Systems using Intel’s Clover Trail Atom processors and running Windows 10 won’t ever receive the Creators Update, or any major Windows 10 updates in future. But in an exception to its normal Windows 10 support policy, Microsoft has said that it will provide security updates to those systems until January 2023.
We wrote earlier this week about the tricky situation of the Clover Trail systems. Those machines shipped with Windows 8 and 8.1 were due to receive software support until 2023. However, the systems were also eligible for the free upgrade to Windows 10. But to receive security fixes on Windows 10, you have to keep pace with the periodic regular major upgrades that Microsoft makes to that operating system. Each of these named releases is only supported for 18 months, after which you have to upgrade, or else you’re cut off from security fixes.
This is a problem for the Clover Trail machines, because those systems are prevented from installing and using the Windows 10 Creators Update, leaving them stuck on last year’s Anniversary Update. Support, including security fixes, for the Anniversary Update is due to end in early 2018. As such, it appeared that upgrading from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 has taken Clover Trail systems from being supported until 2023 to being supported until 2018, a five-year regression.
The bad news is that the block on the Creators Update appears to be permanent. The problem is the GPU drivers; Clover Trail Atoms use GPU technology licensed from Imagination Technologies. Imagination appears unwilling, and Intel appears unable, to update the GPU drivers to meet the demands of the Creators Update. So systems built with such hardware will never be upgradable beyond the Anniversary Update.
The good news is that Microsoft has said that it will provide such systems with security fixes until 2023, thereby reinstating the supported lifetime that such machines were supposed to have in the first place. Luckily for Microsoft, the Anniversary Update already had a corresponding long-term servicing branch version (LTSB), so the company was already intending to release security fixes for this version of Windows until 2023.
The situation still raises questions about Microsoft’s plans for hardware obsolescence. What would have happened if, for example, the Clover Trail systems had worked with the Creators Update and had only broken in the Fall Creators Update? (The Creators Update doesn’t have, and won’t ever have, an LTSB version, so it’s strictly limited to an 18-month support timeframe.) Would Microsoft force people to roll back to a prior, LTSB-aligned version? Or would Redmond instead extend support for a version of Windows that wasn’t supposed to have a long support timeframe?
While this issue is unlikely to crop up again for anything as important as a processor or GPU, we’re sure that it’s going to happen again with something less significant—a printer, say, or unusual USB device. And so far, Microsoft hasn’t given a clear indication of how it will be handled.