Windows 10 April 2018 Update: Here's what you can expect
This week, a flurry of headlines from leading tech news sites announced that the latest Windows 10 release is rolling out at breakneck speed.
Peter Bright of Ars Technica reported the news matter of factly: "The Windows 10 April 2018 Update, version 1803, is enjoying the fastest rollout of any Windows 10 major update thus far... [A]s of the 29th of the month, it's now being used on just over half of all Windows 10 machines."
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ZDNet's Liam Tung offered a similar conclusion: "The Windows 10 April 2018 Update is the fastest Windows rollout of Windows 10 since it was first released in 2015, [reaching] 50 percent market share in one month..."
Paul Thurrott added some caustic commentary: "Microsoft is spewing this update out at an unprecedented rate. Why they are doing so is unclear, given the many problems that users have had with this update. (Not to mention the internal issues that delayed the original release.) But there it is, even worse than I had expected. Much worse. Irresponsibly worse."
All three of these stories include accurate summaries of a third-party report released this week. But a closer look suggests that the data behind that report is, to put it charitably, weak.
The report comes from AdDuplex, which bills itself as the "leading cross-promotion network for Windows Phone and Windows applications." On a separate web page, the company says it's the "leading user acquisition platform for Windows Phone and Windows."
The inclusion of Windows Phone, a now-defunct product, on those blurbs should be a red flag.
And calling this a "leading ad network" is also a stretch. Here's how AdDuplex describes its core product:
What is AdDuplex?
AdDuplex is a cross-promotion network specifically targeted at Windows Phone and Windows Store apps and games. It empowers developers and publishers to promote apps for free by helping each other.
For each 10 ads displayed in your app you get 8 impressions of your ad.
Promote your app for free by helping fellow developers.
If you read the AdDuplex report, don't be distracted by the pretty charts. Instead, look for the details, which are slim. While they no doubt accurately reflect the user base of the developers who use AdDuplex, they simply can't be extrapolated to the Windows 10 installed base of PCs.
A footnote in the report says "This report is based on data collected from around 5,000 Windows Store apps running AdDuplex SDK v.2 (and higher). The raw data analyzed was collected over the day of May 29th, 2018 (UTC time) unless otherwise stated."
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I asked Alan Mendelevič, who owns and runs AdDuplex, how many unique Windows 10 devices are represented in this sample.
"The total number of devices sampled is over 100,000," he told me via email.
According to Microsoft, Windows 10 has an installed base of 600 million devices (almost all of them PCs but also including Windows Phone diehards and Xbox One users). It's reasonable to conclude that this data set represents less than 25/1000 of 1 percent of the Windows 10 device population.
That's a small sample, but it might be statistically acceptable if it constituted a representative cross-section of the worldwide PC market. It doesn't.
As Mendelevič confirmed for me, the numbers in his report come only from devices running apps from the Windows Store whose developers have joined the AdDuplex ad-sharing network. He declined to share the names of any of those apps with me but acknowledged that the list "consists of mostly casual games (card games and alike) and some utility apps."
A review of the AdDuplex website shows that the "App of the Month" spotlighted on its home page hasn't changed since August 2016. That app, Digfender, is available on Windows 10 Mobile and doesn't run on Windows 10 PCs.
Similarly, of six additional "Featured apps" on the AdDuplex home page, only two run on PCs. and one is no longer listed in the Store.
That's not surprising, given the history of AdDuplex, which originally focused on the Windows Mobile market. The company's history page goes from 2011 to 2015 and then stops.
Microsoft doesn't share any details regarding the percentage of Windows 10 PCs that have installed apps from the Microsoft Store, but the consensus among Windows analysts I have spoken with is that the number is extremely small, probably in the low double-digits. Most PCs still rely on desktop apps, and few PC users install obscure casual games from the Store.
What we have, then, is a microscopic sample, gathered over a single day, that doesn't represent the overall population of Windows 10 PCs. Extrapolating from that data set to the 600 million Windows 10 PCs in use is simply not statistically valid.
Microsoft declined to comment on their deployment rate for the April 2018 Update.
After diligent searching, I can't find any evidence that Microsoft is rolling out this update faster than, say, the version 1709 release from six months ago.
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Based on my experience, however, I would find it literally incredible to believe that half of the Windows 10 population had been updated a mere three weeks after the release of version 1803 to Windows Update.
If the AdDuplex data were genuinely applicable to the Windows 10 installed base of PCs, that would mean Microsoft had successfully upgraded more than 100 million PCs each week for three weeks, including a long holiday weekend.
Sorry, that's not how it happens. (And if the Windows team had really managed that feat, the company would be bragging about it.)
In an interview last fall, one of Microsoft's top engineers told me that the company's overarching guideline for rolling out a new feature update is "as fast as is safe."
At a bare minimum, it typically takes two months to identify issues that can cause a "negative experience" for upgraders.
It's an iterative process, with Microsoft engineers watching telemetry data and expanding or slowing down the update volume based on issues it identifies via that telemetry data.
Those issues typically get resolved in the cumulative updates that appear on the second Tuesday of each month, and at a bare minimum you can expect two and probably three such monthly updates before a feature update is widely available.
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