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Peter Pontificates: MSFT to Non-Win10 Users – No More Driver Updates for You!

I don’t know if you’ve heard the news yet, but in case you haven’t:  Microsoft has plans to make it impossible to update drivers on Win 7, Win 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 – Including Windows Embedded 8 and Windows Embedded 8.1.  You can read the policy here.  You can read a more complete explanation and analysis of this issue in my blog post on this topic from Mid-October, here.

Most people who hear about this think I’m exaggerating.  Or that I’ve misread the doc pages.  But, I assure you, after talking with my friends up in Redmond they have confirmed to me that in fact this is the plan: Starting early next year it will no longer be possible to cross-sign new drivers.  The only updated drivers you’ll be able to load on any flavor of Win 7, Win 8, Win 8.1 or Windows Server 2012 R2 will be WHQL/WLK Certified drivers.  Period.  Full stop.  End of story.

We had heard… or maybe just hoped… that Microsoft was going to extend Attestation Signing to versions of Windows other than Windows 10.  Sadly, that has not materialized.

One thing that makes this plan so particularly distressing is that Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 are still supported.  Windows 8 Embedded and Windows 8.1 Embedded are still supported.

So, this leaves customers who are running on any of these systems with three options, none of which are the least bit realistic or viable:

  1. Never update any drivers – This is entirely unrealistic.  There will be bugs.  These bugs will need to be fixed.
  2. Get any drivers that you want to update to pass WHQL/WLK testing – This is entirely unrealistic.  There are categories of drivers, and of hardware, that will never be able to pass the WHQL tests.
  3. Upgrade to Windows 10 – This is also entirely unrealistic.  People don’t update well-integrated, supported, versions of the OS “just because.”

I am at a loss to understand what MSFT expects the customer base to do.  I am at a loss to understand how anybody could think this is a good plan.  It feels to me like some Microsoft middle manager simply does not understand the vastness of the ways that Windows is used.

If the goal is to push people to upgrade to Win10, this is a very wrong-headed idea.

You can’t just run Windows Update on a carefully configured system running Windows Embedded in a medical device, or on an aircraft, or on a system that does continuous process control in a refinery. These systems have all been specifically qualified with specific versions of Windows and updating to a different version of Windows accomplishes exactly NOTHING except destabilizing these systems.

You can’t just upgrade 85,000 corporate desktops, that have been running specialized in-house LOB applications, for years.

If this policy doesn’t change, I predict it will provide an impetus for folks to move OFF the Windows platform.  It feels like a grossly arbitrary decision.  If you can’t update drivers for the version of Windows you’re using, and changing to a different version of Windows would require that you requalify your entire system, maybe it’s just as easy to move to a different OS entirely?  Has MSFT broken trust with these users?  Could this not be just one more nail in Windows’ coffin in a lot of areas?

Maybe Microsoft doesn’t understand, or maybe doesn’t care about, the customer base that’s running these systems.  But we – the IHVs and ISVs that make the software that makes the world work – certainly do care. 

That’s why we must work together to get Microsoft to change this plan.  The community has done it before.

Work your technical contacts. Get the message clearly presented to the folks you work with at MSFT.

Even more important, you must explain the problem to the managers at your company who regularly engage with MSFT. You must get your execs and your managers to raise this issue with their MSFT contacts.

Because if we don’t change this policy, lots of Windows users are going to be put in very difficult positions.

The time to act is now, folks. Microsoft needs to hear from you and from your management team.

The clock is ticking…

Peter Pontificates is a regular column by OSR Consulting Partner, Peter Viscarola. Peter doesn’t care if you agree or disagree with him, but there’s always the chance that your comments or rebuttal could find its way into a future issue. Send your own comments, rants or distortions of fact to: PeterPont@osr.com.