Reader Question–MSFS Auto-Update

I have another reader question to explore today with everyone.  It’s a rather interesting one and honestly it’s one of my very own pet peeves about Microsoft Flight Simulator.  Here’s a snippit of the email I received a few days ago. 

Hello, I recently stumbled onto your blog site and found your content to be extremely helpful as I slowly wade into the world of flight simulation.  I read your recent “Reader Question – Where are the Widebodies” posting and it inspired me to email you with my very own question to see if you can shed any light.  Like many I’m sure, I don’t have a lot of time to devote to flight sim.  I have a young family and once I’m home from work, have dinner and help get the kids all in bed, I generally enjoy taking a short flight a few times a week.  I have even less time on the weekends as the kids all seem to have different activities and sometimes at opposite ends of town. Anyway, I was hoping to spend a quiet Friday evening flying my favorite PMDG 737, but instead the entire time was spent downloading updates.  By the time MSFS finished updating, it was time for bed as I had an early start the next day.  So my main question is why are these updates forced on us and is there any way to disable them?  My sim has been working just fine and I would have rather waited until a more convenient time to apply the updates, if that is even possible.  Thank you for your time.  George

Oh boy!  I for one certainly understand George’s frustration.  While I’m retired and don’t have kids that need to be shuttled around from one extra curricular activity to another….when I decide to sit down and fly….I want to fly!  Over the past four decades that I’ve enjoyed the hobby of flight simulation starting on the Commodore 64 all the way through each generation of Microsoft Flight Simulator and throughout each of the versions of Prepar3D….MSFS is the very first which has had this auto-update mechanism built in that upon launch and regardless whether you want  to update or not, you are forced to download/install the updates. 

During the Prepar3D (P3D) years, I would make it a matter of practice to always wait several days, perhaps even several weeks before downloading and installing an update.  Generally speaking, it could take several days, perhaps even a week or two before 3rd party developers could provide patches to their products to make them compatible with the most recent P3D update.  In addition, by deferring an update also allowed time to research the various forums to determine if the update caused any game breaking issues which could require a hot-fix to resolve. 

Having said all that, Microsoft Flight Simulator is a completely different sim from all those in the past.  Part of what makes MSFS the gold standard (in my opinion) is the fact it’s cloud based.  All the beauty and majesty we experience while flying around the virtual world is streamed down to our PC’s on an “On-Demand” basis.  The cloud based design allows for a much smaller footprint on our SSD’s or HDD’s and only needs to download the data specific to the location we’re flying.  As a result it’s necessary for all client machines connecting to the MSFS systems to all be running the same version of the base software.  Thus why we have the mandatory updates. 

I have read some comments on various forums and other social media platforms that suggest one can avoid the mandatory update process by disconnecting your network connection, start up MSFS and then reconnect once in the main menu.  While I’ve not tested this process, I believe avoiding updates is not the best practice in the long run and may lead to issues especially if you connect to the MSFS multi-player environment. 

Of course this cloud-based setup can lead to issues which we experienced a few months ago where many users experienced unexplained performance and CTD (crash to desktop) issues over several long days. I wrote about my own experiences in a blog posting titled “And Just Like That” where I discussed the issues I had experienced and my belief at what caused these issues. 

If I’m honest, I do have some long-range concerns regarding what may or may not happen as MSFS ages beyond the next several years.  There is a rather surprising number of simmers who still fly FS9 and FSX on a daily basis even though these platforms are almost two decades old.  While both Microsoft and Asobo appear to be fully committed to the success of MSFS 2020.  But depending on their long-range plans, it might not be possible to use MSFS in the year 2040 if something else has taken its place or God forbid the program is completed shelved.  Let’s face it, it costs a lot of money to operate the data centers and cloud solutions which allow us to fly around the virtual skies.  The powers that be at Microsoft will need to see a solid return on this investment over the years to come.  But hey, this is probably a discussion to have at a later day in time. 

Bottom line (and in closing), as I’ve stated many times before, I believe Microsoft Flight Simulator is the gold standard of all flight simulator platforms available today and I also believe, will be so for some time to come.  Despite the pain points we occasionally have to suffer through, when it works (and for me it works flawlessly 99.999% of the time) it brings me more enjoyment than I’ve ever experienced in my long history with flight sim. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog posts.  Until next time….

Happy Flying!

Jerry

And just like that…

Beginning on Friday, 19 August and continuing through the weekend hundreds, perhaps thousands of MSFS users from all around the world began experiencing issues where Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 would CTD (crash to desktop).  Unfortunately, around the same time FSDreamTeam released their GSX Pro MSFS Add-on.  As users were installing GSX Pro the issues causing the CTD’s were also showing up on the scene.  This gave a false sense that the CTD’s were being caused by GSX Pro when in actuality GSX Pro was certainly not the issue.  The proof of this became apparent when users began posting their CTD experience on the MSFS forums.  While some had just purchased GSX Pro, the vast majority had not. 

