Microsoft Windows as a service still finding its footing

As Microsoft continues to battle bugs in Windows 10, some analysts and developers blame its quality-control process and a lack of services in Windows as a service.

Despite a measured rollout of beta versions and a heightened quality-control process, Microsoft still can't swat the bugs away from Windows 10.

The difficulty, in part, stems from Microsoft's decision to push more responsibility for quality control onto its beta testers. Some of them neglect to report flaws they discover, and there's no central location where users can see reported bugs and whether Microsoft fixed them.

A more orderly approach to report and fix flaws could have prevented last month's market retreat of both the Windows 10 October 2018 Update and Windows Server 2019, some analysts believe. Microsoft withdrew the latest release of Windows 10 after some users reported they lost data, and then it withdrew Windows Server 2019 for fear the Windows 10 flaw could similarly affect the server operating system. Microsoft rereleased both versions earlier this month.

The most disturbing aspect about the latest flaw is it was reported to Microsoft more than once, and the company apparently took no action -- or at least not quickly enough.

"[The flaw] was either reported and ignored, or reported and [Microsoft] thought it would affect only a small number of people and they could get a fix out before it became widespread," said Michael Cherry, senior analyst at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash.

In a blog post, Microsoft defended and detailed its quality-control efforts, and it said it revamped processes to develop, deliver and update the operating system that shift responsibility for base functional testing to its development teams to deliver higher-quality code. But the company also now depends more on data and feedback to better understand users' experiences with Microsoft products.

Microsoft gravitated to the Windows as a service approach more than three years ago as a faster and more efficient approach than the old service-pack model that delivered new versions of the operating system every two to three years.

"The whole point of [Windows as a service] was so you could reduce the number of Windows versions in support," Cherry said. "But what do we have now? We have more Windows versions in support than at any time in Windows history."

Windows as a service also satisfied Microsoft's desire for a steady revenue stream. But adherence to a product release schedule adds pressure to get products out the door, ready or not.

Office 365 is a real service, because it has these elements [central bug tracking and SLA] ... With Windows as a service, we have no way of gaining these insights.
Michael Cherryanalyst, Directions on Microsoft

"You are talking about the operating system here, so the need to get something right is up on a higher level," said a Boston-based Windows developer, who requested anonymity.

Other analysts believe the Windows as a service structure doesn't properly address the mammoth and complex Windows user base. In fact, Windows as a service doesn't function much like a service, Cherry said. It has no public, central location for users and developers to accurately track bug fixes and no service-level agreement.

"Office 365 is a real service, because it has these elements," Cherry said. "With Windows as a service, we have no way of gaining these insights."

In response to the latest Windows 10 flaws, Microsoft said it would add a Windows update status dashboard within a year to offer more information on any technical issues that could delay a Windows update.

Some don't buy into the argument that the root of the problem lies in the size of the Windows install base, or the endless combinations of hardware and software they use. There are currently 700 million monthly active Windows 10 devices, 35 million application titles, and 16 million unique hardware and driver combinations, Microsoft said.

"If you are going to take the credit for that, then you also have the responsibility to make sure it does work on all those devices," said a solutions architect with a large technical services provider, who requested anonymity.

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