The latest Windows 10 update from Microsoft hasn’t gone smoothly formany users due to a conflict with an outdated driver for Intel’s RapidStorage Technology. This is somewhat ironic in that RST wasdesigned to improve the performance of storage hardware. Certainversions have slowed the install process, and in some cases the program actually has made installation of the Version 1903 Windows 10 update impossible.
Some users have been able to download a later version of RST and getthe update to work, but for many others even that won’t solvethe problem. For now the best course of action may be simply to waitand hope the two companies can resolve the conflict.
This is just the latest such case of software conflicts users haveexperienced since Windows 10’s release four years ago. Microsofthas said it will be the last version of the desktop/laptop operatingsystem. Instead of major jumps to a completely new version, Windows will get regular updates. In theory that should limit conflicts, butin practice there have been numerous problems.
Just this year Windows 10 users encountered problems with Netflix. In one case, a Netflix app wouldn’t update to reflect the latest releases. Also, the May 2019update of Windows 10 resulted in audio glitches for many users.
Such problems are not isolated to Microsoft’s Windows 10 however. There are similar problems with manyapps and even hardware devices that require routine updates.
Content fromstreaming TV services has failed to update; smart thermostats have failed toconnect to a home’s WiFi. Worst of all, companies have simplypulled support for certain products, leaving them all but unusable.
In other words, we face a serious disconnect in the connected home.Smart products seem kind of dumb, and automatic updates are anythingbut automatic! Technology that in many cases promises simplicity hasn’t been so simple. Instead of merely pushing a buttonto complete a task, we’re often left troubleshooting a serious problem.
Broken Window Syndrome
The recent Microsoft conflict with Intel’s RST isn’t the first majorsnafu with Windows 10, but it suggests that using the “final” Windows OS might not be smooth sailing in the years to come.
“You can’t really say too much about this,” admitted Roger Kay,principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.
“As the last version of Windows, the idea is to keep the OS up todate, but it’s like Brer Rabbit’s vegetable patch,” he toldTechNewsWorld. That is, the best laid plans canfail due to a simple flaw or oversight.
“It is fair to point out just how unbelievably complex the updateprocess has become,” said Jim Purtilo, associate professor in thecomputer science department at the University of Maryland.
One part of the problem is that Microsoft must deal with anever-increasing number of platforms, each with a unique configurationof drivers and other peripherals, he noted.
“Then mix in all the events, surprises and practices of users, who canbe awfully unpredictable. They’ll flick the power, hammer onkeyboards, and offer all manner of other surprises,” he toldTechNewsWorld.
“In spite of all this, most of the time Microsoft gets it right,”Purtilo pointed out. “Some serious engineering goes into making that beso. Unfortunately, that still leaves a lot of times they don’t getthings right.”
The level of complexity is an issue for all widely used operating systems.Updating them is extremely important for security andperformance reasons, but with so many third-party programs now thrownin the mix, the possibility for update errors and problems has increased.
“Microsoft probably has the hardest update challenge,” Purtilo said. “They retain the longest logistical tail — that is, they keepsupporting the most versions of platforms over time — and the insidesof the system have a lot of properties left over from oldarchitectural decisions that complicate matters, since we’d never dothings that way today.”
Microsoft is not alone in grappling with problems associated with major updates.
“Apple’s updates are complex too, but they exercise stronger controlover the architecture and cut off the logistical tail. In OS X, theystop pushing updates for old versions pretty quickly,” notedPurtilo.
“Linux has at least as much variety as Windows has dealt with, but italso has open structures that make updating a little simpler,” he added. “It was built to accommodate multiple ways to perform important tasks under the hood.”
Different Software Stacks
Even within the main operating systems there isn’t enough being doneto ensure that all the apps and other software will becompatible universally. Back when “PC” meant an IBM PC — or at least one that was IBM-compatible — that was less of an issue, in part because the systems were lesssophisticated.
Now Microsoft supplies an OS that runs on untold numbers of PCs.
“In the old days you’d compatibility test your software across as manydevices as possible, and Microsoft would say it works so the hardwaremakers shouldn’t change anything,” said Endpoint’s Kay.
“If you changed one thing in the software stack it could break, andeveryone understood this, but today those rules no longer apply,” headded.
“In the case of the recent update failings, that is because Intel andMicrosoft used to be best buddies so they were on the same page,” Kay explained, “butnow they’re not cooperating as closely as they used to, and we’reseeing the results.”
In addition, other software vendors are updating theirapps continually, and problems arise when they aren’t in sync. What makes theseproblems much harder to address is that the PC vendors largely have discontinuedthe tech support they once offered.
