The Takeaway: Here's how Windows 10 updates will work

As Microsoft preps Windows 10 for its July 29 rollout, the company is putting the finishing touches on how it will offer regular updates and patches. One thing is clear: Big changes are coming.

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With Windows 10 set to roll out on July 29, the company is still putting the finishing touches on how it will offer companies and consumers regular updates and patches. One thing is certain, however: The pace of those updates will be faster than it has been in the past -- and just how fast will depend on some decisions users will have to make.

The radical new system envisions more frequent maintenance releases, quicker security fixes and even new features on a rolling basis. It's a far cry from what Windows users have grown accustomed to over the past two decades. There's even new terminology to describe what Microsoft has planned, just to further confuse things. You'll be hearing a lot about branches and rings in the months ahead.

Here's the basics of how the system will work, based on what we know so far from Microsoft:

  • PC users at home running Windows 10 Home or who upgrade from the basic versions of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 will be on what Microsoft calls the "Current Branch." (Yes, that's some of the new vocabulary you'll have to learn.) That's the fastest release path, with updates coming about every four months via Windows Update (WU), the update mechanism Microsoft has used for 20 years. Current Branch updates are more like Service Packs, and users will be expected to accept them as is -- though you can opt for a slower "ring" that gives you a little more time to actually do the installation.
  • Businesses -- or people running Windows 10 Pro or who upgrade from Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate, or from Windows 8.1 Pro, will get what's called the Current Branch for Business (CBB). This offers more flexibility in update timing, although like the Current Branch (see above), it's automatically delivered and it's all or nothing. No picking and choosing which updates to accept. These updates will come via Windows Update for Business (WUB) -- the new service Microsoft unveiled in May. WUB is like a high-end version of Windows Update for businesses, and will push out updates four months after consumers get them. That's designed to help work out any early bugs before companies get the changes.
  • Companies that pay for Software Assurance (SA) will be on the slowest track. It's called the Long-term Service Branch (LTSB) and is designed to lock down devices. A Microsoft product manager has described LTSB as "very similar to Windows 7." Security and bug fixes reach devices, but those systems don't get the feature/functionality/UI/UX changes for Windows 10. Note: LTSB is the only branch that Microsoft guarantees will receive support for 10 years, five in "Mainstream" support, the following five in "Extended" support.
  • Security updates will be released on an as-needed basis, meaning the monthly Patch Tuesday routine everyone's used to is going away. (Current Branch and CBB updates offer up feature, functionality, UI and UX changes, not security fixes.) In this area, Microsoft has been less straightforward; the assumption is that everyone, consumers and companies, will be offered any patches automatically and applied immediately. Companies that choose a slower ring may have more time to apply them, however.

One final note: While users may be able to delay exactly when they get updates and how fast they apply them, they can't avoid them all together without losing access to security updates.

With reports from Gregg Keizer at Computerworld

This story, "The Takeaway: Here's how Windows 10 updates will work" was originally published by CIO.