More changes coming to Microsoft's Windows as a Service strategy

Microsoft is continuing to tweak its Windows 10 patching and updating strategy, and plans to hold off until 2019 before releasing another version of Windows 10 designated as its Long Term Servicing Branch.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is continuing to tweak its Windows as a Service updating and patching strategy.

Company officials announced some of the latest adjustments during last week's Ask Me Anything (AMA) about Windows as a Service on the Microsoft Tech Community site.

Microsoft officials have been hinting that the company is working to align the patching and updating strategies for Windows 10 and Office moving forward. It turns out that it will be more than just the cadence that the company will align; the nomenclature for the feature updates will be aligned too.

What Microsoft currently calls the "Current Branch" in Windows 10 updating parlance will be changing to "Semi-Annual Channel (Pilot)." And the Current Branch for Business release, which typically follows the Current Branch by four months and is anointed by Microsoft as being ready for business deployment, will be known as "Semi Annual Channel (Broad)" at some point in the coming months.

These are the same names that Microsoft is using for its Office ProPlus updates, as of this September, according to a Microsoft Support article.

(Image: Microsoft)

The Office ProPlus "First Release for Deferred Channel" becomes "Semi-annual Channel (Pilot)" and the "Deferred Channel" release becomes "Semi-annual Channel (Broad)."

Microsoft officials said last month that the company will be providing new feature updates to both Windows 10 and Office twice annually as of this September. This will kick off with the Redstone 3 update, officials said.

Microsoft officials also said during last week's AMA that the next Windows 10 release to be designated as a Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) build won't be coming until some time in 2019 (thanks to Computerworld for the pointer to that fact).

The most-recently released Windows 10 release that was made available to the LTSB channel was the Anniversary Update, which Microsoft began rolling out in August 2016.

The LTSB was designed for specialized systems, but it was available to all Windows 10 Enterprise users as an option when Microsoft originally announced its branch strategy. Microsoft never publishes feature updates (only security ones) through Windows Update on devices running Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB; instead the company makes available a new LTSB release every two to three years. Users can install these interim updates or skip over releases for a 10-year period.

In related news, after today, Microsoft will no longer be updating with new features, fixes or security fixes to the original Windows 10 release which came out in July 2015. That build is known as 1507. Originally, Microsoft planned to stop updating 1507 in March but quietly switched that end of update deadline to May 9.

Microsoft officials have said the company's plan is to maintain only two supported Current Branch for Business versions of Windows 10 at any given time. The Windows 10 November update (1511) and Anniversary Update (1607) are both Current Branch for Business releases. The Windows 10 Creators Update (1703) will be designated as a CBB release in about four months. Supported Current Branch and Current Branch for Business releases are updated and patched cumulatively every month on Patch Tuesday.

Today, which happens to be Patch Tuesday, marked the release of Cumulative Updates for Windows 10 builds 1507, 1511, 1607, and 1703. The Microsoft update history site lists the changes and fixes in the Cumulative Update for each of these Windows 10 branches.

For those needing a quick branch refresher: Microsoft tests Windows 10 builds on its own employees and with those who voluntarily sign up for the Windows Insider program. Once a feature update to Windows 10 is deemed ready, Microsoft releases it to the mainstream. (I call this RTM, though it no longer means Release to Manufacturing).

After a period of several months (four-plus) Microsoft rolls out a new build of Windows 10 to "normals" and business users who want to pilot the new release. This Current Branch (CB) goes out on a throttled basis, with Microsoft pushing it to successively more users.

Only after more Cumulative Updates to the RTM versions does Microsoft recommend the new Windows 10 release as solid enough for business customers to deploy. At that point, Microsoft designates that build as the Current Branch for Business (CBB).

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