Windows 10 Feature Releases

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As we move to Windows 10 as an industry we are accepting a change to the way Windows gets new features (akin to the old service packs or version updates).  Instead of getting a major operating system update every 2-3 years enterprises will have a choice as to how quickly people get new features of Windows.  The choice that enterprises have is the frequency of updates that people will receive on their devices.  The approach is what Microsoft call Windows as a Service and is aimed at ensuring more devices remain up-to date, and hence are more secure and that enterprises don’t live in technology debt with legacy device operating systems.  There is a lot of great information available here on Windows as a Service.

The choice that enterprises have is how many people have access to different branches.  Each branch gets new features at a different time.  There are two pre-release branches.  Insider Fast is the first release for features and this is a test release where bugs are reported by a large number of insider fast users (who are a combination of enterprise users and consumers).  Not all features will survive the fast ring.  At some point, normally within 6 months, a feature will be released to the next group – Insider Slow.  The slow ring has more people who again provide testing and feedback.

About every 6 months the final features that pass testing in the insider rings are bundled into a feature release.  A great example of this approach is the forthcoming Creators Release which brings many more creative features and functions to Windows 10 (as well as some broad enterprise features) – more on that here.  This release is the current branch – effectively this is the consumer release of Windows 10.  The image below shows the release cadence and feature lag:

feature-releases

The final mainstream release of Windows 10 is Current Branch for Business.  This has the same features as Current Branch but lags the current branch release by approximately 4 months.  For enterprises most users will be deployed using Current Branch for Business.  This branch offers more flexibility than I could show on the diagram.  Current Branch and the Insider Rings are updated every month.  Many enterprises want a less frequent update cycle and with Current Branch For Business you can defer updates.  Each release of Current Branch for Business will be supported and serviced by Microsoft for “at least 18 months”.  Support is basically N+2+60 days grace.  So for example the Windows 10 1507 release (i.e. July 2015) is now, in February 2017, entering its grace period after which it won’t be serviced and in many cases will be automatically upgraded.  The comments in this blog post explain this in more detail.

There is another release of Windows 10 that is available.  It has been designed for use in machines such as:

  • Devices that manage production lines
  • Devices that provide kiosk functionality
  • Cash machines
  • Medical devices
  • Etc.

This release is called Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) and can provide the same version of Windows 10 for up to 10 years.  Once released a version of Windows 10 LTSB has stability updates for 5 years then only security updates for another 5 years.  A new version of LTSB will be released about once every 2-3 years.  There are some important caveats with LTSB:

  1. LTSB is not designed for users to perform knowledge work, the basic rule of thumb from Microsoft is if the device has a productivity suite installed on it (e.g. Office) then LTSB is not the right fit.
  2. LTSB will only support silicon (i.e. CPU’s) available at the time of release.  This has massive implications meaning that to deploy to specialist devices a stock of existing devices will need to be held to deal with device failures.  Silicon releases from Intel etc. are normally 12-24 months meaning that early in the life of LTSB it will become increasingly difficult to buy hardware that will support your version of LTSB.

I am observing a small number of enterprises begin discussions on LTSB for users.  This is something that is of great concern and those considering such a move need to fully assess the limitations of LTSB in terms of features, release cadence and hardware compatibility.  For reference the LTSB section of this TechNet page is the reference I’ve used for this LTSB information as well as detailed briefing that we had with Microsoft in November 2016.

This blog post is part of a short series of blog posts:

  • Windows 10 Feature Releases (This post)

 

 

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