Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The biggest IT changes in the last 5 years - Quicksand OS

Back around Windows 7 there was a big change in the concept of an Operating System version. For many years prior to Windows 7, the Windows world at large had a concept of operating system that involved periods of OS quiescence that might last for years, punctuated by "Service Packs". Periodic CD-ROM releases with big accumulations of fixes.

Many developers in the Windows ecosystem remember the days of "XP Service Pack 3" which stood out as one of those punctuation marks. "Lets start with a clean XP SP 3 and go from there...."

Roll the clock forward to today and we have a more realtime environment for updates/upgrades. Every day (or so it seems to me!) my Windows machine, my iPad, my Android Phone and my Ubuntu machine either announce the availability of updates/upgrades or announce that they have been installed for me overnight.

Although the concept of OS version numbers still exists, as any developer/tester will tell you, strange things can happen as a result of the constant "upgrade" activity. Especially given that the browser environments these days are so closely twinned to the operating system that an upgrade to a browser can be tantamount to the installation of an old-school service pack.

This has resulted in a big jump in the complexity of application testing as it is becoming increasingly impossible to "lock down" a client-side configuration to test against.

This is a big problem for internal IT teams in enterprises. One that has not got a good solution that I can see. Clearly, true upgrades are good things but it is terribly hard to be sure that an "upgrade" does not introduce collateral damage to installed applications.

Also, upgrades that are very desirable - such as security fixes - can get bundled with upgrades that you would prefer to defer, creating a catch 22.

My sense is that this problem is contained rather than tamed at present because of the wide-spread use of browser front-ends. I.e. server-side dev-ops teams lock thing down as best they can and control the update cycles as best they can while living with the reality that they cannot lock down the client side.

However, as the "thin" client-side becomes "thick", this containment strategy becomes harder to implement.

Locking down client-OS images helps to a degree but the OS vendor strategies of constant updates do not sit well with a lock-down strategy. Plus, BYOD and VPN connections etc. limit what you can lock-down anyway.

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