Microsoft's new approach to Windows updates is all marketing sizzle no steak

Microsoft has declared Patch Tuesday shall henceforth be called 'Update Tuesday' as a nod to new 'more nimble' Windows update policy

Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc published a nifty blog on Aug. 5, introducing us to Windows' new, improved "Update Tuesday" and Microsoft's plans to roll "nimble" updates into the current second-Tuesday patching scheme.

Rather than waiting for months and bundling together a bunch of improvements into a larger update as we did for the Windows 8.1 Update, customers can expect that we'll use our already existing monthly update process to deliver more frequent improvements along with the security updates normally provided as part of "Update Tuesday."

Don't get me wrong: That's a noble goal. It's just that Microsoft has been rolling out minor UI changes and feature improvements since Patch Tuesdays started more than a decade ago. Indeed, Microsoft's been providing ad-hoc minor improvements to Windows since the days of Windows 3.11.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 KB 2919355 was an aberration: a forced update (not a Service Pack, not a new version) with many UI changes dished out -- disastrously -- all at once. I, for one, breathed a sigh of relief as the blog seemed to indicate that Microsoft isn't going to try to ram another big, forced change down the Automatic Update chute any time soon. Good decision.

What confused me about LeBlanc's post was the emphasis on the second Tuesday of the month -- the newly rechristened "Update Tuesday." In 2003 Microsoft started the Patch Tuesday phenomenon of releasing security patches on the second Tuesday of the month  because customers -- especially admins -- were complaining about the unpredictable timing of security patches. Shortly afterward, Microsoft discovered that  a boatload of non-security patches needed regular releases, too.  I don't know the exact date when it started, but at some point the fourth Tuesday of the month became the nonsecurity patch day.

For many years, those small UI tweaks and feature enhancements, stability and speed improvements generally appeared on the fourth Tuesday. In the past few years the distinction blurred as Microsoft started heaping more and more nonsecurity updates into the second Tuesday and the volume of all patches increased enormously.

Microsoft has been distributing minor tweaks to Windows, through Patch Tuesday and fourth Tuesday patches, for quite some time now. Last month we saw KB 2966583, which added several features to the System Update Readiness Tool, and KB 2971203, which removed installed programs from the Windows Store live tile; in June we got KB 2891638, which added the Work Folders feature to Windows 7, and KB 2968599, which added screenshot-capture capabilities to Quick Note-Taking in Windows 8.1; in May, Microsoft released KB 2896496, which added many rules to DirectAccess in Windows Server, and KB 2956575 brought all sorts of new features to the Windows Store.

LeBlanc's blog points to "the Windows Store Refresh in May and the June update to OneDrive to improve your control of sync."

None of those feature improvements were particularly earth-shattering, but some of them were useful. On average, over the past few months, Microsoft has delivered three or four Windows feature improvements on Patch Tuesday or the fourth Tuesday every month. Not a bad record.

Historically, Black Tuesday hasn't been confined to small feature tweaks. There were big changes in, for example, the way Internet Explorer blocked Flash on sites via a whitelist, then a blacklist.

Which brings me back to LeBlanc's blog and Microsoft's push to use the term "Update Tuesday." Far as I can tell, nothing has changed. This last Patch Tuesday -- or Update Tuesday -- brought us almost nothing in the way of feature improvements, in spite of what you may have read. Here's what I can see: There's a new Synaptics touchpad driver with a few settings. The "Last checked for updates" admonition on the Control Panel's Update pane is replicated over on the Metro side. There are new Wi-Fi Direct APIs for Miracast, for those of you who don't want Roku, Chromecast, or AirPlay. If you're connected to a corporate SharePoint system, you won't have to log on over and over. And there's a new capability for Internet Explorer to block old copies of Jav... oh, wait a second. Microsoft yanked that feature at the last minute.

From where I sit, this month's Patch Tuesday feature improvements weren't as interesting as last month's -- or the month before, or the month before that, for that matter.

Update Tuesday? Pshaw. Lots of marketing baloney, as best I can tell. I'm from Missouri, in spirit at least. Show me.

I started using the term "Black Tuesday" to refer to the second Tuesday of the month about a decade ago, when Microsoft's early attempts at patching left Windows customers howling in agony. I continue to use it as homage to all of you who have lost more than an hour or two trying to fix a patch that Microsoft broke. When Microsoft starts delivering patches that don't break things and responding to botched patch problems in hours, not days, I'll start using the term "Patch Tuesday." If the patches additionally introduce some worthwhile features -- hey, I'm all for that, and I'll adopt the now politically correct "Update Tuesday" nomenclature. Promise.

Let's see what happens next Black, er, Update Tuesday.

This story, "Microsoft's new approach to Windows updates is all marketing sizzle no steak," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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