Patching the future: How Microsoft can make Windows 9 simpler

A few simple changes in the way Microsoft brands Windows and its patches could make our lives so much simpler

With Windows 8.1 Update 2 Version 1.0 apparently poised for release in next month's batch of Black Tuesday patches, it's time for Microsoft to reflect on the needlessly confusing state of Windows patching and set a simple, coherent course for "Threshhold" -- the next point-zero release of Windows.

InfoWorld's J. Peter Bruzzese nailed it with his article "Windows 9: The empire's last hope." If Microsoft bungles this evolution of "Threshhold" as badly as it's messed up Windows 8, I seriously wonder how many people and companies will stick around for Windows 10. There will always be a demand for Windows -- inertia's a mighty force -- but the competition's good and getting better.

The original Windows 8/Windows RT (or is it RT 8.0?) was so badly screwed up it's been an embarrassment to a generation of developers. Don't get me started. Looking beyond the initial mess, we've been treated to all sorts of dumb debacles -- even worse than the concept of sticking the name "Windows RT" on an operating system that won't run Windows programs.

The update from Windows 8.0 to Windows 8.1 (and Windows RT to Windows RT 8.1) was only available via the Windows Store. That decision was so bad and confused so many people that Paul Thurrott now reports Microsoft's going back to using Windows Update to pull consumers out of Windows 8 and plop them into Windows 8.1 Update 1. Thurrott reports that a Microsoft spokesperson told him:

This pilot program is an example of ways we're experimenting to help ensure more of our customers benefit from a continuously improving Windows experience... Similar to how the Windows 8.1 Update process works today, the pilot program will automatically update consumer Windows 8 and Windows RT machines for free to Windows 8.1 Update and Windows RT 8.1 Update in select markets.

No word on which markets are "select," but apparently at some point Microsoft's going to throw in the towel on Windows Store patches to Windows and go back to Windows Update. That's a good change for all sorts of reasons.

Then there's the Windows 8.1 Update 1 stupidity and KB 2919355. As best I can tell, there are at least three different versions of Windows 8.1 Update 1: the version that shipped on MSDN in early April, the version that rolled out the Automatic Update chute on April 8, and the rejiggered version that's available now. We've been assured that the bits haven't changed since the second version, only the metadata and installation routines. If you've been following along, it probably won't surprise you to know that Knowledge Base article 2919355, which describes how to install Windows 8.1 Update 1, is now up to version 27.

Excuse me, I should say "Windows 8.1 Update," I suppose. That's still the official terminology. Microsoft hasn't yet acknowledged the existence of Windows 8.1 Update 2, so it hasn't (yet) retroactively changed the name of the first Update to Windows 8.1 Update 1.

I bump into people every day who are confused as can be about all of the Update and point-level nonsense. How can you tell if you're running Windows 8.1? The Control Panel's System applet tells you. How can you tell if you're running Windows 8.1 Update? Easy: You can look at the Metro Start screen and see if there's a magnifying glass next to your name, or you can look at the desktop taskbar and see if there's an icon for the Metro Windows Store ... unless you've removed it. How will you be able to tell if you're running Windows 8.1 Update 2? Nobody knows for sure just yet, but my guess is that you'll have to scan the list of installed Windows Updates for a specific KB number. As for Windows RT 8.1 Update 2 ...

That's user friendly, right? What ever happened to Help | About?

It could be worse -- try to tell me which version of Metro Mail you're running. I dare you.

Microsoft has had branding problems since the days of DOS 3.21 (probably before that, actually), but we've never seen anything like the confusion that now permeates the Windows 8 biosphere.

So I'd like to make a proposal. Let's say the "Threshhold" version of Windows is called Windows 9. The marketing folks may shout me down -- I know that "Windows Transformer Universe X-POW" has a good ring to it -- but let's stick with Windows 9.

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