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Microsoft implores enterprises to help it test optional Windows 7 updates

Gregg Keizer | May 27, 2015
Accept optional updates, rollups as they come out, Microsoft asks firms running Windows 7; argues that it's the way to get ready for Windows 10

Microsoft wants enterprise IT administrators to play guinea pig by deploying a lot more fixes to Windows 7 and Server 2012 R2, another step in getting customers to help test patches before rolling them out everyone.

In new guidance outlined during a session at the company's Ignite conference three weeks ago, Thierry Paquay, a principal group program manager on the Windows Update team, told corporate IT administrators they should transform their update practice -- a process that if adopted would shift older OSes, including Windows 7, to a model very much like the one that Windows 10 will use.

Rather than deploy only security updates, Paquay urged enterprises to also roll out optional updates -- typically one-shot fixes to specific bugs -- as they are released, then back fill with the "rollup" updates Microsoft will regularly issue. Those rollups are collections of dozens or even scores of bug fixes that Microsoft will deliver for older OSes.

"Our recommendation is that you deploy [the optional] hotfixes proactively," said Paquay during a 70-minute talk. He also asked corporations to install the cumulative rollups.

Paquay cited two reasons in asking enterprise IT staffs to change their habits: To help Microsoft, and to help themselves.

Help us..., please

Microsoft already has roped consumers into testing non-security updates by marking them "optional." About 4% of consumer Windows customers -- he characterized them as "experts of some kind" -- manually apply optional updates, resulting in millions of monthly installations that give Microsoft an idea of patch quality and help it resolve problems. (The other 96% rely on a completely-automated Windows Update, which doesn't include optional updates.)

Typically, an update pegged optional is relabeled "recommended" -- meaning it is automatically installed by Windows Update -- a month or so later, once Microsoft has evaluated feedback, made corrections, and given it the green light.

But Microsoft is getting little information on those optional updates from enterprises, which usually ignore them unless they apply to specific problems encountered by the company's PCs or servers. That's what Microsoft has told update managers to do for years: Until recently, the Redmond, Wash. firm has religiously suggested, "Don't apply this hotfix unless you experience this particular problem," in each patch's accompanying advisory.

Paquay wants businesses to "validate" all optional updates -- conduct their normal internal testing, in other words -- then deploy every last one. The reason: To give Microsoft more information, particularly from business-grade machines, about the patch quality so that it can make necessary changes and promote the optional to recommended.

Microsoft will change the language in optional hotfix update advisories to read, "Deploy Hotfixes Proactively," to align with Paquay's plea.


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