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Windows 10: New study shows Home edition users are baffled by updates


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How annoying are Windows 10's automatic updates? In a new study, a group of UK researchers report that users of Home edition experience unexpected restarts and inconsistent installation times, caused by inappropriate defaults and inadequate notice of pending updates.

The single biggest complaint about Windows 10 is its approach to security and feature updates. Monthly cumulative updates and twice-yearly feature updates are downloaded and installed automatically, which can result in unexpected reboots that disrupt productivity and risk the loss of unsaved work. That pain point is particularly acute for anyone running Windows 10 Home edition, which lacks any controls for delaying and deferring those updates.

 

Since the initial release of Windows 10 nearly four years ago, Microsoft has been tweaking its approach to automatic updates, adding Active Hours settings to ensure that mandatory restarts are less likely to be intrusive. Recent feature updates have also made notifications of pending updates more obvious.

 

Are those changes enough to ease the pain? A new study from a group of UK-based researchers suggests Microsoft has more work to do.

 

The study, titled "In Control with No Control: Perceptions and Reality of Windows 10 Home Edition Update Features," was presented this week at the Workshop on Usable Security (USEC) 2019 in San Diego, California. Researchers Jason Morris, Ingolf Becker, and Simon Parkin of University College London, built a detailed model of Microsoft's update process as of Windows 10 version 1803 and then surveyed a group of 93 Windows 10 Home users.

 

The overall conclusions were a mixed bag. In general, the survey respondents think that the Windows 10 update approach is an improvement over that found in previous Windows versions. Among participants who had experience with earlier Windows versions 53 percent reported they felt updating Windows 10 is easier, versus only 8 percent who found the process more difficult.

 

Similarly, a majority of respondents agreed that the Windows 10 update process causes fewer interruptions than in previous versions (43 percent agreed, 21 percent disagreed).

 

Where Microsoft has fallen down, the researchers argue, is in building an update system that is "dependent on a complex range of user and system properties." That system, illustrated by the flowchart shown here, is simply too complicated for the average home user to understand.

windows-automatic-update-flowchart.jpg

For their survey, the researchers built this Windows Update model

Morris et al., Workshop on Usable Security (USEC) 2019

The Active Hours feature draws the most criticism in this respect, with the authors arguing that its default settings are inappropriate for 97 percent of their test subjects.

 

To minimize disruption, they note, "users need to understand the 'active hours' concept and ... the configuration of active hours should ideally align with their usage patterns."

 

Neither of those conditions are true, they found. First, only 28 percent of respondents were even aware of the Active Hours feature. Second, the default window of 8AM to 5PM might be appropriate for businesses, but it's wildly out of sync for home users, based on the self-reported behavior of this group. Of the 93 survey participants, only three reported hours of use within those limits, with the overwhelming majority typically using their PC on weekday evenings.

 

And even among the 26 participants who were aware of the feature, 10 had not changed it from the default settings even though it clashed with their daily schedule.

 

Not surprisingly, that resulted in about half of the survey respondents reporting that they had experienced unexpected restarts.

 

The other noteworthy finding from the research is that users don't understand how often updates are delivered, nor do they appreciate the difference between monthly quality updates and semi-annual feature updates. That can lead to anxiety when an unexpected feature update takes well over an hour compared to the 12 minutes or less that a monthly cumulative update takes.

 

The survey respondents, who were generally well educated and experienced PC users, reported by an overwhelming 95 percent margin that they trust Microsoft as much as or more than other software makers at the  task of delivering updates.

 

The researchers offered a few recommendations based on their findings.

 

The most important is that Windows "obtain explicit permission for restarts consistently." They note that doing so might require adjustments in the Active Hours default settings for Windows 10 Home  as well as better progress displays.

 

Second, they criticized Windows 10 for offering insufficient notice of restarts. Unlike, say, a Chromebook, Windows 10 Home Edition does not provide a persistent warning that the system has a restart pending.

 

That's especially a problem when the user chooses the option to restart at a specific time. In that configuration the system shows a warning and then restarts within a few minutes. "If a user is absorbed by other tasks," the researchers argue, "the computer could, in the mind of the user, appear to restart unexpectedly despite them having been responsible for the chosen time. We think that one's computer should not reboot while in active use."

 

Finally, they suggest that Microsoft do a better job of warning about the significantly longer times required for feature updates. "[W]e think a notification that describes an update as one 'that could take a little longer than other updates' is failing to set accurate expectations to support users in planning around the availability impact of these updates."

 

That latter recommendation skips right past the real question, of course: Why is it necessary to deliver feature updates twice a year? Given that these updates are time-consuming to install and offer significant potential for disruption, why not offer Home edition users at least some control over when updates are installed.

 

In fact, why not offer the option of an annual schedule for feature updates? Maybe two feature updates a year is just too many.

 

Source: Windows 10: New study shows Home edition users are baffled by updates (ZDNet - Ed Bott)

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Researchers rip Microsoft over Windows 10 update restarts

Windows 10 Home's update and upgrade processes are confusing users and leaving them frustrated, researchers from University College London found.

