Skype automatic updates: in-app vs Microsoft Update

One of the problems I most often run into when working with Windows machines is the way updates work. Microsoft has made great strides in improving the update experience for Windows and for Microsoft applications; compared to the steaming pile of filth that is Adobe’s updater, for example, or the mishmash of every-app-its-own-update-client behavior common on the Mac, Microsoft Update is pretty smooth.

But what about Skype? It’s now a Microsoft application, so you’d expect it to receive updates through Microsoft Update… and it does. However, it also has its own update mechanism. What gives?

Here’s a solid explanation, which Doug Neal of the Microsoft Update team was kind enough to let me republish. (My comments are italicized):/p>

While we’re still working through the best way to complement the updating system available via Skype, here are some insights that may explain the differences:

Skype 5.8 [released nearly a year ago] introduced a Skype-based auto-updating features unrelated to any Microsoft technology (and before knowledge of the merger). This updating service will remain for the foreseeable future – and is Skype’s method of offering updates on a more frequent basis than Microsoft Update. These settings and consent to update via Skype’s updating service can be controlled via the Skype | Options | Automatic Updates setting – which also provides a link to more information on Skype’s updating approach via their updater. These updates via the Skype updater can include major and incremental updates. [in other words, the Skype app can pull both minor updates and entire new versions through its built-in update mechanism, as do many other third-party apps on Windows and OS X. ]

As a new addition to the products supported via Microsoft Update, only major versions of Skype are made available via MU. Consent to automatically update via Microsoft Update is granted via Microsoft Update opt-in – the same opt-in experience available via Windows Control Panel | Windows Update | Change Settings. [So MU may offer you major versions, which is useful if you don’t now about ]

So, updating Skype via Skype’s updating service is controlled from within the Skype application. This updating experience may include various Skype-specific reminders and prompts that a newer update is available. Turning off updates here will reduced the number of incremental updates your Skype client will receive assuming Microsoft Update is still enabled to provide more major, less-frequent updates to Skype.

Updating via Microsoft Update will only occur for major versions and is controlled within the Windows Update control panel – the same place for all Microsoft product updates. Turning off Microsoft Updates is not recommended – and will result in preventing any updates from Microsoft for all 60+ products supported by Microsoft including security updates. The updating experience for Skype will be the same as you expect for all other Microsoft Updates, namely that unmanaged consumer PCs will see these as Important updates with no UI (applied automatically), or to managed PCs via WSUS/SCCM admin approval.

Having a single update mechanism, à la the iTunes App Store and the Windows Phone Marketplace, certainly seems to be the best model for end users: all app updates are packaged and available on demand in a single location. On the other hand, putting the responsibility for applying security-critical updates in the hands of end users, instead of in a centralized patch management system driven by WSUS or equivalent, is a terrible idea for the enterprise. Having a hybrid approach like this is a compromise, albeit an unintentional one, that may deliver the better aspects of each approach. Long-term I’d like to see the major OS vendors offer a flexible method of combining both vendor-specific OS/app updates with opt-in updates provided by third parties– something like the existing Marketplace combined with the controls and reporting in WSUS would be ideal. Here’s hoping…

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