Microsoft is ready to move Windows 10 Fast Ring testers to build 20H1

Microsoft is switching up the way it's going to be testing Windows 10 with the next couple of releases. What's behind its latest moves? I have some theories.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft announced earlier this week that its Windows 10 19H1/1903 release is poised to go to the Release Preview test ring and marinate for a month before it starts rolling out to the mainstream in May. That should mean that Microsoft also is about to start rolling out preview builds of the follow-on Windows 10 feature update, known as 19H2, to its Insider testers. But it's looking like the testing story is more complicated than that.

Microsoft officials blogged today, April 5, that the Windows team is planning to merge its Skip Ahead and Fast Ring testers into a single pool that will be testing Windows 10 20H1, rather than 19H2. Microsoft already has been testing 20H1 with Skip Ahead testers, claiming publicly that it needed to do so because some (mystery) features need a longer testing lead time. My contacts say the real reason was the need to align Azure and Windows engineering schedules.

Does this mean there won't be a 19H2 Windows 10 release? No. Windows 10 19H2 is definitely happening.

Normally, when Microsoft completes a Windows 10 feature release, the Fast Ring testing group starts testing the follow-on release (which would be 19H2, in this case). Instead, the Fast Ring is now skipping over 19H2, it seems, and going straight to 20H1.

"We'll talk about how we plan to release 19H2 in the coming weeks," tweeted Brandon LeBlanc, Senior Program Manager on the Windows Insider Program Team, when asked about the unusual plan.

My guess as to what's happening is Microsoft is moving to a model where its H2 Windows 10 feature releases are more like Cumulative Updates with a few (possibly optional) new features added in. In other words, Windows 10 19H2, due out in the fall/winter of 2019, will be a minor update.

If this is true, this will make many IT/enterprise shops very happy because Microsoft already has said the Windows 10 H2 Enterprise and Education releases will be supported for 30 months, not just 18, like the H1 releases. And that gives IT/enterprise shops a way out of upgrading to new feature releases every time Microsoft delivers one. (They can wait a year and a half before moving to a new release, given the 30-month support policy.)

With a huge part of its Windows installed base still running Windows 7, even though the end of free support for Windows 7 is looming (January 14, 2020 is D-day), Microsoft is looking for ways to convince business users that Windows 10 isn't a scary, unpredictable mess. Making its H2 Windows 10 updates more like Cumulative Updates than big-bang releases chock full of brand-new features would go a long way toward achieving that goal.

Microsoft officials aren't yet ready to talk about their plans for 19H2 testing and rollout. They're saying 19H2 test bits are coming "later this spring."

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