Microsoft overhauls Windows 10 updates to avoid broken releases

Microsoft hopes a new mechanism, longer preview stage and machine learning tools will consign update catastrophes to the past

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Microsft will overhaul the way it deploys its biannual Windows 10 upgrades in light of the high-profile April and October 2018 Update disasters.

Conventionally, Microsoft would initiate updates on Windows 10 machines automatically once its data indicated that users would enjoy a safe and frictionless experience. But starting with its next major flagship upgrade version 1903, which will be released on 10 May, users will instead be notified that the update is available to download and install.

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Moreover, these big feature updates can now be initiated independently to essential security updates downloaded via the check for updates mechanism. Updates can also be deferred for up to 35 days.

This is in addition to several major changes around the processes Microsoft employes to ensure development and release goes smoothly. This includes an extended preview stage, and added machine learning capabilities to flag any potential issues.

A public Windows release health dashboard, meanwhile, will communicate key decisions clearly and frequently, according to Microsoft. This interface will resemble the Windows 10 Update History page, but features near real-time information on the rollout status and known issues across both major and minor updates.

"We believe the steps we've taken provide Windows customers more choice and control on updates while continuing to enhance our focus on quality," said Microsoft's corporate vice president Mike Fortin.

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"With a more robust and longer Release Preview and further investments in machine learning for both high-severity issue detection and our next generation of intelligent rollout, our goal is to provide the best, transparent Windows update experience."

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Microsoft hopes the May 2019 Update will mark a step-change from the notoriety gained following the April and October 2018 releases, which were collectively riddled with several catastrophic bugs and deployment troubles.

Last spring's release, version 1803, caused a handful of machines to experience the infamous 'blue screen of death', or sparked reboot problems, within 24 hours of installation.

This pales against a litany of issues users encountered with October's version 1809, the most significant being a critical file-deletion bug. These errors led Microsoft to suspend its initial deployment, then later re-releasing the update, suspending it a second time, releasing it for Windows Insiders, then making it publicly available a third time in mid-November.

But this third release was only available for users to manually download themselves by checking for updates, with Microsoft not deeming the upgrade safe enough to deploy automatically until just last week.

The May 2019 Update will become available in its release preview stage from next week, with Windows Insiders gaining access to the new features over the next month. This will then become generally available to Windows 10 users via the new 'download and install now' mechanism from late May.

Microsoft has recommended that IT administrators begin validating the apps, devices and infrastructure used by their organisations to ensure they work well with the release before deploying version 1903 broadly.

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