Microsoft Partners Baffled By Quietly Communicated Windows 8.1 Upgrade Ultimatum

Microsoft is giving customers running its Windows 8.1 operating system 30 days to upgrade to its recently released Windows 8.1 Update. And if customers don't upgrade, they'll no longer be able to get future security patches.

Starting with Microsoft's May "Patch Tuesday" release on May 13, Microsoft customers with Windows 8.1 PCs will have to be running the Windows 8.1 Update in order to download that month's batch of security patches, as well as future ones, Steve Thomas, a senior consultant with Microsoft Consulting Services, said in a blog post Saturday.

The new policy only applies to customers that download Windows updates manually from Microsoft's Windows Update Catalog or MSDN, Thomas said.

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Many enterprises use Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), a Microsoft tool that automatically downloads and installs updates and security patches to networked PCs. However, Microsoft suspended distribution of the Windows 8.1 Update through WSUS last week because of a technical glitch.

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While enterprises can still download the Windows 8.1 Update manually, Microsoft is advising them to wait until it releases a coming fix for the WSUS problem -- which means some enterprises are facing the prospect of large-scale Windows upgrades at the same time Microsoft is advising them to wait for it to fix a problem with the Windows 8.1 Update.

Customers running Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 don't have to upgrade -- they'll continue receiving security patches as they always have, according to Microsoft.

Thomas said in the blog post that Microsoft "has been listening to customer feedback." But Microsoft partners CRN spoke with on Monday described the Windows 8.1 Update situation as confusing and counterproductive.

"Corporate IT departments get 30 days to fully vet and implement a patch or they get no further patches? Is this some kind of belated April Fools' joke?" said Andy Kretzer, director of marketing and sales at Bold Data Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based system builder and Microsoft partner.

Kent Tibbils, vice president of marketing at ASI Corp., a Fremont, Calif.-based Microsoft system builder partner, found it strange that Microsoft chose to share such important news in a weekend blog post.

"We are also wondering why they would limit this to having to be done in the next 30 days. I really can’t see Microsoft putting this time-line limitation in place and then only mentioning it is a blog post," Tibbils told CRN.

Another longtime Microsoft partner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, provided an even less charitable assessment of the matter. "Until Microsoft releases Windows 9, we aren’t touching it. We're also encouraging customers to stay away," said the source.

Thomas said Microsoft wants to coordinate its servicing of Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows 8.1 RT and Windows 8.1, and requiring customers to apply the Windows 8.1 Update sets a consistent baseline across its user base.

While the anonymous Microsoft partner said this makes sense, he took issue with Microsoft's method for communicating its goal in this case.

"Technically, I can understand why they’re doing this. But from a customer perspective, they’re not winning any awards for their empathy. This type of forced upgrade only reinforces that thinking," said the source.

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The Windows 8.1 Update, unveiled earlier this month at Microsoft's Build conference, includes a number of improvements for users that prefer using a keyboard and mouse to navigating via touch, as well as beefed-up mobile device management, among other features.

As it turns out, the Windows 8.1 Update also fixes the many bugs that found their way into the initial Windows 8.1 release, Delcie Bean, CEO of Paragus IT, a Hadley, Mass.-based Microsoft partner, told CRN.

Essentially, Windows 8.1 had so many issues that Microsoft needed to release a patch to fix them, which is why Microsoft is so adamant about Windows 8.1 users upgrading, according to Bean.

"The irony here is that typically when you release a buggy OS, the first service pack is supposed to correct for that. In this case, the first service pack [Windows 8.1] actually introduced more bugs than were present in the original release. [The Windows 8.1 Update] is supposed to address that. Its almost like a service pack for a service pack," Bean said in an email.

This story was updated on 4/15/2014 to add additional Microsoft partner comments