Microsoft mirrors Google move, shelves Edge upgrades

Microsoft last week followed Google’s lead, telling customers that it was suspending releases of its Edge browser.

Citing “current global circumstances” rather than outright naming the COVID-19 pandemic and its upturning of, well, virtually everything, Microsoft said it would not upgrade the current Edge 80 to the next version, Edge 81.

“As the situation evolves,” Microsoft said, it will inform customers of other changes, and presumably when it will resume Edge refreshes, through the Microsoft Edge Dev account on Twitter.

Google made a similar announcement March 18, telling Chrome users it had stopped upgrading the browser a day after it was due to shift from version 80 to 81.

Google didn’t say COVID-19 triggered the decision either, asserting that the “adjusted work schedule” was to blame. Both decisions were, of course, clearly caused by the pandemic and its disruptions, including vast numbers of company employees sent home to work there.

(In a tweet, Paul Kinlan, the lead for the developer relations team at Google, ticked off several specific reasons for the suspension, including “lower productivity, worry about asking ecosystem to change, being able to respond quickly when there’s an issue.”)

It wasn’t a surprise that Microsoft followed Google in halting browser upgrades. Both Chrome and Edge, after all, rely on the Google-led open-source Chromium project for their core technologies. “We are making this change to be consistent with the Chromium project, which recently announced a similar pause due to adjusted schedules,” wrote Kyle Pflug, principal program management lead, in the Friday post.

Like Google, Microsoft told users that it will continue to service version 80 of its browser with security updates. The Redmond, Wash. company did just that Thursday, when it refreshed Edge to build 80.0.3987.149; that build included fixes for the same vulnerabilities cited by Google when it patched Chrome 80 the day before.

Mozilla has not said if it would maintain its every-four-week schedule of upgrading Firefox, which last month accounted for far less browser share than Chrome but more than Edge. The next update, to Firefox 75, is expected April 7.

Microsoft adds 6 months support for Windows 10 1709 to account for pandemic disruption

Microsoft today extended the support lifespan of Windows 10 Enterprise 1709 and Windows 10 Education 1709 by six months, pushing their retirements to Oct. 13. The original end-of-support date had been fixed as April 14.

Microsoft cited the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, which in just the U.S. has ranged from massive business closings and multi-county lockdowns to a broad movement of companies telling white-collar employees to work from home. By midday March 19, 171 deaths in the U.S. had been attributed to the virus. Globally, deaths approached 10,000.

“We have been evaluating the public health situation, and we understand the impact this is having on you,” wrote John Cable, director of program management, in a March 19 post to a company blog. “To ease one of the many burdens you are currently facing, and based on customer feedback, we have decided to delay the scheduled end of service date for the Enterprise, Education, and IoT Enterprise editions of Windows 10, version 1709.”

Three years of support for 1709

Windows 10 1709 launched in October 2017, and although the Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro editions of the release received just 18 months of support — until April 9, 2019 — Enterprise and Education got 30 months of updates. Microsoft split customers into 18- and 30-month groups in September 2018, when it created the latter support lifespan for its most important customers, larger businesses and organizations.

Under Microsoft’s 18/30 scheme, Enterprise and Education receive two and a half years of support only for the fall feature upgrade, the one labeled yy09 in the firm’s four-digit format. The spring upgrade, yy03, provides only 18 months of support to everyone and every SKU (stock-keeping unit).

The six-month extension for 1709 will supply customers security updates through the usual channels, including Windows Update, Windows Update for Business, Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and the Microsoft Update Catalog. Cable also promised that update management processes would not need to change during the added months. “All supported versions of Microsoft Configuration Manager (current branch) will continue to support Windows 10, version 1709 until October 13, 2020,” Cable said.

By tacking on six months to 1709’s support lifecycle, Microsoft will make it the first version of Windows 10 to receive 36 months, or three years, of support. Three years is somewhat of a magic stretch in Windows, as it was the long considered the ideal interval between OS upgrades, as in Windows 7 (2009) releasing three years after its Vista (2006) predecessor and three years before its Windows 8 (2012) successor.

By giving enterprises six more months to migrate from 1709 — when IT was staring at a deadline of less than a month — Microsoft has reduced the pressure on admins of laggardly firms to keep client systems protected. Instead of trying to hustle during a time when everything has been disrupted if not thrown into complete chaos, IT staff, likely with a lower headcount and if not, then on a lower productivity level, can work without panicking.

