Microsoft Cites New Patch Guidance for Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 R2

Microsoft indicated this week that the patch cycle for Windows 8.x and Windows Server 2012 R.x systems follows a different approach than in the past.

Those newer operating systems can get three kinds of patches: a "monthly rollup," a "global standalone patch" or a "limited release patch," according to a blog post by Robert M. Smith, a senior premium field engineer for platforms at Microsoft. In addition, those patches get classified as "critical," "important," "recommended" or "optional."

The terms used in the blog post appear to be somewhat new. Wes Miller, an analyst with the Directions on Microsoft independent consultancy, commented in an e-mail that he had never heard Microsoft use the terms, "global standalone patch" and "limited release patch."

Update (9/30): Via e-mail, Smith explained that the terms aren't official.

"I used the term 'Global standalone patch,' not as an official moniker, but more of a pseudonym for the same term that has been used before, 'hotfix,' or 'LDR.' I refer to those terms on one of my other blogs posts."

That other blog post explains that Microsoft has general distribution release (GDR) patches, which are internationally released and widely tested, and limited distribution release (LDR) patches that are not widely tested but still supported by Microsoft. Hence the "global" and "limited" terms.

Smith also explained in his e-mail that Microsoft has been rolling up its hotfixes to make it easier for enterprises to find them.

"All you have to know [is] keep applying 'critical' updates as soon as possible, and the monthly rollups as soon as they can be evaluated, tested, and deployed," Smith explained. "All of that being offered through WU/WSUS, so therefore we can stop proactively looking for hotfixes to address a problem we encounter."

Microsoft signaled in June of last year that it was going to step up its Windows release pace. However, company officials never provided much explanation about what to expect in terms of software releases and the patch-release process. In August, Microsoft announced that it would use its monthly security patch release cycle to deliver monthly updates (both security updates and nonsecurity updates) to Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 operating systems, but that's been about it so far.

Microsoft has long described its patch approach in a "Standard Terminology" publication, which describes the different kinds of updates it releases. However, at press time, that publication was last updated on Sept. 9, 2013. It doesn't contain the apparent "new" terms described by Smith.

On top of the patch definitions, Smith described the concept of a "milestone" software release. An example of a milestone software release would be moving from "Windows 8 to Windows 8.1, or from Windows Server 2012 to Windows Server 2012 R2," he explained.

Monthly Rollup. A monthly rollup is a collection of software patches released each month that "are essentially cumulative since the previous rollup," according to Smith. Microsoft used to call that kind of patch an "update rollup." For instance, a September update rollup would contain all of the updates since the August update rollup, but none earlier. Typically, all of the earlier monthly patches would have to be present on a system before an IT pro could install the latest update rollup. A Windows milestone software release (such as Windows 8.1) changes this scenario by setting a new baseline for getting any subsequent monthly rollups, according to this scheme.

Global Standalone Patch. A global standalone patch is designed to fix a "critical" or "important" issue in the OS. These patches arrive through Windows Update or they can get downloaded through the Windows Update Catalog, according to Smith. A global standalone patch sounds a lot like Microsoft's older concept of a "security update." Typically a security update gets released on the second Tuesday of each month, but Smith did not define when a global standalone patch might arrive.

Limited Release Patch. Smith defined a limited release patch as "fixes that are generated most often as the result of a critical customer support incident." A limited release patch must be downloaded, either through Windows Update or the Windows Update Catalog, according to Smith. Microsoft used to refer to patches created to address customer complaints as "hotfixes."

Microsoft recommends testing and installing "critical" and "important" patches as soon as possible. The "recommended" and "optional" patches should be tested and installed as needed.

Despite the new terms, IT pros likely will be familiar this latest patch guidance from Microsoft. Smith did note that it was "subject to change."

Microsoft will hold a press event for its next Windows (thought to be called "Threshold" or maybe "Windows 9") on Tuesday, Sept. 30. Veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley has speculated that the next Windows release may use a new bug-tracking technology that could facilitate faster OS releases by Microsoft. So far, however, the faster pace has only seemed to cause Microsoft to release problematic updates to Windows users.

The patch release cadence for the next Windows is still up in the air, according to Miller.

"I've been theorizing for a while that we'd see the same cadence we've been seeing with 8.1 through 9, but I'm not sure," he said. "I definitely think they're trying to deliver more features, faster."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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