Microsoft gives business users more Windows 10 upgrade details, guidance

Microsoft has shared a few more details about how businesses will be able to get Windows 10 and to keep their users current with feature and security fixes and updates.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

After providing Windows consumers with details about its planned free upgrade promotion for Windows 10, Microsoft has started providing business users with some early guidance, as well.

In a January 30 blog post, Microsoft officials said users running Windows 7 Pro, Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8.1 Pro will be eligible for the free Windows 10 promotion.

Via that promotion, users running these versions of Windows will have the option to upgrade to Windows 10 for free for the first year it is commercially available. (Microsoft officials have said Windows 10 will launch by this fall.) Microsoft will provide ongoing feature and security updates and fixes to these customers via Windows Update for the period their devices are supported by their manufacturers, Microsoft officials have said.

Exactly what constitutes that supported device period is still a bit squishy, but according to fine print on a Microsoft site:

"Some hardware/software requirements apply and feature availability may vary by device. Devices must be connected to the internet and have Windows Update enabled. ISP fees m apply. Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 Update required. Some editions are excluded: Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise, and Windows RT/RT 8.1. Active Software Assurance customers in volume licensing have the benefit to upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise outside of this offer. We will be sharing more information and additional offer terms in coming months."

Microsoft officials reiterated in yesterday's blog post that Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8 Enterprise and Windows 8.1 Enterprise won't be covered by the free first-year upgrade promotion for Windows 10. As Microsoft execs said last week, business users with paid Software Assurance volume-licensing contracts will, as usual, be able to upgrade to the latest versions of Windows as part of their contract terms.

Microsoft still hasn't released details about how much Windows 10 will cost or which editions it will make available when the product will be released.

Yesterday's blog post also explained how Microsoft will allow customers to update their Windows 10 deployments at different speeds.

Microsoft is introducing what it's calling "Long Term Servicing branches" for Windows 10. These branches will provide users with the latest security and critical updates, but not deliver new features for the duration of mainstream support (five years) and extended support (five additional years). Long Term Servicing branches will give users the right to use Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) to have more control over delivering security updates and fixes using their existing management infrastructure, such as System Center Configuration Manager or Windows Update -- as many Windows shops do today.

Microsoft officials said they plan to deliver the first Windows 10 Long Term Servicing branch "in the same time frame as Windows 10 market availability."

Microsoft is also going to offer "Current branch for Business," which is aimed at customers who are willing to receive not just the regular security updates to Windows 10, but also feature updates "after their quality and application compatibility has been assessed in the consumer market." Users on this branch will give IT departments time to validate updates before they deploy them to their employees. Customers using this branch will have the option to receive updates automatically, via Windows Update or via WSUS.

Microsoft is advising business users to keep non-mission critical end user Windows 10 devices on the Current branch for Business with updates set to happen automatically via Windows Update.

Microsoft is expected to provide customers who take advantage of the free Windows 10 promotion with regular, free feature and security updates on an ongoing basis via Windows Update, most likely with little or no opportunity to decline or delay either.

Officials reiterated that Microsoft is designing Windows 10 to have the same overall minimum hardware requirements as Windows 7 and Windows 8, while noting that "some new features may require new hardware capabilities, and software or firmware updates from device manufacturers and ISVs."

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