KB 2919355: You can't patch the desktop like a phone

Windows 8.1 Update problems -- still unsolved -- drive home an important point: Changing patch rules by fiat is a recipe for disaster on the desktop

In sifting through the more than 1,000 Windows 8.1 Update (KB 2919355) complaints and Microsoft's responses, one observation keeps dogging me. Windows 8.1 Update is in many respects being treated as if it were a phone update. More than anything, I detect a distinct lack of urgency in Microsoft's responses -- particularly in releasing revised updates that work across the board.

It took Microsoft eight days to get a new version of the yanked Windows 8.1 Update out the WSUS corporate server chute. Even now, almost two weeks after KB 2919355 appeared in Windows Update, there's still no definitive solution to the myriad installation problems, much less a new version of Windows 8.1 Update that just works.

If you mess up a phone update, lots of people may complain, but the basic functions of the phone generally survive. All that's lost permanently is the reputation of the software folks. The next phone comes along with a killer camera and better screen, and all is forgiven and usually forgotten.

Not so on the PC side -- when Microsoft screws up a major patch like this one, all hell breaks loose.

If you're an admin rolling out Windows 8.1 Update through your WSUS server, what do you do when word suddenly comes down that the patch has been yanked? Do you uninstall the patch on the machines that have it? Good luck. Do you call the people with the new version and teach them how to use it? Or do you simply fall on your sword and start looking for a new job? It might be easier than answering the CEO's pointed questions.

What if you're a small systems consultant and one of your customers has a few machines that won't take the update? And yeah, the machines that -- for reasons unknown -- fail to install Windows 8.1 Update look identical to the ones on the next desk that successfully installed. Do you apologize to your client and say it won't happen again? Do you teach some of the people in the office how to use the boot-to-desktop interface while avoiding the ones who still have to use Metro? Will your customer choose to go with some other consultant who obviously knows what they're doing and would never let such a thing happen?

Then there's the informal family consultant. Your Aunt Mildred keeps getting "Error 0x80070020" messages. Her hot-shot nephew can't figure them out, in spite of four calls, two hours on the line, and six more hours connected to the computer. So much for that college degree -- better to ask the 8-year-old next door.

Adding to the frustration and the heat: Microsoft's unprecedented statement that you must install Windows 8.1 Update before next month's Black Tuesday or you won't get any more patches for Windows 8.1. Guys, you might be able to get away with scare tactics like that on the phone side, but here in desktop land it just makes people angry.

To the best of my knowledge, Microsoft has never had a requirement like that before. It has never said, on the desktop side, that "if you don't install Patch B, you can't get Patch C or later."

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