Understanding the Windows 10 feature release model

As we move to Windows 10 as an industry, we are adjusting to a change in 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 to 3 years, enterprises will now have a choice about how quickly and frequently users get new Windows features.

This approach is what Microsoft calls Windows as a Service, and it’s aimed at ensuring more devices remain up to date and, hence, more secure. It also keeps enterprises from living in technology debt with legacy device operating systems. (More great info about Windows as a Service is available here.)

Enterprises must now decide which users have access to different “branches,” and each branch gets new features at a different time.

There are two pre-release branches: Insider Fast is the first release for features. This is a test release where bugs are reported by users, who should be 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 features that pass testing in these pre-release branches 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). This release is in the Current Branch phase, effectively a consumer release.

The final mainstream release of Windows 10 is Current Branch for Business. This has the same features as Current Branch but lags by approximately 4 months.

The image below shows the release cadence and feature lag:

feature-releases windows 10 CSC Blogs

For enterprises, most users will be deployed using Current Branch for Business, a stage that offers more flexibility than I could show on the diagram above.

Current Branch and Insider Rings are updated every month. Many enterprises want a less frequent update cycle, and with Current Branch For Business, updates can be deferred. 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 schedule for Windows 10 that has been designed for use in machines such as:

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

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 to 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. CPUs) available at the time of release. This has massive implications. 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 every 12 months to 24 months, meaning that early in the life of LTSB, it will become increasingly difficult to buy hardware to support your version of LTSB.

I am seeing a small number of enterprises begin discussions on LTSB for users. This is something that is of concern to me, as those considering such a move need to fully assess the limitations of LTSB in terms of features, release cadence and hardware compatibility.

(For reference, check out the LTSB section of this TechNet page, something I reference for LTSB information. I’ve also had a detailed briefing with Microsoft in November 2016.)

So, that’s an overview of the update process and cadence for Windows 10. This blog post is part of a short series that will also delve into Windows 10 compatibility and the importance of collaboration on app updates. Check back for the next posts soon.


Stu-DownesStu Downes is a solution lead within the CSC MyWorkStyle offering group. Stu’s role working with product management, industry analysts, key clients and partners gives him a unique view of market trends and client needs. Since joining CSC in 1999 Stu has had a number of roles delivering, designing and leading solutions and products. Stu is now shaping workplace products that enable the hyper productive digital workplace.

 

RELATED LINKS

Windows 10 and new device management options

Windows 10 journeys: A starter kit

Windows 10: Mapping your journey

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