Tech

Windows 10 upgrades are rarely useful, say IT admins

A majority of IT administrators polled this summer said that the twice-a-year Windows 10 feature upgrades are not useful – or rarely so – a stunning stance considering how much effort Microsoft puts into building the updates.

About 58% of nearly 500 business professionals who are responsible for servicing Windows at their workplaces said that Windows 10 feature upgrades – two annually, one each in the spring and fall – were either not useful (24%) or rarely useful (34%).

Only 20% contended that the upgrades were useful in some fashion, while a slightly larger chunk – 22% – choose a noncommittal neutral as a response, claiming that the operating system’s updates were neither useful nor not useful. (It might be best to consider this answer as undecided since in this binary world if something is not not useful, that must mean it is useful.)

The results came from a questionnaire circulated last month by Susan Bradley, a computer network and security consultant who moderates the PatchMangement.org mailing list, where IT administrators discuss updates and exchange information. Bradley also writes for AskWoody.com, the Windows tip site run by Woody Leonard, a Computerworld columnist.

Bradley also polled IT personnel in 2018, when she posed many of the same questions as this year. The results then were even more dismissive of the usefulness of Windows 10’s upgrades. Two years ago, nearly 70% of the respondents said the feature upgrades were not useful (35%) or rarely useful (34.5%). About 12% called the upgrades useful to some degree, while around 18% were unable to decide one way or the other.

Thus, in two years, the not-much-use-for-upgrades group shrunk by 12 percentage points while the upgrades-are-somehow-useful pool grew by 8 points.

Even with these improvements, in 2020 a majority of IT was unconvinced that the feature upgrades had significant value. (Only 4% of those surveyed agreed that the upgrades were extremely useful.) That was in striking contrast to the pride of place that Microsoft put the feature upgrades, which continued as the cornerstone of the company’s Windows-as-a-service (WaaS) philosophy.

If an upgrade is released and no one cares, does it make a noise?

“Clearly, Microsoft needs to reconsider its upgrading process … and make the goals more transparent,” Bradley wrote on Askwoody.com (membership required) when she first reported on the poll.

There is a disconnect between Microsoft’s efforts and expectations – months of development time and testing to produce features and functionality that customers will clamor for – and the reaction by, in electioneering terms, a landslide-sized majority of those customers. In many cases, IT admins simply shrug at what Microsoft trumpets.

“I understand the concept of WaaS, and the ability to upgrade the OS without a wipe/re-install is a good concept,” one of those polled said. “((But)) let’s concentrate more on useful features, like an upgraded File Explorer, a Start menu that always works, and context-sensitive (and useful) help, and less on, ‘It’s time to release a new feature update, whether it has any useful new features or not.'”

Some were considerably harsher in taking feature upgrades to task. “Don’t have a clue why they think some of the new features might be worth our time, or even theirs,” said another of those polled.

And others decried what they saw as wasted opportunities. “It’s mostly bells, whistles and window-dressing,” one IT admin said. “It seems like no fundamental problems are tackled. Although updates DO every now and then cause new problems in fundamental functionality. Looks like there’s at least some scratching done on the fundamental surface – ((but)) without explanation.”

Or maybe more of a waste of time than wasted chances. “Microsoft spends the greatest amount of development in releasing these twice-a-year feature releases and … enterprises are not rolling them out fast enough to take advantage of them,” noted Bradley in an email reply to questions.

Indeed.

Because organizations running Windows 10 Enterprise or Windows 10 Education receive 30 months of support for each fall upgrade (but only the fall upgrade; the spring refresh comes with only 18 months of support), it’s possible for the most agile IT departments to skip multiple updates, and refresh their PCs only once every two years. (Upgrading once annually is a given with 30 months of support.) What this means is that enterprises and their employees eventually are exposed to all Windows 10 new features. But not a Microsoft’s pace.

Again, are these upgrades worth the work Microsoft puts into them? Bradley’s poll, as unscientific as it was, says, No, no they’re not.

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