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Microsoft has created a mirage for users of Windows 10 Home, crafting an illusion of partial control over updates and upgrades, researchers have concluded.

 

In a paper presented at the Workshop on Usable Security - part of the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium - in San Diego on Feb. 24, researchers from University College London analyzed Windows 10 Home's update and upgrade processes, and the behaviors of experienced users, 93 of whom completed a long survey. The researchers' goal: assess how well the Windows 10 update model fit the needs of users.

 

"[Windows 10 Home] may give users the impression of having a greater degree of control over restarts than they actually do," Jason Morris, Ingolf Becker and Simon Parkin,said in their paper.

 

ZDNet's Ed Bott reported on the research earlier in the week.

 

Unlike other versions of Windows 10 - notably Pro and Enterprise - Home does not allow users to defer the constant security updates and twice-a-year feature upgrades. Instead, their PCs automatically download and install the updates and upgrades. Microsoft has couched this behavior, which was a dramatic break with decades of Windows' practice, as critical for securing the OS and keeping it up to date with new features, functionality and technologies. At the same time, Microsoft uses this compulsory practice to ensure there are millions of users serving as de facto quality control testers.

 

Microsoft added settings to reduce what it believed were the primary pain points for Home users, notably the restarts required to complete most updates and upgrades. In mid-2016, for example, Microsoft added "Active Hours" with the 1607 feature upgrade; the setting blocks out time when mandatory reboots are not to occur.

But the no-restarts-during-this-block-of-time setting doesn't take into account actual PC usage. Windows 10 Home defaults to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Active Hours, just as do its more sophisticated siblings, Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise. (That means required restarts are not to take place during those hours.)

 

The trouble, of course, is that while the block excludes reboots during traditional business hours - justifiable for Pro and Enterprise - Windows 10 Home is not a business-grade OS. As its name implies, it's the consumer, aka at-home user's, operating system.

 

And consumers don't use their PCs solely, or even much, during business hours: Just three of the 93 survey participants, or about 3% of the total, restrained the use of their computer to the default Active Hours. All but six, or 6%, said they typically used their device on weekday evenings, prime time for Windows 10 reboots according to the default setting.

Just as importantly, the researchers reported, most users don't even know they can restrict reboots to specific blocks of time. Only 28% of those surveyed knew of the setting. And of those who did know of Active Hours, 38% hadn't bothered to change the default despite knowing their work patterns conflicted. The bottom line, according to the researchers: Nearly half - 47% - of those surveyed reported that their computer had unexpectedly restarted to finish installing an update or upgrade.

 

Additionally - and this should give Microsoft pause - the users were largely mystified by elemental aspects of updates and upgrades even though the Windows' maker has gone to great lengths to explain, again and again, the differences between monthly updates, security and otherwise, and the twice-annual feature upgrades.

 

On average, users thought updates were less frequent than in reality, with nearly half saying they believed updates were delivered every two months or less. (In the real world, Windows 10 Home typically receives two updates each month and three in many months.) Nor were they well-versed in the update vs. upgrade difference; 71% thought updates addressed problems while 87% said updates added new features at least occasionally. That, the paper stated, implied "participants thought software updates add features more frequently than they fix errors."

 

Those gaps in users' information perplexed them at best, worried them at worst. One example put the problem in terms most Windows users could relate to. "Half of participants agreed that the longer a restart took, the more concerned they became," the researchers said. "Participants did not appear to recognise and appreciate the implications of different types of updates (monthly cumulative vs. feature). The cues used by Windows are subtle, but the implications are potentially significant. As part of our own research, we measured the time taken by a cumulative monthly update in our virtual environment. Where this took 12 minutes, the feature update took 12 times longer."

Users' unmet expectations - the feature upgrade is taking forever, or at least far longer than the last security update - was a danger both in the abstract (their perceptions of Windows) and the concrete (prematurely bailing from an upgrade). And other failings contributed to users' anxiety, the researchers asserted.

 

"Windows gives neither an estimate before nor during the updating process, and our own research showed the progress indicator can progress unevenly," they said.

 

Morris, Becker and Parkin concluded that there is a disconnect between the controls Microsoft offered in Windows 10 Home and what users needed. "We think Windows is not sufficiently explicit in seeking user permission for updates and restarts," the threesome argued.

 

Microsoft should take another crack at mitigating update and upgrade issues, the researchers added. For one thing, restarts should never occur when the PC is being used, which can happen when users defer an impending reboot, then pick a future execution date and time themselves. "We believe that restarts should not occur if the system is in active use," they said.

 

And the Active Hours feature, which they called "flawed," needs a different approach. "Prompts to users act to shape the installation of updates, but not the shaping of preemptive controls such as active hours," Morris, Becker and Parkin argued. "Relating adaptability to visibility, the user is in control with no control."

 

The researchers urged Microsoft to make use of its machine learning technologies to customize Active Hours. "Based on the limited use of active hours reported by our participants, an alternative may be for Windows to learn sensible defaults from usage activity and set appropriate restart times automatically," the paper stated.

 

Source: Researchers rip Microsoft over Windows 10 update restarts (Computerworld - Gregg Keizer)

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