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“Windows as a Service” isn’t really working

By Adam Z. Lein March 31, 2018, 10:40 am

With Windows 10, Microsoft attempted to move development of Windows into a more service-like system. Instead of releasing completely new upgrades of the operating system every 2-5 years and then spending another year or two refining the previous update with "service packs" that fix all the bugs that were in the initial release, with Windows 10, Microsoft is just releasing updates as they're available with two updates per year meant to bring new features. On paper, that sounds like a really good idea since users will get more features more quickly and there won't be such a huge learning curve when you get a new computer in 5 years. This experiment has been going on since 2014 now, and unfortunately we're seeing quite a few problems with how things have progressed.


Don't get me wrong, even as an Ex-MVP, I'm a big fan of Microsoft, so I hope you'll read this in the tone of "constructive criticism" and certainly not flat-our bashing. We'll see if Microsoft can get things together and turn WaaS into something really productive.

Windows Mobile

The first big casualty of Windows as a Service was Microsoft's latest smartphone operating system; Windows 10 Mobile. We had been very critical of the Windows 10 Mobile during its beta test stages throughout the early winter and summer of 2015. Microsoft's head of the design team, Albert Shum, responded to criticism explaining that we were looking at an early preview and that things would change before the operating system was released. It was released in December of 2015, and there was still plenty to criticize!

Three years later, Windows 10 Mobile is finally stable enough to actually use without frequent crashes, but Microsoft has also completely given up on the platform as no new phones have been released in years and there are no plans for Microsoft to add new features to the operating system any time soon (or at all).

This will probably prove to be a huge problem for Microsoft as mobile smartphone computing is a huge part of everyone's daily life. With Windows Phone 7-8.1, Microsoft was able to keep their mobile platform alive (after the onslaught of iOS and Android killed off all of the other smartphone players) by adding a lot of very unique and compelling capabilities to a seriously well-designed operating system.

One big reason for the change from Windows Phone to Windows 10 Mobile was the "Universal Windows Platform" where developers could create universal apps that ran on all sorts of devices including desktop PCs and mobile phones without any change to the application code. The problem was that the new Universal apps Microsoft created for the platform highly resembled their terrible counterparts made for Android. So that said to consumers that there was no reason to buy into Windows 10 Mobile since all of the good things about it were removed. Now that Microsoft has given up on making Windows for smartphones, there's really no compelling reason to create UWP apps. It doesn't really offer more capabilities than other development platforms nor does it provide any kind of consistency or increased usability to the ecosystem.

Does management even know what's going on?

One of the big features that everyone was looking forward to in Windows 10 and Windows Mobile integration with the Anniversary Update in 2016, was the "Messaging Everywhere" initiative. A lot of work was put into the Messaging apps in order to get SMS messaging to sync between devices. Of course, the messaging app would sync with Skype instant messages as well. Then at the last minute, just before release… for some reason, Microsoft's upper management cancelled the feature, pulled it from Windows and decided to integrate the feature into Skype instead. What a complete waste of time! Does the CEO not use Windows Insider builds at all and a few weeks before release, someone said, "Hey, you should try this" and that's when he decided to cancel this huge feature that everyone put so much effort into? Who knows?

Granted the idea of having SMS sync built into Skype where SMS conversations could be accessible within all Skype clients on Windows, Windows Mobile, MacOS, Android, iOS, & web is a pretty compelling idea… it's been almost 2 years since Skype has been working on this, it barely works in Windows 10 Mobile and hasn't been added to any other mobile Skype app at all. So that seems to be a total failure too.

More feedback doesn't mean better feedback

A big part of the Windows as a Service initiative is the Windows Insiders program where many thousands of users are able to post feedback to the Feedback Hub and vote on other bug reports or feature requests. Every installation of Windows 10 has this capability to either post feedback or enable the installation of "insider" beta builds of the operating system. That can be a lot of feedback to filter through and manage. This makes for an increased likelihood that huge problem reports often get ignored.

Actually, it would seem that some of the people managing the Windows Feedback Hub feedback posts don't even understand some of the bug reports as is evident by the above where one of my bug reports was filed into a completely unrelated collection.

I've been a beta tester and development consultant for many dozens of projects since the mid 1990's, and usually these programs are focused on releasing the best product to consumers as possible. There's usually much more communication with the development team and much fewer (yet higher-skilled) testers in the program. With Windows 10, it seems the development teams often don't hear about bug reports until after the product is released and there's some public outcry.

Throwing things against the wall to see what sticks

A lot of new features we see coming down the line in Windows 10 updates don't seem to be very well thought-out. A good example of this is the People Bar.

The People bar is a toolbar for the Windows taskbar that allows you to pin contacts to the taskbar. It's not located in the taskbar's right click > toolbars menu though! That's another thing that doesn't make sense. Anyway, they'll have number badges showing new emails or Skype messages and clicking the circle-crop icons will open a small non-resizable window where you can see email messages, skype messages, and contact details. It's supposed to be extendable to 3rd party apps, but only 2 third party developers have added support (QQ and Xing). Microsoft itself doesn't even support it very well as people-related applications like Teams, Skype for Business, Outlook, Xbox App, OneDrive, and even a really big social network (owned by Microsoft) called LinkedIn don't integrate either.

