, Should You Trust Windows Update?
This is just a small snapshot of the problems that have occurred this year. Other updates have broken Microsoft Outlook and the Exchange server — in one case, Microsoft admitted that they released an Exchange patch without properly testing it. Microsoft released multiple buggy patches on “Patch Tuesday” in several months.
If you’re a Windows user, it’s still a good idea to perform Windows Updates. But Microsoft needs to get their house in order and perform better quality assurance testing on these updates. The good news is that you can uninstall updates that cause problems after the fact — assuming they don’t cause your computer to blue-screen, which is rare.
If you have a Microsoft Surface device, you may want to hold back from installing the latest firmware updates for a few weeks. There’s no way to uninstall these. Better to wait before installing than to wait more than a month for Microsoft to fix your broken device.
Microsoft wants to update their software more rapidly, but the wheels seem to be coming off. They need to perform better quality assurance testing. When a seriously buggy update like the Surface Pro 2 firmware update is released, they should get all hands on deck to fix it.
Image Credit: ToddABishop on Flickr, Michael Ocampo on Flickr
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