Three's a charm? Windows 8 patches could pave multiple paths to Windows 9

In cutting off Windows 8.1 security patches, Microsoft may be setting up three upgrade avenues for Windows 9

Trying to piece together the puzzle created by Microsoft's new patching policy, I was struck by an intriguing thought. If you look at the situation just right and connect the dots with a few leaps of faith, there's a possibility we're witnessing the birth of a "three versions" future for Windows 9 (code-named "Threshold"). That would be extraordinarily good news, albeit little consolation to those who are still stuck trying to install Windows 8.1 Update.

Microsoft's confirmation that it will stop issuing security patches for Windows 8.1 has turned into a lightning rod for people who are unhappy with Windows 8 in general and Windows 8 patching in particular. You need look no further than the comments to Steve Thomas' TechNet post last weekend, which confirmed that Windows 8.1 customers who want new security patches have to first install Windows 8.1 Update. NSFW warning: Many of the comments about the Windows 8.1 Update requirement are not kind -- or printable.

(A note on terminology: Windows 8.1 Update -- note the capital "U" -- specifically refers to the patch made widely available last week as KB 2919355.)

Cutting off Windows 8.1 patches is controversial. The argument goes like this: "If you want security patch C, you need to get security patch B first. In this case, security patch B just happens to be the 8.1 Update." Fair enough.

Those who take umbrage do so for several reasons: Windows 8.1 Update doesn't install on many machines (and, indeed, still isn't in the WSUS chute, eight days after release); cancelling Windows 8.1 patches altogether is abrupt, unannounced, and unprecedented in Windows patching history; and IT admins, in particular, have zero time to roll out Windows 8.1 Update before their customers are cut off.

A comment posted earlier this week sent me searching for a description of the new Windows "update paradigm," but I couldn't find any Microsoft announcement about new ways of delivering patches. There is lots of material (some official, mostly unofficial) about how Microsoft will be accelerating the pace of Windows releases. For most individuals, that's good news. For companies, which have to test to ensure continuity between releases, that news isn't good at all. In any case, I haven't seen anything about the way Microsoft will handle patching in the new world of Windows. If I missed something, please give me a nudge in the comments.

This much we know for sure: Microsoft distributed the Windows-8-to-Windows-8.1 upgrade through the Windows Store. For reasons as yet unexplained, Microsoft switched to the good ol' Windows Update mechanism to distribute the much smaller Windows 8.1 Update. That's the only paradigmatic shift I could find, and it hasn't been discussed officially.

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