When system updates go bad, the platform owns the problem

Summary:The nature of the computing ecosystem guarantees that those faced with problems caused by software updates will not find any company stepping up to get the problem resolved quickly.

The Windows Phone 7 update problem that has adversely affected some Samsung handsets is not the first problem of its kind by a long shot. Since the first personal computer, the occasional update snafu has raised its ugly head time and time again. What also hasn't changed is the finger pointing that takes place after such a bad update creates problems for device owners. The very nature of the computing ecosystem guarantees that those faced with problems caused by software updates will not find any company stepping up to get the problem resolved quickly.

You've probably experienced this scenario at least once: a system update (doesn't matter what system or platform) gets an OS update. You properly apply the update only to find it breaks something that was working fine prior to the update. You contact the company that provided the update (again doesn't matter what company), only to be told that it must be something in your particular hardware. You're sent packing to the hardware vendor to get the problem straightened out. That company sends you back to the update provider, since it is clear their update caused the problem. You are in the dreaded endless support loop.

If the update is a smartphone, as is the case with this Windows Phone 7 problem, there's a third layer of finger pointing involved. One owner of a newly bricked Samsung phone comments on a ZDNet blog that Microsoft, owner of the update, promptly sent him to either his phone carrier who owns the business relationship with the customer, or to Samsung. The carrier told him the problem belonged to Samsung, maker of the hardware that is now inoperable. Samsung pointed fingers back at Microsoft, who produced the update that instigated the hardware failure. Samsung stated it would accept the phone to attempt to repair it, but could not guarantee a replacement if the repair failed as it was Microsoft's update that bricked it. Eventually the poor chap was told by the carrier that it would return his dead phone to Samsung on his behalf (not owning the problem but helping him out), and a repair/replacement would take place in 4 to 6 weeks. He'd get a loaner phone eventually, as the carrier was out of them currently.

While this is nothing new, it is directly attributable to a very broken support ecosystem. The company that makes the platform software does not make the hardware nor the driver software that makes the system talk to the OS. With smartphones the carrier adds its own stuff to the mix to get it all working on its network. It's the old "too many cooks" scenario, and the loser is the customer, the one who ponied up cash to get thrust in this position.

The reality is perception is everything, particularly in the mobile electronics space. The owner of the software, in this case Microsoft, owns the problem in the eyes of most consumers. No matter what (or which company) actually caused this update to fail on these WP7 phones, most everyone believes it is Microsoft's problem. They own the platform, they made the update, they own the failure. If business agreements exist that force Microsoft to send these owners with bricked phones to other companies for resolution, then shame on Microsoft for entering into them as such. You made a big deal about taking control of the Windows Phone 7 update process, Microsoft, so you'd better step up for a quick resolution. It is your reputation, plain and simple, that is taking the hit for this problem. Understand that, and resolve it on the behalf of the customers that are indirectly supporting you.

Topics: Software, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Windows

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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