Windows RT: The sticky problem of Windows Update

Windows RT is a fixed OS locked into individual devices, and providing timely system updates needs to be defined better than other mobile platforms.

Windows Update is something Windows users have learned to live with for years. Microsoft has to constantly update the Windows system files to stay ahead of malware devils, and to keep things running smoothly. This has evolved into a system that is relatively seamless, with Windows Update downloading changes and replacing the files needing updating. That will probably continue in some form in Windows 8, but how it will be handled in Windows RT is not so clear.

Windows RT is a new beast for Microsoft in that system builds will exist in a new form. These ROM images on tablets and the like will be flashed by the OEM prior to shipping, making them untouchable by the end user. This is the same method used by smartphones on all platforms and tablets running other mobile OSes.

Since the ROM image for Windows RT is a fixed build, it is not clear how Microsoft will handle system updates that Windows/Microsoft Update now handles for regular Windows. Will security/system updates become a layer on top of the base ROM image? That would be a logical way to handle these minor, frequent updates. They could be dished out by the Microsoft Store just like apps will be installed.

Major updates would most likely require flashing a new ROM image which is how system updates are handled by other mobile platforms. The OS builder issues a new version of the ROM image, and then OEMs make sure it works on each device. In the event mobile broadband (3G/4G) is enabled on the device, an additional update layer is added which is the mobile carrier.

The latter is the sticky part in Android and even Windows Phone system updates, as carriers often take their sweet time getting updates released for each device they service. Many devices never get Android updates at all due to the OEM and carrier involvement in the update process.

This could be a real problem for Windows RT if Microsoft doesn't handle updates properly. It's not clear how OEMs and possibly carriers might enter into the Windows RT update process, but you can bet that any involvement would be a bad thing for the end user. Windows RT devices will carry the Windows brand, and users may not be as tolerant if updates aren't forthcoming when available. Especially if security of the OS is at stake.

Being a closed system Windows RT may end up being safer than other Windows versions, as it may be harder to infest with malware. That would be a good thing, and perhaps eliminate the need to update as frequently as regular Windows 8 installations. If not then Microsoft needs to come clean with the Windows RT update process, and restrict the impact OEMs and carriers may have on it.

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