Unsettled release and support calendars could be the new normal

Putting off upgrades, whether suspending them as Google did this week when it paused Chrome refreshes, or delaying support deadlines as Microsoft has done, may be the smart move under current conditions. There’s no reason to hew to an established schedule at a time when upgrading hundreds or thousands of systems should be among the lesser worries of a business. Time spent dealing with upgrades and the inevitable questions and problems workers pose and report afterward is time wasted when keeping the business in business is dominant.

In fact, it would be a surprise if the Wednesday announcement was the last of its kind from the Redmond, Wash. company, or if Microsoft and Google were the only software makers to do this. If COVID-19’s impact hasn’t lessened in several months, Microsoft may simply shove 1709’s date back even more, then add the next in line, Windows 10 1803, to a growing list of postponements. (The Windows 10 1803 Enterprise and Education SKUs are now due to fall out of support Nov. 10.)

Likewise, there’s no reason Microsoft couldn’t delay the launch of its next feature upgrade, Windows 10 2004, from the expected April to, well, much later this year. Or cancel the year’s fall refresh, which under normal circumstances would be pegged 2009, altogether.

All release and support calendars are, if not moot, then certainly unsettled.

Microsoft claims ‘inflection point’ for remote work as Teams surges to 44 million daily active users

Demand for Microsoft Teams has surged to 44 million daily active users, the company said on Thursday, with an additional 12 million users in the past week as workers across the world begin to work from home in response to the spread of COVID-19.

Adoption of Teams has grown swiftly in the past 12 months, reaching 20 million users as recently as November.

The recent increase in home working has occurred as workers across the world self-isolate to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with many businesses requiring staff to work from home. This has led to a huge uptick in demand for video and team chat applications such as Zoom, Slack and Teams. At the same time, various vendors have announced free access to certain collaboration software product features, while Microsoft announced today that all UK National Health Service staff will have free access to Teams.

“The increase in numbers I think makes a lot of sense considering the pivot we have started to see over remote work since February,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at research firm Creative Strategies.

Rising adoption will have a longer-term effect on working practices, Microsoft said as it released the latest user figures for Teams on the third anniversary of the application’s launch, with remote collaboration becoming more commonplace.

Recent use cases include doctors consulting with patients via Teams, Microsoft said, while teachers are using the app to connect with students as schools close in many countries.

“I really do think this is an inflection point, and we’re going to look back and realize this is where it all changed,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, in a pre-recorded press briefing. “We’re never going to go back to working the way that we did.”

Teams, which is available at no extra cost for business subscribers of Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud productivity suite, was launched in 2017 and has become Microsoft’s core communication tool, replacing Skype for Business Online. 

The collaboration platform is Microsoft’s response to the runaway success of Slack, which launched six years ago and popularized channel-based communications with its workstream collaboration app. Slack, a standalone tool with a free tier and paid tiers, has 12 million daily active users. The company has hotly contested Microsoft’s user statistic claims.

Teams contrasts from Slack in various ways, however, incorporating voice and videoconferencing and document editing capabilities in addition to group chat. The breadth of features available in Teams — similar in that respect to Cisco’s suite of tools — could provide an advantage over independent point solutions such as Slack and Zoom, said Milanesi.

These “best-of-breed” products integrate tightly with each other — with Slack and Zoom striking up a close partnership in recent years — as well as with many other third-party applications.

But while Slack has benefited from its ground-up viral adoption in the past, many large organizations, especially those that already use Office 365, may find it more expedient to roll out Teams to connect staff at short notice.

“At the time when a fast and efficient rollout is needed, IT might find it easier to turn to Microsoft (or Cisco) rather than a Slack or a Zoom,” Milanesi said. “That top-down approach that might have hurt Teams in the past might actually favor them at this time.”

New Teams features

Microsoft also announced a range of feature updates to Teams on Thursday.

Real-time noise suppression will help reduce background noise for video meeting participants, while a “raise hand” feature makes it easier for everyone to get their say during group calls. This builds on other video features added to Teams since it incorporated Skype for Business’s functionality, such as live captioning and background blur.

Other features announced include an offline mode and low-bandwidth support that will make it easier to continue chat conversations without a good internet connection; pop-out chat windows; integration with RealWear head-mounted displays for frontline workers; and Microsoft 365 Business Voice, which offers small and midsized business a complete phone system in Teams.

An integration with Microsoft’s Bookings app will make it easier for healthcare consultants to arrange video meetings with patients. 

Milanesi said Microsoft is making solid progress as it competes with others in the video meeting software market. 

“Teams seems to be catching up with Zoom on some features like backgrounds and raise hand, but overall I think Teams feels like a more polished solution in the way it comes together,” she said. Teams has as an advantage in its “verticalized cloud and AI approach that allows [Microsoft] to deploy solutions like the real-time noise suppression,” she added.

