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For IT, Windows 10 update 2004 complicated by COVID-19

Microsoft's Windows 10 update 2004 is set to release amid the coronavirus pandemic. Experts and IT admins say the appetite for new features may be mixed.

Microsoft is readying its latest Windows 10 feature update for release, but given the complications posed by COVID-19 quarantines, IT professionals may avoid installing it for the time being.

The Redmond, Wash., firm released Windows 10 update 2004 to its Windows Insider Program and a general release is expected in May. Among the anticipated changes are improving the productivity-focused Cortana assistant; streamlining Windows Search to reduce use of resources such as CPUs; using downloaded cloud files instead of local files when making use of system recovery tools; letting administrators require biometric authentication instead of password logins; and making Bluetooth-device pairing easier.

The software giant also announced that it would extend support for Windows 10, version 1809 -- a move it attributed to helping organizations focus on business continuity during the coronavirus crisis. While Microsoft intended to release the final security update for that version May 12, support will now end Nov. 10.

Analysts and IT pros said organizations would have to decide whether it is best for them to update their users remotely, or to stick with their current, stable versions of Windows 10 for the time being. The fact that past Windows updates have caused problems, such as the February 2020 update causing the failure of an OS recovery tool, could complicate the decision.

A difficult time for change

Andrew Hewitt, an analyst at Forrester Research, said he expected a mixed reaction to the Windows 10 update 2004 from IT professionals.

Andrew Hewitt, analyst, Forrester ResearchAndrew Hewitt

"On the one hand, you have the security issues of not updating and not providing that patch capability," he said. "I think many organizations would want to have the most up-to-date patches."

Conversely, Hewitt said, many IT organizations would prefer not to distribute the update to remote workers.

"It depends on the infrastructure you have in place for endpoint management," he said. "Those that are used to patching in a remote environment will likely take up that offer."

Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Mark Bowker said pushing an update out to a remote workforce may be challenging for IT staffs and help desks that likely already have their hands full. The ad hoc nature of some work-from-home options, he added, may contribute to that issue.

Mark Bowker, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy GroupMark Bowker

"You also have situations where employers have told their employees to go buy a laptop at Staples or Best Buy or Fry's," he said. "Those are Windows 10 Home editions that [IT admins are] now finding they have to manage in some way."

Bowker said, though, that administrators should also look into the update's features and see if any of the changes will bolster their efforts to enable remote work.

"Microsoft is working around the clock to make sure people who work from home have the best experience," he said.

Mixed reaction

William Warren, owner of Emmanuel Technology Consulting, an IT services company based in Brunswick, Md., said he would take a cautious approach with any updates to the computers he manages. Warren previously criticized Microsoft for not adequately testing its changes to Windows.

William Warren, owner, Emmanuel Technology ConsultingWilliam Warren

"Any machine that is on 1809 will stay there," he said. "Any machines that have been upgraded have gone to 1903 only."

Warren said he would not even recommend using 1909 at this point, to say nothing of the upcoming 2004 update.

Chris McMasters, CIO of the city of Corona, Calif., said he would typically be leery of changing things in a situation in which in-person help is impossible. However, he said that using virtual desktops had allayed that concern; the city's IT staff can deploy central, master images that users then access, as opposed to updating individual devices.

"It really doesn't matter what their endpoint is," he said. "It doesn't matter if their computer is outdated or not outdated, or if they're using a tablet or phone."

The city, McMasters said, also uses A/B testing to ensure updates, such as the Windows 10 update 2004, won't cause serious problems.

"We'll have a test group and, once everything's kosher, we'll release it. Two or three days later, everyone's on the newer image," he said. "If we see a problem in the testing phase, we can roll [the update] back."

Such an approach has allowed the city to be progressive in its updating efforts, McMasters said.

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