“Outside of the operating systems and some heavily used products,consumer software sucks, and support — especially for drivers,firmware or mobile apps — is virtually nonexistent,” said University of Maryland’s Purtilo.
“This reflects a market reality: There is a lot of room for producersto innovate and offer products, whether or not they know what they aredoing. There is a lot of demand — consumers are willing to try lots ofstuff based on pretty flimsy representations — and most of the profitis based on who can throw their software over the wall to consumersfirst,” he added. “Someone inclined to design for quality andsustainability risks losing that race to the market.”
Another problem with today’s computers, as well asmany Internet of Things devices, is they must interact so much with other devices, third-party applications, and an ever-constantstream of updates. Thus Microsoft doesn’t just update Windows 10, itmust work with its vendor partners that have introduced a plethora ofapps into the ecosystem.
Thus compatibility troubles arise — such as with the recent Intel RST — thatcan’t be overcome easily.
“Interoperability has become one of the largest problems,” warnedRoger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics.
“Increasingly IoT devices fall into the Apple, Amazon, Google orMicrosoft camps to ensure at least some level of interoperability,” hetold TechNewsWorld.
However, these respective camps are not interoperable with one another.
“Companies are using this to create moats to lock consumers into theirecosphere and monetization universe,” noted Entner.
Some third-party companies try to get around these ecosystem requirements byproviding non-official devices/products/apps that claim to work evenif the official support isn’t there.
As a result, the home branch of IoT can leave users in a lurch withincompatible drivers, said Kay. “Even someone who is fairly technical can have trouble sorting it all out.”
Rewriting the Rule Book
There is also the fact that more and more people now createsoftware. What once was the domain — and occupation — of programmershas become open to the less skilled. Unfortunately, whereas software engineers andprogrammers understood the big picture, many software app designersare looking only at a micro-level.
In other words, if it works on their PC that often is good enough.
“We’ve put programming in a box,” Purtilo said. “Anyone can go make a product and pitch it to the world. That’s easy.”
Product assurance doesn’t come in the box, though.
“It is still pretty hard to anticipate conditions under which ourprogram must operate tomorrow,” Purtilo pointed out.
“We know how to do that, but while we spend the time designing aprogram that will keep solving consumer problems into the future, themarket is rewarding people who didn’t have to look past their nosestoday,” he noted. “What we find is that with more people writingmountains of code, more people are reinventing the old design problemsthat our field had solved long ago.”
Controlling the Home
This quandary has gotten worse, and likely will continue to deepen, simply because IoT is overtaking the PC as the main technology in a home.
“Home virtual assistants … have taken over the old schoolhome hub, but these aren’t really a hub in the traditional sense,”explained Kay.
Home technology is “morphing as products come out, in part because companieswant to sell hardware, whether it is a thermostat or a light. It isabout the future of the smart home,” he added.
The issue has become more complex as systems tend to bebuilt around a particular OS or ecosystem that isn’t compatiblewith rivals. Thus consumers buy into one system, but shouldit lose vendor support, the system can break down quickly.
“We’ve seen examples where a company is sold so the support for theirproduct simply ends,” said Kay.
“For these reason,s home IoT isn’t really ready for prime time — wedon’t know which ecosystem to pick, and you have to trust that thecompany will continue to support it,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about it until a viableopen source solution is developed,” observed Entner.
That is unlikely to happen soon — but 5G wireless networks actually could make the situation worse.
“The number of devices is about to explode — the field is creatingmore ways for devices to talk with one another, but not offering a lotof guidance on how to say it,” Purtilo warned.
“It will be a Tower of Babel scenario, and we’ll need time for themarket to shake out — meaning a lot of consumers will buy devices thatquickly turn into useless ornaments,” he suggested. “We will also seeconsumers disillusioned by the high power consumption of thesedevices, which is great for manufacturers but not for people who payto keep them in batteries.”
So where does this leave the average consumer? Many companies don’toffer tech support phone lines anymore, and those that do typically charge. ,p .”Microsoft is unlikely to help you unless you’re willing to pay a lotof money for premium support,” cautioned Kay.
Even many experts might not be able to solve compatibility problems, simply because they are far more than a glitch.
“If tech-savvy consumers can’t do it, then mostly I will presume the GeekSquad can’t do it either,” remarked Purtilo.
“The market will shake out such that only devices we can maintain willremain, though it is hard to predict how expensive it will be for usto get there,” he added. “This is probably a lot like medicine was 150years ago, when disease was just starting to become understood, butanyone could become a doctor just by hanging out a shingle. As aconsumer, how could you tell the healers from the quacks?”