Microsoft’s hardware support burden

-May 26, 2017

Back in April of 2014, I mentioned that I'd recently picked up two first-generation Microsoft Surface systems; a 32GB "RT" model and a 128GB "Pro" unit (a full set of comparative specs is here). I'm mostly a Mac guy, so neither system got much use, but they both hummed along relatively smoothly, at least for a while. In August 2015, I noticed that the "RT" system would no longer power up; none of Microsoft's suggestions has resurrected it. It was an inexpensive refurb when I got it, though, and the Windows RT platform has been basically orphaned anyway, so I just put it on the future-teardown pile.

The Surface Pro system, on the other hand, has continued chugging along; it seemingly survived the free Windows 8.1-to-10 migration just fine. The more recent Windows 10 Anniversary Update, on the other hand ...

After the anniversary update upgrade completed and the system rebooted, all seemed to be well at first. But then I put the system to sleep. After I woke it back up, I was unable to reconnect to my primary Wi-Fi network ... the Surface Pro got stuck at a never-ending "Checking Network Connections" intermediary step. Turning Wi-Fi off and back on again didn't cure the problem; the only "fixes" were to either fully reboot the computer or go into Network Settings and completely disable and then re-enable the wireless adapter. In either case, I could then reconnect to the previously defined primary network ... until I put the computer to sleep again, after which point the problem reliably recurred.

That's not all. On a hunch, I then tried to connect the Surface Pro to one of my other wireless networks ... at which point it got stuck at a never-ending "Verifying and Connecting" intermediary step. Rebooting the system, or disabling and re-enabling the wireless adapter, could get me reconnected to the previous primary network again, but the system refused to comprehend more than this one. Even more drastic steps, such as resetting the TCP/IP stack and flushing DNS, or completely deleting the network adapter from Device Manager and then rebooting to enable it to reinstall, would wipe clean the defined-network list and enable me to first-time connect to a new primary network ... but again I could then not connect to any other network, either at home or elsewhere.

Windows 8.1, as my 2014 coverage (which details how I recovered from misbehaving external keyboards on both systems) noted, supported a "Recovery" mode that left both installed apps and user data intact but reset all Windows settings to defaults. In Windows 10, unfortunately, "recovery" is a "bit" more drastic; you're still given the option of retaining user data files (or not), but "reset" also wipes clean all installed applications. But that's ultimately what I had to do (choosing to retain user data files); after Windows 10 finished its reset business, I had relatively normal Wi-Fi functionality back (although it still oddly prompts me for my encryption key sometimes, even for already "known" networks), but then needed to reinstall my Office suite, Mozilla's Firefox and Thunderbird, and a bunch of minor utilities and add-ons. Thankfully, again, this isn't one of my primary systems, or resurrection would have been far more painful.

I don't at all discount Microsoft's tremendous challenge in needing to comprehend the mind-blowing number of not only new but also legacy systems stretching back many years, and in a variety of form factors. Unlike Apple, Microsoft has decided to not be as mercenary in culling old hardware from the new operating system support list, and has inherited a substantial burden in the process. Some amount of "glitching" is therefore inevitable. But seriously, Microsoft, can't you even cleanly handle your own branded hardware?

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