It should have been done in a way where you can pin (to the taskbar or start menu) specific people from the People app as their own application window instances. (It's now possible to make multiple instance UWP apps.) We already have the ability to pin specific people to the start menu and clicking one of those pinned tiles opens up the people app directly to that person's window. That makes sense. It would have been smart to simply implement that as a taskbar icon as well. That way pinned people icons could be arranged on the taskbar in exactly the same robust method that application icons can be arranged. There's no need to make them different from everything else on the taskbar, at least from a user perspective there isn't. Of course, the people app window should still support all of the Skype messaging, email, & other app integration.

Furthermore, that ability to pin specific sections of an app based on content (either to the start menu/screen or taskbar) should be available to all 3rd party developers. That would have been a really smart way to do it!

In the Windows Insider program today, we're now seeing a new "sets" feature which basically ads an Edge Browser style multiple-tab interface to SOME apps. NOT ALL! Only some. That inconsistency should be enough to let you know that the feature should not be released to the public and it hasn't been yet, but I'm willing to bet that it will be released in the messed-up poorly-thought-out way that it exists in the preview builds.

It's true that a lot of people have been requesting tabs interfaces to come to other programs besides the web browser, but this doesn't make much sense to me. We already have a tabs interface for all of the loaded apps in the operating system. It's called the taskbar and usually it sits at the bottom of the screen by default. You can move it to the top of the screen, allow it to expand with button labels, and now you've got an interface that looks just like the tabs in a browser.

Do you seriously need all of that UI clutter and multiple rows of tabs? For most people, the answer is no.

Sure, being able to group application windows into separate window sets might be useful in some cases, but we already have another feature in Windows 10 that does the same thing; virtual desktops. So now we've got 3 separate user interface conventions for managing open application windows? Seems like a little too much, huh? What's worse is that the current implementation of window tab sets replaces the title bar of applications. This would be fine if it were 1995 and all applications had the same title bar as they should, but in 2018 there is a huge lack of consistency in application UI design title bars. There are lots of applications (especially ones made by Microsoft) that make use of that title bar area by adding other buttons and customizable toolbars. So far, the solution is that all of those interface items will simply disappear, which, of course, will have a significant negative effect on workflows. Currently, even if I shut off the Sets feature, the File Explorer is still missing its customizable Quick Access toolbar which would normally be part of the title bar.

The game bar is another feature that sounds like a good idea, but its implementation wasn't very well thought out. The game bar can only be activated by a keyboard shortcut! That's crazy! What if there is no keyboard? I have plenty of tablet-friendly games and plenty of tablets. What if I'm using the touch screen or even a controller plugged into a tablet? I should be able to activate the game bar from the Action Center via those customizable buttons. It is an action, isn't it?

Always provide an off switch for terrible new features.

Creators Updates that destroy creative workflows

Another massive casualty to the craziness of Windows as a Service is all of the creative professionals who bought into Microsoft's apparent interest in developing serious tools for them to use, and then completely breaking their ability to do any work by pushing the "Fall Creators Update" onto everyone.

We warned you about this when the change was first introduced to Windows Insiders. See "These Windows 10 Fall Creators Update features could hurt your creativity". It saw many comments in the feedback hub as well, but most of that was ignored by the Windows Team and subsequently the Fall Creators Update was released, thus breaking many programs that require pen interactions.

There is now talk of starting a class action suit against Microsoft for making some expensive professional-grade tablets suddenly useless, and Microsoft's Surface products are starting to get low review ratings due to this problem introduced by the Windows team. It's a real shame as well since the Surface team does amazing work with their Surface products and it's sad to see that the Windows operating system team doesn't really care as much about a positive or productive user experience. You can find more information about this pen behavior problem on the Edge Dev forums, Microsoft Tech Community Forums, and Microsoft Answers Forum.

The Windows Ink team recently tried to address this with a Reddit post announcing that the Spring Creators Update would allow for a Registry edit that reverts the pen behavior only for Win32 applications. That's kind of ok, but in testing, this actually causes some other problems. For example, using the pen in the Windows 10 Mail app now BOTH scrolls the email AND selects text. It's even more difficult to use now!

Losing data & broken Uis

Not being able to use the pen with apps on a tablet is pretty bad, but what's worse is when a public Windows update actually deletes important data. That's what happened when I updated my HP Z440 Workstation to the Fall Creators Update. Half of my Hyper-V virtual machines were deleted completely instead of being updated to the new Hyper-V version. It wasn't just me, either. The issue was reported on the Feedback Hub a few times as being associated with build 16299.19 before release to the public. That should have been a show stopper that would delay the release of the Fall Creators Update, but it was released anyway.

The Fall Creators Update even released with a broken Action Center. It was practically impossible to scroll through notifications with a touch screen.

To be fair, Microsoft does offer a version of Windows 10 that does not get all of these "feature updates" that cause so many problems. It's called the "Long Term Servicing Channel". This version includes a servicing lifetime of 10 years and does not include things like the Windows Store, Edge, Cortana, Camera, and other UWP bundled apps. This sounds exactly like what business users need for functional reliability, unfortunately, it is only available to Enterprise volume license users.

