18 Comments

Summary:

Microsoft has pulled the latest Surface Pro 2 firmware update but not soon enough for some. Users are experiencing power problems and other issues with their devices. The situation exemplifies the complexities of Windows in a new era of simpler computing.

surface not charging

Although I’m trying to keep an open mind about the latest Microsoft devices, the company sure is making it difficult. A December firmware update to the Surface Pro 2 has been pulled amid a strange series of events ranging from the company saying everything’s fine, to forum posters reporting unusable devices.

For a company that’s actually making great strides this year — and has literally defined the PC industry for the past few decades — it’s a bit of an embarrassment for Microsoft’s flagship device; one where it controls both the hardware and the software.

Surface Pro 2

Microsoft released the firmware update on December 10 for all Surface Pro 2 users. I recently bought one of these devices and saw the update arrive — without warning, which is both the Microsoft recommended and express setup option — download and presumably install. The install failed for me, and many others, with a specific error code. Not to worry, said Microsoft.

failed install

WinBeta got an official statement with this information: “Some people may be experiencing a false error message, 80070490. The firmware update should be installing correctly; however, if you received this error message, we recommend that you go to Device Manager check the firmware history to ensure the latest update installed.”

It’s all good, right? Not on my Surface Pro 2 per the Device Manager and, based on this Microsoft forum, not for others as well. But that’s a good thing, according to those who did get the update to install.

surface not charging

Several reports in the forums indicate their Surface Pro 2 is actually performing worse with the firmware update, with some showing visual evidence that the device won’t even charge while plugged in. Some are having issues with sleep mode and other power-related functions. One of my peers in the gadget review space, Hector Gomez, is experiencing these issues and is also having problems with the Type Cover after the update.

At this point, Microsoft has officially pulled the update and said it’s working on the problem. I’m actually able to work on my Surface Pro 2 because the update failed. For those that successfully installed it, they’re currently left dealing with whatever problems the update introduced. I know Microsoft is working on the problems — it has said so in the forums — which I’m sure users appreciate.

But this speaks volumes about current computing models and doesn’t provide confidence in this product.

For starters, the days of looking up archaic error codes and checking firmware version histories in the good old Device Manager isn’t what people want to be doing. They want to be computing, as in using their devices to get things done without the device or the operating system getting in the way. There’s no “Device Manager” to sift through on today’s mobile phones or non-Windows tablets, for example.

That doesn’t mean other devices aren’t immune to this type of problem. I fully recognize and appreciate that fact. Today’s mobile devices are built to be more like consumer electronics, however: they generally just work. And when they don’t, it’s typically not on the consumer to dig around driver device files, system logs and such to figure out what’s going on.

2013 Chromebooks

This situation is a perfect example of why I’ve used a Chromebook for the past 1.5 years: it simply works and it works simply.

There’s no legacy of Device Manager in the front-facing interface. Software updates are regular but generally without fail. And most importantly: I have little doubt that when I need the device to work, it will.

By acting as a solution for both enterprises and consumers, Windows continues to leave itself vulnerable to situations like this: one of complexity that consumers generally don’t need.

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  1. oops. That would just frost me if a software update made my computer useless like that. I have a new (new for me) Toshiba laptop with Windows 8 on it. No Start button. What were they thinking? My husband rigged one for me. And yes, I can update now to 8.1, but I haven’t for fear that it will introduce problems on this older Toshiba model. I’ve already had to restore my files after a disaster with an external hard drive that shut down the slower 2.0 usb ports. Makes you wonder what’s going on with these companies these days.

  2. I think this is Microsoft still getting their “sea legs” with regards to building and supporting hardware. In this area MS is more like Apple in that unlike other OEMs, Microsoft is updating their own hardware drivers frequently (many PCs only got driver updates only if they were using MS generic ones or the user updated themselves).

    The firmware updates I have gotten for my Surface RT has really improved the device and made it the device people actually wanted when it went on sell a year ago.

  3. I’m sorry, but is MS a brand new startup? Do they have 3 guys working on code in a garage? For a multi billion corporation with thousands of developers and QA staff is is inexcusable.

  4. Joel In Real Life Thursday, December 19, 2013

    Excellent and insightful article with smart commentary. I would only challenge this single statement “This speaks volumes about current computing models.” It actually speaks volumes about the current *Microsoft* model, not those of Google, Apple, or even Linux. The kind of 90s-centric computing style which characterizes this incident could only be displayed by Microsoft. Essentially, Microsoft has arrived in the 2010’s with a believe that what worked for them in 1995 will still fly with consumers. Apple, Google, and Linux all have their own characteristic flaws… but this specific patch issue you described is about as “Microsoft” as it gets.

    1. You’re spot on, Joel. I was thinking I was just talking about Microsoft in the statement you pointed out but you’re right, I wasn’t clear. But yes, that’s the type of old mindset and model that doesn’t work as well in today’s world. Thanks!

