Microsoft plays frustrating game of hide-and-seek with Metro app updates

Microsoft continues to thwart users by providing essentially zero information about updates to its own Metro apps

As part of my daily routine, I track down changes to Windows and follow up on reported problems. With Windows XP, Vista, and 7 that can be challenging; with Windows 8, it's damn near impossible. A walk-through of my latest snipe hunt demonstrates why you can't trust Microsoft's descriptions of changes to its own Windows 8 apps.

This morning I read on Bogden Popa's Softpedia blog that Microsoft has just released an update for the Windows 8.1 Reader app. If you use Windows 8 in any of its manifestations, you know the app I'm talking about -- it's the Metro app designed to read PDF files. It also reads TIF and XPS files (if you can find any).

I'm interested in the Metro Reader for two reasons. First, Barnes & Noble announced yesterday that it was dropping development of the long-anticipated $300 million Metro Nook reader because Microsoft is working on the mysterious "Microsoft Consumer Reader." I wondered if this Metro Reader update is somehow tied into the rumored Consumer Reader. Second, Popa's article referred to "data loss issues" with the current version of Metro Reader. I had never heard of Metro Reader data loss issues -- in fact, it's hard to imagine how the app could gobble data under any circumstances. It is, after all, a reader. Thus, my interest was piqued.

I hopped over to the Windows Store, and for reasons that still confound me, there was no update on offer, no Updates notification in the upper-left corner of the main Store page. Weird. I searched for the Metro Reader app and found a description of the app, which you can see (no matter what operating system you're using) by going to the appropriate Microsoft apps page. That page has no mention of the current version number -- no release date, no changelog, nothing at all that could tell me if the version of the Metro Reader app I'm currently running is, in fact, the version Popa described.

Since I hadn't updated my Windows Store apps in a while (cough, cough), it would've surprised me mightily to discover that I was running the latest version of Metro Reader. But there's nothing on the description page (and nothing I could find anywhere else on the Web) that could enlighten me as to my current version, the latest version, or -- if they were not one and the same -- how to get the latest version.

I took Microsoft to task for this precise problem last month, but it didn't surprise me too much to see that nothing's changed.

Here's the kicker: The official, current Metro Reader app page says under the heading "Details" that "this version has been updated to improve reliability and to address data loss issues."

That's all well and good -- it explains why Popa says this latest version addresses data loss issues -- but it tells me exactly nothing that I can use to warn people about the kinds of problems Metro Reader users face.

I searched all over the Web for information about data loss problems in Metro Reader, and came up empty handed. The official Microsoft Answers site shows lots of problems with data corruption in Windows 8.1, and lots of other problems -- rendering, printing -- with Metro Reader. But I couldn't find a single reference to data loss tied specifically to Windows Reader. Take a look for yourself.

Now you know why I'm so thoroughly frustrated with the mickey-mouse approach Microsoft takes with its Metro Apps. "We're from Microsoft, we know what we're doing, we always get our patches right, and we aren't going to tell you anything to help you protect yourself. Buy our products and trust us or pound sand."

This is Programming 101, folks: version numbers, dates, changelogs. Without all three, customers are flying blind. Since we can't roll back bad Metro App updates -- a congenital Windows 8 failure I've been harping about for the past year -- we're at Microsoft's mercy. No matter how you slice it, Microsoft has a horrible history with updates.

It's sad to see Windows in such a decrepit, neglected state.

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