Microsoft cuts off Windows 10 Creators Update from some older devices

No Windows 10 Creators Update for you, Microsoft says—at least, not if you happen to be the unlucky owner of certain older Atom-based Windows devices, and other aging models in the future. After stories arose of failed attempts to upgrade such hardware to the Creators Update, Microsoft confirmed late Wednesday that any hardware device that falls out of the manufacturer’s support cycle may be ineligible for future Windows 10 updates.

In the case of the four “Clover Trail” processors (part of the Cloverview platform) that have fallen into Intel’s End of Interactive Support phase, they will be ineligible for the Windows 10 Creators Update, Microsoft confirmed. Instead, they’ll simply be offered the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, plus security updates through January, 2023, the end of the original Windows 8.1 support period.

The problem, however, is that Microsoft’s language opens up the possibility that any unsupported hardware device could be excluded from future Windows 10 updates. “Recognizing that a combination of hardware, driver and firmware support is required to have a good Windows 10 experience, we updated our support lifecycle policy to align with the hardware support period for a given device,” Microsoft said in a statement. “If a hardware partner stops supporting a given device or one of its key components and stops providing driver updates, firmware updates, or fixes, it may mean that device will not be able to properly run a future Windows 10 feature update.”

Why this matters: For years, the rule of thumb was that you could run virtually any operating system on top of any Intel, AMD (or even Cyrix) hardware. Chances are that it would run, if slowly. Over time, though, things changed. As malware became more potent, running a supported Windows operating system became more important. Now, there’s Windows as a Service: If Windows 10 never really goes away, what limits PC builders is supported hardware, apparently. Now we have to worry about how long all of our PC hardware components are supported, lest we lose access to upcoming versions of Windows 10.

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Is this more than sweeping Atom under the rug?

Microsoft appears to be doubling down on its belief that up-to-date hardware requires an updated operating system, and vice versa. Microsoft said last year that it would restrict the latest Intel Kaby Lake and AMD Ryzen silicon to Windows 10. Recently, the company has blocked patches on PCs that try to run older Windows operating systems on modern hardware.

“As new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support,” Microsoft said in January, 2016. “This enables us to focus on deep integration between Windows and the silicon, while maintaining maximum reliability and compatibility with previous generations of platform and silicon.” 

Microsoft’s Clover Trail stance sets limits on what those previous generations can expect. If a processor platform falls out of support by a chip vendor, Microsoft will drop it from its OS list. 

What’s unclear, though, is whether Microsoft’s new position represents a fundamental shift in policy, or a rather narrow focus on Intel’s troubled Atom processors. At one time, Atom’s “Clover Trail” architecture represented the future of Intel processors within the smartphone and tablet markets. But Intel never could quite develop the system-on-chip with logic and communications that rivals like ARM provided, and Intel essentially killed the Atom platform in 2016. Without a healthy customer base to support, Intel apparently decided to refocus its support resources away from the Clover Trail architecture.

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