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Impending cumulative updates unnerve Windows patch experts

Gregg Keizer | Sept. 23, 2016
'Hoping for the best, expecting the worst,' says patch maven about October change to cumulative updates for Windows 7

"Enterprises will lose the control that they have had," said Goettl. "They won't be able to handle exceptions anymore."

Why the change?

Microsoft said it grafted the Windows 10 patch process onto Windows 7 and 8.1 to bring a whole host of improvements to the older OSes. Last month, Mercer ticked off everything from higher-quality updates to reduced administrative overhead as benefits. But, as when the company defended the practice at its introduction last year with Windows 10, its strongest argument revolves around fragmentation.

"Historically, we have released individual patches for [Windows 7 and 8.1], which allowed you to be selective with the updates you deployed," Mercer said. "This resulted in fragmentation where different PCs could have a different set of updates installed leading to multiple potential problems."

Outsiders weren't so sure.

"This was one of the final barriers to many companies making the switch to Windows 10," contended Goettl. "Being able to pick and choose which updates to deliver to systems, especially in the case where something breaks, had many companies holding back from moving to Windows 10."

That Microsoft might be pushing the new patch system to discourage customers from staying with Windows 7 (Windows 8.1 never achieved any meaningful usage in business) may be backed by history. In past instances, Microsoft has typically declined to make changes to a Windows edition during its last five years of support, a period pegged as "Extended" and one in which non-security fixes are generally not generated.

Windows 7 has been in Extended Support since January 2015; the operating system is slated to exit all support in three years and four months, in January 2020.

Windows Vista, for example, which will fall off the support list even sooner -- in April 2017 -- will not get the patch overhaul.

But Microsoft's scheme of nudging customers to migrate to Windows 10 by denying Windows 7 the flexibility of individual patches could backfire, countered Bradley.

"The response I see from enterprises is that this is taking time away from their testing/deployments of Windows 10," Bradley said, adding that the Microsoft's switcheroo means resources that might have been devoted to a migration will instead have to be assigned to revamping Windows 7 patch planning and deployment.


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