The Takeaway: The Windows 10 update cadence explained

One thing is certain: Different users will get different versions of Microsoft's new OS at different times.

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Credit: Mark Hachman
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With the launch of Windows 10 at the end of this month, Microsoft will also roll out an entirely new way of updating and upgrading the operating system -- and a staggered schedule almost certain to lead to confusion, at least at first.

If you haven't been paying attention, and you plan to move to Windows 10, you're going to become very familair with a host of new terms related to OS updates: there are "branches" and "rings" and for enterprises, the all-important "Long-term Servicing Branch." Though a lot of details remain to be filled in by Microsoft, here's what users can expect based on what the company has said so far.

  • The first update or upgrade -- Microsoft has used the terms interchangeably -- is likely to show up by early December with three more to follow in 2016 at roughly four-month intervals. That same pace is expected to continue for 2017, too. That three-per-year cadence is based on information from a Microsoft-hosted webinar in late April. Note: An OS update that fast would be a record for the company.
  • The first update/upgrade will go primarily to devices running Windows 10 Home via the Windows Update service. Microsoft calls that update track "Current Branch" (CB). That means consumers will get the first update, although users running Windows 10 Pro can also opt for that same update pace.
  • Not everyone on CB will get the first update at the same time. Microsoft has segment each "branch" into "rings." The latter is a second timing mechanism that lets customers get a branch's update quickly via a "fast" ring, or slow the update's arrival using a "slow" ring. MIcrosoft hasn't said how much time will elapse between a fast ring release and a slow one.
  • Most business PCs won't get the first update until next Spring. That's because Microsoft will not release builds to businesses at the same time as those on the Current Branch. The four-month stretch between updates/upgrades -- and the automatic delay built into the Current Branch for Business (CBB) -- means companies can expect the first build in late March or early April 2016. Microsoft says that will allow it to produce more bug-free code to its most important users, businesses.
  • Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise users can manage updates using Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) or another patch-management product -- or go with the new Windows Update for Business (WUB). Those on WUB have to deploy a given build within four months of its release or Microsoft will stop supplying patches. So CBB users applying updates with WUB will have to have the first build on their devices by around Aug. 1, 2016.
  • The only Windows 10 edition that can avoid continuous updates is Enterprise, which is only available to organizations with a volume licensing agreement tied to the company's Software Assurance (SA) program. That branch has been dubbed Long-term Servicing Branch, or LSTB, and mimics how Microsoft has handled its OS until now: Only security patches and critical bug-fixes will reach systems on the LTSB. Every two to three years, Microsoft will create another LTSB build that integrates some or all of the feature changes released to CB and CBB in the intervening time, and offer that to customers. They can move to that build or skip it. The first optional LTSB build won't shpw up until 2017 at the earliest.

Although it sounds like the various builds, update cadences and releases will cause OS fragmentation for users, analysts remain sanguine about that issue. They argue that while the delays offered to businesses on the CBB may be disruptive, Windows 10 will still represent a more uniform ecosystem than the variety of Windows editions now in use.

With reports by Gregg Keizer at Computerworld.

This story, "The Takeaway: The Windows 10 update cadence explained" was originally published by CIO.

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