Microsoft starts to beat Windows 10 2004 drum for biz

Microsoft must be getting this close to delivering the latest Windows 10 upgrade. Last week the company began what will likely be a long-running pitch of 2004, the four-digit label, to enterprises.

Joe Lurie, a Microsoft senior product marketing manager, kicked off the drumbeat in a March 10 post to a company blog. “Here is an early peek at the great commercial features coming later this year,” Lurie wrote, implying but not outright declaring that what he plumped would be contained in Windows 10 2004.

In the post, Lurie couched his list of enterprise features as currently accessible only via Windows Insider, specifically the often-overlooked Windows Insider for Business, the preview program spinoff Microsoft maintains.

Lurie touted several new commercial-grade features coming to Windows 10 in version 2004. Computerworld will focus on the ones most likely to make a difference in the enterprise. (They are not in order of importance; that’s a call we’re currently unwilling to make.)

Cloud download to reset Windows

“We’ve added the option to recover Windows 10 by downloading the necessary files from the cloud, resulting in increased reliability and, depending on your internet speed, a faster recovery,” wrote Lurie.

Earlier versions relied on existing local files to rebuild Windows when the “Reset this PC” option was triggered. With 2004, customers can instead download the same build, version and edition currently installed. User- or management-installed apps must be reinstalled, as does user data if the maximalist “Remove everything” setting is selected.

Using “Cloud download” makes the option unattractive to those without high-speed connections; the download will weigh in at almost 3GB.

Less down time, more efficient use of the network, during feature upgrades

“With Windows 10, version 2004, offline time continues to decrease, from a median time of over 80 minutes in version 1703, to less than 20 minutes in version 2004,” Lurie said.

More of the upgrade process has been shifted to the background — a Microsoft pursuit since early 2017 as it prepped and then launched Windows 10 1703. User-needed-now actions have been pared even further, and reboots, Lurie claimed, have been eliminated in some cases.

Also on the 2004 slate related to upgrading — and, for that matter, updating as well — is a toolset designed to make more efficient use of network resources while downloading installation packages. For the overarching Delivery Optimization service, which shares the download burden among multiple devices, users can now set absolute values for throttling, rather than as a percentage, from Settings. (Currently, this throttling can be done only at the admin level via group or mobile device management policies.)

Lurie also signaled that a cloud-based Delivery Optimization service will be available — likely of interest only to larger customers — that will detect “download storms on your network,” then curtail from-the-cloud downloads in favor of using local sources, including clients that have already grabbed the upgrade or update. Also, the service would “dynamically [choose] which devices can download updates first,” so that some — say, those piloting a future upgrade — are served before the masses. “Note: This client feature requires a cloud service support, which will be available in the near future, for full functionality,” Lurie added.

WDAG the dog

“Application Guard helps protects users and devices from old and newly emerging threats using containers to open files received from untrusted or potentially unsafe locations,” Lurie contended.

Windows Defender Application Guard (WDAG), which debuted as a protection on the original EdgeHTML version of the Edge browser, isolates IT-defined sites to protect employees from potential attack. The Chromium-based Edge has supported WDAG since August 2019 as a beta feature. The technology requires Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise.

Windows 10 2004 will allow Edge extensions to run in a WDAG container; Lurie also pointed out that when policies are enabled in 2004, WDAG gets switched on as soon as an Office 365 ProPlus client opens a document. (This requires a Microsoft 365 E5 or Microsoft 365 Security E5 license.)

O 2004, where art thou?

Windows 10 2004’s moniker may seem to signal an April release, but earlier this year there was no reason to assume that month was when it would debut; Microsoft added 1 to the usual four-digit yy03 label for the spring upgrade so as to ensure it wasn’t confused with Windows Server 2003.

With the extraordinarily long lead time — Microsoft began pushing this upgrade to Insiders in February 2019 — Computerworld expected Windows 10 2004 to have launched by now.


So, what’s a likely release date? Computerworld has no more insight than any other source outside the halls of Redmond, Wash., but if we were to bet, it would be April 14, next month’s Patch Tuesday.

But there’s nothing to stop Microsoft from delaying 2004 even more, pushing it, for example, into May. A postponement, in fact, might be very smart considering the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact — notably the push to get employees out of crowded workplaces and into their homes, where they’re working on personal or company-owned personal computers. Maintaining those machines when they are outside the organization’s perimeter, not inside it as usual, may be difficult for IT personnel little used to refreshing remote systems.