Some Microsoft employees don't want to use Windows for things it was designed to do

Some of Microsoft's own employees often don't even want to use Windows as you can see by this article explaining how the Outlook design team uses Macs. That's like UPS using FedEx to deliver stuff. If your own employees don't have faith in using your own products for tasks that they were designed to do, you can't expect your customers to. This should be a clue that something is wrong. If this is okay, and Microsoft is willing to flat out accept employees who don't have interest in using their own products, then why even bother? If Microsoft wants to actually do a good job, then find out why those employees can't use Microsoft products and fix the problem. Then do the same with the public who isn't buying Windows PCs anymore.

Sure sometimes this is a case of using the right tool for the right job, but Microsoft makes Visual Studio, they make Surface Studio PCs designed for designers, they even worked closely with Adobe to make Adobe XD as a Universal Windows Platform app.

PC Sales

Global PC sales have been shrinking since 2011. Microsoft's closest competitor to Windows; MacOS hasn't really had any sales increase or decrease, but another product made by Apple has had significant increases; the iPad. Microsoft's Surface line of tablet PCs and convertibles has seen some success as well. It seems the trend is towards smaller tablet-like convertible computers, but there's still a need for some significant innovation especially in terms of software. For example, one of the big plusses about using an iPad is its relative consistency in its user experience. That is something that Windows 10 is continuously losing as new features are being piled on without much regard to user experience consistency or flexibility.

Actually, the thing that's really eating away at both PC sales and tablet sales is still the smartphone, and as we said in the beginning Microsoft has already totally failed in that market in part due to the Windows as a Service initiative and its lack of direction. A good start to turning that around would be to aim towards developing a smart operating system of the future.

Layoffs are coming

According to Petri.com and Microsoft's News page, Microsoft is overhauling and reorganizing the Windows division. Microsoft is replacing Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group Terry Myerson with 4 executives who will be leading different aspects of the group. It sounds like the Windows division is over budget and needs to reduce the head count by June 30th, so that means layoffs are coming. This "Windows as a Service" update structure is a huge pain for corporations and Microsoft has had to extend support for older versions significantly since many companies don't want to deal with the new feature updates since they often make things worse.

Office 365 and Azure are doing really well

Microsoft as a company isn't that bad at converting products into services. They've done it really well for things other than Windows like Office 365 and Azure. Although, they've also done it really poorly for things like music streaming, fitness, health tracking, etc. Still, what's so good about Office 365 and Azure and what are they doing that the Windows team doesn't know about?

I'd say first off, Office 365 isn't releasing updates that break everything subscribers have already paid for. That's a pretty big one. Every addition to Office 365 subscriptions like Teams, or Planner, or even To Do integration is an opt-in addition. As an administrator, I specifically have to enable new features. And, I can specifically disable new features that we don't want in the organization. That's another very important thing. If your company doesn't see how post cat videos into Microsoft Teams chat channels increases productivity (it doesn't), then you can easily disable all of those non-sense features.

Office 365's "Office Insider" program certainly isn't more well-managed than the Windows Insider program. In fact, I'd say it's much worse. First of all the Office Insider program depends on a UserVoice site instead of an app-based Feedback Hub like Windows does. Secondly, I don't think there's anyone really managing those UserVoice pages anymore. Here's a feedback post I added back in the summer of 2017 and it still hasn't been "processed". Thirdly, the feedback posts that were processed are frequently feature requests for things that have been in Office for decades. For example, the ability to change the colors for appointments in Outlook has always been there as part of conditional formatting views. Read receipts, again have always been there. The schedule email feature request has 474 votes even though it's always been there as "Flag with Reminder".

Anyway, the point is that Office 365 is doing really well not because they're managing feedback well (they're not)… but because they understand their users have different needs and they're accommodating a wide variety of usage scenarios without breaking old usage scenarios. The Office development team isn't going to remove Skype for Business until the Microsoft Teams app fully supports all scenarios that Skype for Business is currently used for. The Office 365 subscription plans are extremely flexible allowing you to add and pay for only the services and combinations of services that you need in your organization.

Windows as a Service could learn a lot from that. Sure, some parts of Windows are kind of modular, but the new features being added lately certainly are not. You can't turn off timeline, or sets, or Cortana, or the awful new pen behavior. You can't even turn off these "feature updates" that keep coming to make Windows 10 feel constantly broken.

With this one simple trick, you can please all of the people all of the time

You've probably heard the saying, "You can please some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time." That's not necessarily true. You can please all of the people all of the time, by giving them the tools to make themselves happy . This is what the Office team and Azure team and even Surface Devices team are trying to do. The customization options for those products are so extensive that a huge range of usage scenarios are possible. All you have to do is learn how to modify things in order to work the way you want them to work. The Windows team isn't really doing that. Windows customers are being forced into usage scenarios that often don't even function properly.

For many, the ability to trust this "Windows as a Service" update process has already been severely damaged. Do you feel that Windows 10 feels constantly broken in different ways with each feature update? Let us know in the comments below.


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