      1. If other companies (Apple, Google) provide regular updates, how is the “model” is failing?
        I just think MS can’t execute “the” model. I think Kevin hits mark with the statement about providing solutions to both enterprise and consumer. I think the Apple / Google approach is the way to sell to consumers – start with something that works for a consumer (rock solid) then slowly (but consistently) make it better. (Plus if you can win the hearts and minds of the tech elite, so much the better!) MS is too worried about protecting Windows and office that they let their consumers slip through their fingers. I still think MS has great ideas, I just don’t think they execute as good as Apple, Google, Samsung, …

        At work, I run in almost no problems with my Toshiba laptop provided by work – my iPhone/iPad’s had more lockups/reboots than my laptop had BSODs in the last 3 years. Okay I can’t remember a BSOD on my work laptop. The laptops of my workmates jsut work as well – kinda fade into the background and all your doing is focusing on work. But our work laptops were setup by an IT staff. The OS updates are pushed by an IT staff. I can install software but the framework was laid down and is supported by professionals IT folks. My desktops at home – that I have built – running Win7/8 have been rock solid. But in general I still deal with the nagging complexity Kevin mentions and many times it seems like MS is so focused on the enterprise that it does not make it is hassle-free for the consumer. How many times when you have a problem are you told contact “your network or IT administrator”? WTF?

        1. Couple of thoughts:

          From the article (which is about Microsoft, not the other device makers): “That doesn’t mean other devices aren’t immune to this type of problem. I fully recognize and appreciate that fact. ” I’m not selling any notions of this happening only to Microsoft devices.

          You’re using a beta hardware product from 2010, the CR-48, against a brand new Surface Pro 2 as an example? Not quite a good comparison IMO.

          And I’m not seeing anything in the examples you provided where customers really can’t use their devices effectively. That’s what’s going on here with people who actually did get the update; hence, the title of my post.

          1. “And I’m not seeing anything in the examples you provided where customers really can’t use their devices effectively. That’s what’s going on here with people who actually did get the update; hence, the title of my post.”

            This is because you haven’t bothered to look. If you did you would’ve found this.
            http://support.apple.com/kb/ts4303

            I asked what the motivation was but really I do understand the reason. Its all a game. You have an incentive to glorify the merits of Chrome OS while undermining all other competing alternatives because it is your “beat”. Like tech writers who follow Apple, Microsoft etc… Its sad all around.

            1. Definitely a much better example, so thanks for that. But there’s still a difference that you’re overlooking. In that case, folks had several options to undo the offending update. That’s the not case here; those affected are stuck until after the holidays because that’s when MSFT said it will have the fix.

              I do agree that Chrome OS is more of my “beat”. It’s because it’s different, new and — what I believe — is a better representation of computing in the future. But it’s not a game. If it were, would I have spent nearly a thousand dollars of my own money to buy a Surface Pro 2?

  5. Hopefully this will just be a blip. The firmware installed for me unfortunately and think I have some of the issues. Microsoft will sort them out – there has been far too much unnecessarily negative publicity surrounding the device and critics seem to lap up these stories.
    Its an exciting time for surface and I can see it evolving into a terrific device once the tablet/pc functions merge more seamlessly. In many ways it is already leagues ahead of the competition particularly for power users. The best thing about our iPad is that will will still get a good return on it when we sell it off

  6. I was ready to buy a surface pro 2 because having office appeals me but then the price tag for a tablet with a huge mix of reviews made me change my mind and I’m going to buy the iPad air after Christmas.

  7. I am having the exact same issues –
    My battery icon shows up and says my battery is only 7% charged even though unit was plugged in all night – Then, my trackpad stopped working this AM –

    This is ridiculous – as far as returning to store, etc as some others have suggested, not really an option when you use the Surface Pro for everything you do and have already loaded all of your programs and data onto the unit -

  8. Yep, because Apple & Google have never had to pull updates before right? Using words like “generally” over & over doesn’t excuse you from having to provide actual facts. Look at the simplest OS of them all, iOS 7, has been nothing short of a disaster. I have so many app crashes it reminds me of computing in the 90’s & don’t get me started on the performance issues.

    I like you Kevin but you go through a lot of phases & then denounce everything you used before it. Remember when UMPC’s we’re going to be the future, then netbooks, then mini tablets? Now you use a ChromeOS device & full size iPad. You’re like the teenage girl of tech ;)

    Try to remember this Kevin, if not for Windows most of us wouldn’t even know who you are from all those years ago during the jkontherun days. You very likely wouldn’t even have the post career you do today since you got in before all the me-too bloggers post iPhone boom the last couple of years

    1. Well, I’m sort of at a loss here. The post is about a Windows firmware update for the Surface Pro 2. So it really doesn’t make sense to rehash every possible failed firmware update on other platforms. That’s why I didn’t. But it would be irresponsible of me to ignore similar instances on other platforms. So I did give a nod to them in the post.

      Your other points are interesting – and you’re right: I do go through a lot of phases because I write about and use what works. That changes; not just for me, but in the industry. The tech improves and if it meets my needs better, I make a change. I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all. If anything, it’s the opposite of blind fanboyism to a brand, device or a platform. So: guilty as charged. ;)

  9. I can only go by my experience. Got my Surface pro 2, was disappointed at first, battery said it would last 3h 57m. After all the updates (firmware) updates, 7h 40m now, much improved. I can’t see any problems as of yet. My surface has pushed my desktop aside. I was amazed I could run “Ultima Online”, gotta have a little fun. I can say that I am pleased.

  10. It probably was not just caused by the December firmware solely. My Surface pro failed on the update too, but I experienced “plugged in, not charging” as well recently. I, in fact, lost my faith on this product.

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