Disruptions due to an upgrade — or even a lesser update that went south — that might have been easily solved in-house may be disastrous to the worker’s ability to, well, work, when she is at home and IT not at hand. Putting off an upgrade, even if the PC is unmanaged and so under the command of a consumer, could be a brilliant move at this point.

More information about what’s new for business in Windows 10 2004 can be found in this extended support document. Another document, a superset of the first, can be found here.

One and a half years late, Microsoft finally puts Windows 10 over the 1 billion mark

Microsoft today claimed that Windows 10 powered a billion devices, a milestone the company originally said it would meet between one and a half and two and a half years ago.

“Over one billion people have chosen Windows 10 across 200 countries resulting in more than one billion active Windows 10 devices,” asserted Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president, in a March 16 post to a company blog.

The bulk of those devices were undoubtedly desktop and notebook PCs, although Microsoft also tallied Xbox game consoles, which run a version of Windows 10, as well as extremely niche devices, like the Surface Hub.

Microsoft set the billion-or-bust objective months before it launched Windows 10. In April 2015, the Redmond, Wash. firm’s chief operating system executive, Terry Myerson, said, “Our goal is that within two to three years of Windows 10’s release there will be one billion devices running Windows 10.”

Windows 10 was released at the end of July 2015, so Myerson’s two-year mark would have been July 2017 (32 months ago) and his three-year target, July 2018 (20 months ago).

At the time, analysts said Microsoft’s ambitious goal was actually conservative or if not that, then certainly reachable. Yet less than a year after Windows 10’s debut, Microsoft had disowned the billion-device target.

“Due to the focusing of our phone hardware business, it will take longer than [end of fiscal year 2018] for us to reach our goal of 1 billion monthly active devices,” a company spokesperson said.

The “focusing” the spokesperson mentioned was a reference to the disastrous path Microsoft forged for its mobile business. Less than two years after announcing the acquisition of Nokia’s phone assets — and just weeks before launching Windows 10 — Microsoft admitted the move was a catastrophe when it wrote off $7.6 billion. The resulting collapse of Microsoft’s smartphone strategy, along with a cratering of consumer PC sales — all that kept that business afloat were commercial sales as businesses prepped for Windows 10 — put the billion out of reach.

It wasn’t the first time that Microsoft’s number crunching led it to set boastful goals. In 2012, then-CEO Steve Ballmer seemed to say that the at-the-time impending Windows 8 would be on 500 million devices within its first year. Although Microsoft later contended that Ballmer’s comments had been miscast, he and others at Microsoft kept arguing that upgrades to Windows 8 would create a lucrative audience for app developers. In the end, Windows 8 was judged a flop, peaking at under 18% of all Windows devices, a lower crest than even Windows Vista six years earlier.

Today’s 1 billion device claim came remarkably close to a Computerworld estimate based on data from analytics vendor Net Applications. According to the California company’s February data, Windows 10 accounted for 65.1% of all versions of Windows. Microsoft has long touted the number 1.5 billion as the installed base of Windows PCs. The 65.1% of 1.5 billion for February represented approximately 976 million desktop and notebook personal computers, just a baker’s-dozen-plus-one millions shy of Microsoft’s magic number.

Windows 10 has only open seas in front of it. With Windows 7 now retired from support and Windows 8/8.1 already under a 5% share, it won’t be long before 10 is the last Windows standing.

It was no coincidence, of course, that Windows 10 reached the billion benchmark after the veteran Windows 7 had been pushed aside. One could conclude, then, that Microsoft might only have made its time-sensitive goal if it had moved up Windows 7’s retirement two years.

Northwell Health deploys Microsoft Teams as secure messaging tool for clinical staff

Northwell Health is connecting tens of thousands of hospital workers with Microsoft Teams, improving collaboration between clinical staff and reducing the time needed to access patient information.

Northwell, the largest hospital network in the New York City area with 23 hospitals and 800 outpatient facilities, began its deployment of Teams as a secure messaging platform at the start of last year.

The reason for choosing Teams was to provide staff with a secure and compliant method of text communication, enabling hospital workers to share protected health information (PHI) on mobile devices, said Northwell Health’s chief medical information officer, Michael Oppenheim.

“At the most basic level, we need to provide a solution to enable providers to be able to communicate in a HIPAA-compliant way,” said Oppenheim. “Standard SMS texting on a phone is not sufficiently secure, so we wanted to be able to provide folks with something they could use from a desk, from a handheld [device], and have ad hoc communications with each other.”

Video is another key use case for connecting clinical staff. “Right from within Teams you can communicate, you can launch a meeting, you can have a multi-way collaboration with video. It enables us to take what we wanted from a clinical collaboration perspective beyond just an ad hoc texting tool.”