This information will be useful not only to system administrators and IT managers, but also to ordinary users who are interested when the new version of Windows 10 is released or the support for the old version ends.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the Windows 10 service model (Windows-as-a-Service), previously known as the Windows Branching Service Branch. This topic has caused a lot of confusion since the introduction of the Windows model as a service.
In the article, we will try to clarify and tell in detail about the updated Windows 10 service model and release schedules for operating system releases.
Cumulative and functional updates of Windows 10
System administrators and IT professionals must master the Windows 10 maintenance schedule. However, before moving on to an overview of the current release schedule for new versions of the system, several important terms must be understood.
First of all, you need to clearly understand the difference between feature updates (Feature Upgrades) and cumulative updates (Quality Updates).
Functional updates (Feature Upgrades). As the name suggests, functional updates include the latest features, components, and advanced features for Windows 10 devices. Microsoft releases two functional updates per year – in March and September. Since functional updates contain a complete copy of the operating system, they can be used to install the latest version of Windows 10 on Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 computers, as well as on new devices without an OS.
Cumulative updates (Quality Updates). Cumulative updates are similar to monthly security updates and patches that were used before the release of Windows 10, but have a number of significant differences. Firstly, cumulative updates are designed for a specific version of Windows 10. Secondly, Microsoft plans to release as many cumulative updates as required for supported versions of Windows 10. These updates are aimed at improving the quality of the OS.
Windows 10 Service Types
When Microsoft first introduced the Windows 10 Branching Model, enterprises could choose from four available branches. They were distinguished by the availability of functional updates and the duration of the support period:
Windows Insider Insider Program (This program is primarily intended for ordinary consumers and system administrators who want to test the latest features and improvements before they become publicly available).
Current Branch – The availability of the new version of Windows 10 immediately after the public release.
Current Branch For Business (CBB) – A pre-production version of Windows 10 for enterprises is available after approximately 4 months from the date of public release.
Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) – a branch with long-term technical support, designed for ATMs, production equipment and other critical specialized devices that do not require regular updates.
In the spring of 2017, an updated Windows 10 service model was introduced. Currently, organizations can choose one of three service options. Choose the option that best suits your requirements:
Windows Insider Insider Program – Most large enterprises have a small team of specialists who test preliminary versions of future updates to better adapt and deploy and resolve potential compatibility issues.
Semi-Annual Channel (SAC) – replaces the concepts of “Current Branch” (CB) and “Current Branch for Business” (CBB). Now IT teams in organizations can use the six-month channel in System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) for pilot deployment and testing. Then the company decides when it is possible to move to a wider deployment.
Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) – formerly known as the Long-Term Service Branch (LTSB). Suitable for organizations that deploy Windows 10 for a long period of time and strive to limit the introduction of minor changes. Customers will regularly receive security updates throughout the entire period of using Windows 10 – up to 10 years. This option is great for ATMs, manufacturing equipment and other critical specialized devices.
In Microsoft articles you can also meet the terms “Semi-annual channel (pilot)” and “Semi-annual channel (wide)”. They correspond to “Current branches” and “Current branches for business”. Now, instead of them, the terms Semi-Annual Channel (Target) and Semi-Annual Channel are used.
It is important to emphasize one point that can cause confusion. After the publication of the initial release, updates prepared for the enterprise will not be released. For example, 4 months after the Fall Creators Update was released on October 17, 2017, the six-month Fall Creators Update channel update will not work. The initial update is the final update.
New simplified release schedule
Most of the initially simplified support deadlines were revised as part of the expanded support for Windows 10, which was introduced by Microsoft on September 6. The most important changes:
Windows 10 Enterprise and Education releases will be supported for 30 months if the target release is the second major Windows 10 feature update in a year (fall update or Semi-Annual Channel).
All currently supported versions of Enterprise and Education will receive extended support for a total duration of 30 months from the initial release.
Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) spring releases will only be supported for 18 months.
Versions of Windows 10 other than Enterprise and Education will be supported for 18 months from the date of release, regardless of when the update was released (in spring or fall).
We plan to update using the release schedule for Windows 10 releases
In this section, we will talk about the type of service Semi-Annual Channel for Windows 10 Enterprise and Education, because the long-term service channel does not receive functional updates, and versions of Windows 10 Insider Preview precede public releases.
Schedule updated April 20, 2020.
As you can see from the above graph, Microsoft published its first release of Windows 10 in July 2015. Feature updates get their own names (for example, the Windows 10 November 2019 Update), and each one is assigned a version number (“1909”) based on its release date (YYMM). Since the initial release, a total of eight (8) feature updates have been released.
After several expansions of support periods (EOL), as well as changes to names and service policies, Microsoft has the following policy used to update features. There are two (2) issues per year, one in spring and one in autumn. The spring update is serviced for 18 months from the moment of release, and the autumn – for 30 months from the moment of release. The last fall update, version 1909, was considered a minor update, similar to the service pack in previous versions of Windows. There is talk that the autumn update for 2020 will be similar, while Microsoft is following the schedule of major / minimum updates.
When will support for my version of Windows 10 end?
We will indicate the most important release and version support dates:
For Current Branch (1507 RTM): 05/09/2017
Windows 10 November Update, version 1511: 04/10/2018
Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Version 1607: 04/09/2019
Windows 10 Creators Update, version 1703: 10/08/2019
Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, version 1709: 10.11.2020 ***
Windows 10 April 2018 Update, version 1803: 10.11.2020 ***
Windows 10 October 2018 Update, Version 1809: 05/11/2021 **
Windows 10 May 2019 Update, version 1903: 12/08/2020 *
Windows 10 November 2019, version 1909: 05/10/2022 **
Windows 10 May 2020 Update, version 2004: fall of 2021 *
Windows 10 Manganese Version 2009: Spring 2023 **
* Service for 18 months from the release date in accordance with the expanded support for Windows 10 announced by Microsoft on September 6, 2018.
** Service for 30 months from the release date in accordance with the expanded support for Windows 10 announced by Microsoft on September 6, 2018.
*** Due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, Microsoft has extended support for older versions of Windows 10, services and applications.
Note: sometimes it may be difficult to find out the version number of the system. To quickly find out the version number of Windows 10, enter winver in the search box, press Enter, and you will see a dialog box with information about the current version of the OS.
Microsoft has revised the feature update delivery policy for Windows 10. These changes are associated not so much with the distribution of updates as with the ability not to install new versions twice a year.
Using the new Download and Install Now feature, administrators and users of Windows 10 devices can decide for themselves whether to install any separate feature update or not. If you do not use this function, the new update will not be downloaded and installed on the PC.
When Windows 10 reaches the end of support period, Windows Update will automatically start the feature update installation.
If you are in doubt whether to install all the updates or if you need to skip some of them, remember that you can safely skip one or two functional updates. This is made even easier with Microsoft’s new, expanded support.
However, since new versions are available for a limited period of time, it is very important to install all the fixes and features in time. At the same time, it is important to consider the completion date of support for a particular version in order to maintain maximum system security.
Now it’s obvious that the huge variety of management options and the compulsory nature of updates are forcing IT departments to quickly adapt to the new update culture, which is part of the Windows as a Service concept.
Every month, older versions of Windows 10 are nearing the end of their life cycle, and organizations should prepare for the latest functional updates. In the future, this may lead to the depreciation of the old system functions, which can be used in some mission-critical applications in the enterprise.