Microsoft's release cadence for Windows 10 has been the stuff of nightmares for IT pros. New feature updates (the equivalent of full Windows upgrades) arrive every six months and are supported for only 18 months. When you're accustomed to deploying major Windows versions every five years or so, the idea of having to make those large, coordinated moves every year is daunting, to say the least.
Must read: Microsoft permanently extends support for Windows 10 Enterprise and Education feature updates to 30 months | Microsoft relents on Office support cutoff dates | Microsoft to offer paid Windows 7 Extended Security Updates
Effective this month, for enterprise customers willing to pay the Enterprise edition premium, Microsoft is granting an extra year's support. The new changes are designed to encourage slow-moving enterprises to pick up the upgrade tempo for hundreds of millions of Windows 7 PCs, before that older OS reaches its retirement date in less than 500 days.
Today's announcements are the latest twist in a series of changes and extensions in the three years since Windows 10's initial release in 2015. In November 2017, Microsoft extended support for version 1511 by six months, to April 2018. (The blog post announcing that change is no longer online.)
Then, in February 2018, Microsoft announced similar six-month "servicing extensions for Windows 10," but this time with a noteworthy gotcha: The new, 24-month support lifecycle applied only to Enterprise and Education editions. If your organization has devices running Windows 10 Pro, they need to be updated every 18 months or sooner.
Today's announcement adds an extra six months of support, with all currently supported Windows 10 versions (1607 through 1803) supported for 30 months from their original release date. Once again, the extension applies only on Enterprise and Education editions.
For future releases, Microsoft is moving to separate support lifecycles for its twice-yearly releases. The March updates will have an 18-month support cycle for all editions, whereas the September release will get the longer, 30-month support cycle for Enterprise and Education editions. (All Windows 10 Pro installations will be supported for 18 months, and Windows 10 Home has no ability to defer updates.)
Also: Windows 10: A cheat sheet TechRepublic
For all intents and purposes, Microsoft is adopting a release cadence that is strikingly similar to what Linux users are already familiar with. Ubuntu Linux, for example, has a nearly identical twice-yearly release schedule, offering Long Term Support (LTS) versions in the spring and interim releases in the fall.
Here's how the Ubuntu lifecycle and release cadence looks in timeline form.
I created a similar timeline for Windows 10 using the new guidelines, and the result is striking. Microsoft isn't explicitly calling out "major" and "minor" releases in its schedule, but that's effectively what they will become.
(And one side note that didn't occur to me until I put together this timeline: Microsoft's naming convention, using yymm for version names, is going to get pretty strange in 2020. When customers see versions 2003 and 2009, how many are going to think they're running software from the turn of the century? Perhaps that's why the naming convention is likely to change to 20H1 and 20H2 before those releases roll around.)
If you're responsible for wide-scale deployments, that 30-month support cycle is reason to pay for Enterprise upgrades across the board. If you assume that it takes approximately six months for Microsoft to work out the kinks in a new update and for enterprise administrators to remediate any issues with their line-of-business apps and installed hardware, that still means a tight every-two-years upgrade cycle, with the bulk of the deployment coming in the first quarter.
For those who aren't willing to pay for those Enterprise upgrades, the deployment cycle effectively becomes yearly. You can skip one feature update, but if you try to stretch that out to 18 months you'll be deploying new feature updates as soon as they're released and then dealing with issues on your production network.
Also: Got an old PC? Your time running Windows 7 may be up TechRepublic
With the current non-Enterprise support lifecycle Microsoft, Windows 10 Pro version 1703 (released on April 5, 2017) will reach its end-of-support date in a month or so, on October 9, 2018. Similarly, support for version 1709 (released less than one year ago) will end on April 9, 2019. And, oh yeah, the clock is ticking on those Windows 7 boxes too.
Time to get to work.
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