Surface 2 Pro owners: Where's our @#$%&! firmware update?

Some with a gimpy tablet have received a firmware fix, but others who have not are wondering what's up

After a month-long wait, some owners of Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 tablet this weekend said that they received a fix for a faulty firmware update that exhausted their batteries and caused sleep mode problems.

After a month-long wait, some owners of Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 tablet this weekend said that they received a fix for a faulty firmware update that exhausted their batteries, and sent their devices into and out of sleep mode unexpectedly.

But others who claimed their tablets exhibited the same symptoms have seen neither hide nor hair of the update.

"I got a new firmware update late last night (Saturday). So far, it seems to be working," wrote Vondyer on a Microsoft support forum early Sunday.

Corroboration came from scattered reports on another long-winded discussion thread.

"So far, my 128GB Surface [Pro 2] is now back to normal," said BCVHOG. "It sleeps properly, does not wake up on its own, and goes into hibernate as it should. I think, at least on the issues I had, the problems are resolved."

Microsoft confirmed that it had issued the update. "This weekend we released an update that addresses the unexpected wake and battery drain behavior experienced by a small number of Surface Pro 2 customers who installed the December Windows Update," a spokeswoman said in an email Sunday. "This should have no impact on customers who had not received the December update."

The repeat update was required because when Microsoft released the original on Dec. 10, Surface Pro 2 owners immediately began complaining that their tablets were consuming battery power much faster than before, refusing to charge completely or declining to show charging progress, exhibiting odd behavior related to sleep mode, and even rebooting with no warning or apparent cause.

Within days Microsoft pulled the December update from circulation. Earlier this month, customers commenting on Microsoft's support form said that they had been told by company technicians that the fix would appear Tuesday, Jan. 14, also known as "Patch Tuesday," the monthly roll-out of security patches and other fixes.

That day came and went without any sign of a revised firmware update.

But while some said they had received the update over the weekend, others reported that even with repeated polls of Windows Update, they had not. And those people were hot, with one saying Microsoft had showed an "insulting lack of concern for Surface purchasers."

Several blasted Microsoft for not spelling out exactly which devices should receive the update and when. Some who had actually run the Dec. 10 update but seen it fail, for instance, asked whether their tablets would get the update.

The most vocal were those who had successfully installed the faulty December firmware update -- and suffered weeks with hamstrung hardware -- but have not been served the repaired update. They had questions, and nowhere to find answers, as Microsoft has neither published a blog or generated a support document to describe the issue and inform affected users.

"Parsing these Microsoft statements calls upon the skills used in Talmudic analysis and Kremlinology," observed Mickey Segal, referring to the company's claim that an update had been released.

While many wondered if Microsoft was rolling out the update in stages -- not an uncommon tactic by vendors, who after one fumble are leery of another and so hope to limit damage if the worst happens -- sources close to the company said that wasn't the case.

"Why do we have to guess what Microsoft is doing with this firmware fix?" asked dgg4. "Doesn't being a paying customer entitle you to the company answering your questions honestly? Or at all?"

Microsoft said it has more work to do to rectify the December screw-up. "We are working hard to deliver the rest of the December update to those customers who had not received it prior to it being removed from distribution," the company spokeswoman said.

To some, however, the drawn-out glitch had soured them on the Surface Pro 2, something Microsoft can ill afford.

"At present I have a working device, although I am currently using it only lightly and mostly on mains power," said Roy_C on Sunday in a support forum message. "But I am getting very weary of this nonsense and Microsoft's disgraceful lack of clarification. It's certainly not something I'd rely on for critical mobile use. I surely wouldn't recommend it to anyone."

The firmware snafu has been an embarrassment to Microsoft, which has switched to a strategy that relies on selling services and devices, the latter including the Surface line, which was its first-ever homegrown computing device.

While Microsoft has been able to spread blame for past problems in Windows to its hardware partners and point to the huge and diverse PC ecosystem as reasons for issues, that's not possible with the Surface, which only the Redmond, Wash. company can fix on a firmware level.

Firmware updates are especially hazardous if they go wrong, as the code stored on a device's non-volatile memory -- the "firmware" -- is required to successfully boot the hardware and control aspects of the machine or device before, during and after the operating system loads. A faulty firmware update can easily "brick" a device, or cause lesser trouble like that experienced by Surface Pro 2 owners.

"It's the evening of 20 Jan. here -- and still nothing new in Windows Update," ranted a frustrated user identified as KerrinY on the Surface Pro 2 support forum. "Microsoft need to act more like Apple, i.e. release pre-release [updates] quietly to their MSDN/TechNet users game enough to try it, and then release to the public when they make the public announcement."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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This story, "Surface 2 Pro owners: Where's our @#$%&! firmware update?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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