My Own Experiences

During this same timeframe I had installed GSX Pro and I also was experiencing CTD issues.  However, I had also made the decision to also begin the process of reinstalling Windows 10 and MSFS as I discussed in my “Saying Goodbye to P3D…For Now” blog posting.  This rebuild process took place on Friday and before I had even installed MSFS, I ensured Windows 10 was fully patched.  On Saturday morning with MSFS installed and fully configured with all my add-ons reinstalled, I attempted to load up a flight.  During the process of launching MSFS, my PC would CTD three times in a row.  On the 4th attempt, MSFS launched successfully and I was able to conduct a flight from DEN to SLC.  While I managed to complete the flight without a CTD, the performance of the sim was sluggish with stutters during the approach and landing phase.  The experience throughout the weekend was pretty much the same.  MSFS would often CTD while loading up and on two occasions I experienced a CTD after landing and while taxing to the gate.  For the most part, my own experiences matched up with what many others were also experiencing.

Crickets

For much of the weekend as more and more users posted their CTD experiences in this thread on the MSFS Forums, the silence from anyone at Microsoft or Asobo was deafening.  While there were a few official community forum admins posting occasionally, nothing was really happening with regards to any official communication and recognition of the issues.  Funnily enough, even as of today, Wednesday 24 August neither Microsoft or Asobo have officially made any comments.  Yet, the issue has apparently been resolved. 

The Fix

On Tuesday, the community began to hear via the MSFS Forum admins of a possible fix to the CTD issues.  The fix is as follows:

1.  Check for MS Updates, apply/install any updates available.
2.  Restart the PC  (More about this in a minute)
3.  Launch MSFS and Fly

Of course the community took the advice and low and behold it worked.  But is it as simple as this?  Is this really all that was required?  Do you mean to tell me that we could have all saved countless hours, gray hairs and the stress of watching a multi-hour flight vanish before our very eyes as we’re on final approach into XYZ airport? 

The Placebo Effect

For my own setup, the above “fix” was simply a placebo.  It didn’t do anything to address the root cause of the CTD’s and poor performance and I knew that as soon as I read it.  Like I said at the beginning, I had just reimaged my PC.  My PC had installed ALL MS updates available.  In addition, and this is important….I also disable the Windows 10 “Fast Boot” option when I build/rebuild a PC and you should also considering doing it as well.

The “Fast Boot” option was introduced as a feature in Windows 10.  It does exactly what it says on the tin.  With the feature enabled (and it’s enabled by default) when you perform a shut down of the Windows 10 OS, it keeps many elements of the Windows OS in a state of hibernation thus saving time when starting up.  The problem with leaving this enabled is any problem (regardless of how minor it might be) that exists with drivers, kernel, etc. will remain to be a problem each time you start your PC.  As the old PC saying goes, if you experience an issue….just reboot and 99.9% of the time that issue will go away.  But with Fast Boot enabled, unless you actually perform a “Restart” you are just bringing those same issues back. With Fast Boot  disabled, a shut down (which we all do to save electricity) will do the same as a restart.  On boot, everything gets refreshed.

If you are interested in learning how to disable Fast Boot on your PC, just Google it.  You’ll find all the info you need on how to disable this feature that really isn’t that much of a feature.

What I really think happened?

I have two possible ideas.  My first thought is on Friday, Microsoft/Asobo made an untested change to the backend servers which caused these issues.  After all, some users were successful at getting MSFS to work without CTD by disabling live weather, traffic etc.  Or, another scenario is something within these same backend servers got corrupted in some way that was eventually resolved by Microsoft/Asobo either late Monday or sometime on Tuesday. 

Most likely we will never know for sure.  The root cause analysis will never be revealed by Microsoft and that’s just the way things work. 

Concerns Going Forward

From the very beginning of my experience with MSFS, I’ve had concerns with a few things about the new sim.  First, I’m not a big fan of the automatic update features where you are forced to take sim updates when they are available.  This will become a much bigger issue for us as more and more 3rd party add-ons are introduced.  While the updates are made available to everyone in the form of a beta, not all 3rd party developers have the resources to act immediately to how the sim is changing and evolving.  We’ve seen with Prepar3D where a new update will break 3rd party add-ons for a period of time until these can be updated.  Generally speaking, these periods of time are only a few days to a week or two at most, but it is an issue.  I would like to have the choice as to whether I take an update today or perhaps delay it until the 3rd party developers have had some time to perform their own patches/updates.

Second, I’m also concerned about just how much MSFS relies on the online infrastructure hosted by Microsoft/Asobo.  Again, comparing it to P3D….once I install and configure P3D to my liking, it just works regardless to what is happening at Lockheed Martin. 

Finally, I’m also concerned with the parallel development of MSFS for both PC and Console players.  While this may sound harsh to console players, I’m a PC gamer and while some games can certainly be enjoyed on the console platform, many can not.  MSFS on a console just will never be the same experience as that of the PC and I feel those of us on PC could be held back as a result of this parallel development concept. 

The Future IS MSFS

In closing, a resounding YES, MSFS is the future of flight simulation.   When I think back to where this hobby has come from to where it is now…OH MY GOD!  I have personally experienced it all.  Starting in the early to mid 1980’s on the Commodore 64 throughout all the Microsoft branded flight simulators over the years, Prepar3D and now MSFS.  It’s a great time to be alive and be involved in this hobby.  I just hope my concerns become null and void. 

As always, thank you for reading.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

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