Microsoft on Wednesday extended the Windows 8.1 Update migration deadline for businesses by three months, but again told consumers they had less than four weeks to make the move before the company shuts off their patch faucet.
The aggressive schedule was criticized by enterprise IT personnel who saw it as a repudiation of Microsoft's long-standing policy of giving customers 24 months to upgrade to a service pack. Although Windows 8.1 Update (Win8.1U) was not labeled as such, many saw similarities to Microsoft's service packs and believed Win8.1U should hew to that policy as a wannabe for Windows 8.1.
Microsoft didn't see it that way. In an email reply to questions from Computerworld last week, a company spokeswoman said, "Customer support in Windows 8.1 Update is no different than other versions of Windows and Microsoft products" when asked to explain the five-week deadline for installing Win8.1U. "Windows 8.1 Update is a cumulative update for Windows 8.1, and it does not reset the lifecycle support policy for Windows 8," she added.
True: Customers who have not yet upgraded from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 have until January 12, 2016 -- 24-plus months from the former's 2012 release -- to finish their migration before Microsoft will refuse to serve them new patches.
But Microsoft's contention that Win8.1U was no different than any other update, and so was not straying from past practice, was at best disingenuous: The time given for its migration was much shorter, and unlike most other deadlines the Redmond, Wash. developer issues, was sprung on users without advance notice.
If users of Windows 8.1 do not upgrade to Win8.1U within the limited time frame, they will not receive further security fixes, which is the same result as if they had not complied with the 24-month rule after a service pack's release, or, for that matter, if they do not replace Windows 8 with Windows 8.1 within the next 21 months.
Microsoft's best explanation for Win8.1U's required deployment came from another company spokesman, Brandon LeBlanc, who announced the extension for businesses. "Windows 8.1 Update ... reflects Microsoft's commitment to providing a more rapid cadence of feature improvements for our customers," LeBlanc wrote Wednesday.
Analysts articulated Microsoft's rationale in much the same way, although in more colorful language. "Microsoft is going to drag organizations and users into this new world of faster updates kicking and screaming," said Michael Silver of Gartner a week ago.
Customers now running Windows 8.1 and who use Windows Update to retrieve and install patches and other bug fixes must be on Win8.1U by May 13, the next regularly-scheduled Patch Tuesday, to receive security updates without interruption. That was left unchanged by Microsoft on Wednesday.
However, enterprises and other organizations that rely on WSUS (Windows Server Update Services), Windows Intune or System Center Configuration Manager to obtain and deploy patches now will have until August 12 to migrate from Windows 8.1 to Win8.1U.
LeBlanc alluded to customer complaints when he described the new deadline. "We've been actively discussing this new approach to servicing with enterprise customers and listening to their feedback regarding managing the deployment timeline," he wrote. "As a result, we've decided to extend the timeframe for enterprise customers to deploy these new product updates from 30 to 120 days."
While the additional three months will likely be welcome news to firms managing Windows 8.1-powered devices, the 120 days will still be just one-sixth the usual grace period given when Microsoft ships a service pack, or what was given Windows 8, which followed the service pack required migration timetable.
Also on Wednesday, Microsoft said it had fixed a bug that had prompted it to suspend delivery of Win8.1U to organizations running WSUS, and was again pushing Win8.1U through that channel. The seven-day stoppage of Win8.1U had reduced businesses' initial five-week window to four, and perhaps contributed to Microsoft's decision to extend the deadline into August.
Others, however, remain plagued by a variety of error messages that have popped up when they tried -- unsuccessfully -- to update Windows 8.1 to Win8.1U. A series of threads on Microsoft's support forum, including one that has been viewed over 18,000 times and contained more than 400 separate entries, both large numbers by Microsoft standards, were still active Wednesday.
The same deadline of August 12 also applies to Windows Server 2012 R2 Update, which like Win8.1U was released last week, Microsoft said in a separate post on its Windows Server blog.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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