Microsoft yanks second botched Surface update in as many months

Microsoft pulls the bad December firmware update for the Surface Pro 2 -- with no hint as to when a fix is coming or what afflicted customers should do

Just when you thought Ebenezer Scrooge had met his Ghost, Microsoft grabs the ring from his gnarly hand. The company is certainly dispensing more coal than cheer this holiday season. Yesterday, in the middle of a 200-plus stream of complaints on the Microsoft Answers forum, Microsoft employee and Forum Moderator (at least, that's what his badge says) Josh_F dropped this bomb:

To ensure the best experience for our customers during the holiday season, we have taken steps to remove the update for Surface Pro 2 that was previously published through Windows Update on December 10th, 2013. We are working to release an alternative update package after the holidays.

Permit me to flesh that out a bit. On Dec. 10, Microsoft released a firmware update that was intended to improve stability, push updated Wi-Fi drivers, and promote better cover interaction with sleep, screen dimming, and more on the Surface Pro 2. Microsoft keeps a list of the firmware changes on one obscure page on its website -- not in the Knowledge Base, not on the official Windows blog. That page has no indication at all that the botched patch has been pulled.

Microsoft similarly yanked the Windows RT 8.1 update in October, with lots of Surface (nee RT) customers complaining about bricked systems. If there's any sort of audit trail about that botched patch, aside from a Reddit AMA (Ask me Anything) diatribe, I haven't seen it.

In October the problem was Windows 8.1 itself. This month, I'm not talking about patches to Windows -- although heaven knows we're having enough problems with those -- I'm talking about largely undocumented, completely untracked problems with firmware upgrades. Upgrades that Microsoft is dishing out the Automatic Update chute -- and botching -- for its own machines.

What's wrong with this patch, this week, on the Surface Pro 2? Wading through several of the dozen-plus Surface Pro 2-skewering threads on the Microsoft Answers forum, these seem to be the major complaints:

  • Installing the patch may fail with an Error 80070490. That's a catch-all error message we've seen in Windows for years. Microsoft employee and Answers Forum Moderator (or so his badge says... oh, you get the idea) Steven_B claimed it's a "false" error message in this case. Which is small consolation because...

If you do get the patch installed, here's what you may experience on your brand new Surface Pro 2:

  • Problems with the battery charger -- many machines won't charge at all
  • Inability to put your Surface Pro 2 to sleep, hibernate, or shut it down
  • Overheating because of the inability to shut it down
  • Wi-Fi doesn't work
  • A wide array of hardware failures and booting problems

And here's another little bit of coal to dampen your holiday cheer: Microsoft isn't issuing a patch, and it isn't going to roll back the mess it's made. At least, that's what Josh_F's post implies. If you were stupid, er, trusting enough to let Automatic Update have its way on your new machine, you're stuck with whatever problems you may have, until after the new year. Resetting your Pro won't do anything, because a reset doesn't roll back firmware updates.

There are reports, though, that a rollback is in progress (see RamiAlam's post from earlier today). No definitive word from Microsoft, of course.

Usually when Microsoft botches a patch, I put the Knowledge Base article attached to the problem front and center. That makes it easy to follow the latest developments on the problem; in some cases it also helps you roll back the bad patch through Windows add/remove programs. In the brave new world of Windows 8, KB articles aren't always close at hand -- and in the case of Microsoft patching and botching the firmware on their own machines, there's basically no accountability at all.

That's just the Surface Pro 2. I'm also seeing reports of broken Metro Update features on the Surface (nee RT) 2, after the latest patch.

Bah. Humbug.

Maybe you can return your machine or have it replaced under warranty?

This story, "Microsoft yanks second botched Surface update in as many months," 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.