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Microsoft Readies New 'Business Ready' Version of Windows 10 for Orgs

Microsoft has upgraded build 1511 of Windows 10, which was originally issued to testers last November, from a "current branch" (CB) release to a "current branch for business" (CBB) release.

According to Microsoft's announcement on Friday, the new CBB release will arrive "in the coming weeks" on "Windows Update, Windows Update for Business, and Windows Server Update Services," as well as MSDN and the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center.

For Microsoft, this CBB transition represents a milestone for its Windows team. It signifies that the Windows 10 1511 operating system feature update is now tested sufficiently enough to be deemed "ready for organizations to begin deploying broadly," according to the announcement. That idea might seem like a surprise for IT pros who haven't been keeping up with Microsoft's somewhat obscure and evolving Windows 10 patch management approach.

The days when a Windows release was complete until the next service pack arrived are largely gone, at least for organizations running Windows 10. The one exception is the so-called "long-term servicing branch" (LTSB) approach, an approach that Microsoft recommends only for Internet of Things-type scenarios. Microsoft now updates Windows like a service, with monthly updates, and most organizations maintaining Windows 10 environments likely will need to track the CBB releases, including when Microsoft declares that a CB has become a CBB. This rather complex update scheme is outlined in this Microsoft TechNet article.

The Dead Branch Threat
At a certain point, a CBB will become a dead end. A Windows 10 environment won't get further updates from Microsoft until the organization updates Windows 10 to the most current CBB. And that cycle has been variously described. The usual description is that a new CB is declared approximately every four months and a new CBB is declared approximately every eight months. IT pros can see how Microsoft dates and labels its Windows 10 releases at this page.

As for the "1511" designation, it signifies the version number of the release in year/month numerical format. The initial Windows 10 release of 2015 November (1511) is now considered ready for business deployment. It's become a CBB, with that switch happening a little more than four months out from its initial release, which was known as the CB release.

Even though the Windows 10 1511 update has now transitioned from the CB stage to the CBB stage, it's still the same bits. The only difference is that a March cumulative update, KB3140768 (comprising a bunch of security fixes) was inserted into the CBB version, which still goes by the old 1511 label, Microsoft's announcement explained.

How CBBs Affect Organizations
"You need to understand the impact of the CBB declaration," Microsoft's announcement told organizations. It all boils down to these points:

  • Windows Update for Business users can't defer the 1511 CBB.

  • Windows Server Update Services users will need to re-approve 1511, which is now a CBB release.

  • System Center Configuration Manager users will see a "business ready" designation for this release for their deployment consideration.

  • Alternatively, System Center Configuration Manager users or those using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit can download Windows 10 1511 from the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center.

The main question IT pros may be having is how much time they'll have to move to the current Windows 10 1511 CBB. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't say.

When Gartner explained Microsoft's Windows 10 service-branch approach last year, it came up with the idea that organizations had one year to move from the current branch launch. Since Window 10 1511 was first released in November 2015, that concept would suggest that November 2016 would be the deadline for organizations to get to Windows 10 1511 CBB.

And that Gartner idea seems to track with Microsoft's scheme. In Patchmangement.org forum posts, Michael Niehaus, a deployment expert at Microsoft, noted that this Windows 10 1511 CBB will become unsupported about four months after the release of the Windows 10 "anniversary update" release. Microsoft has said that this Windows 10 anniversary update, currently at the preview stage, is expected to arrive this summer, possibly in June (or some say in July).

Microsoft's scheme is fairly obtuse, but Niehaus provided a few clarifications in the Patchmanagement.org forum. He explained that every CB release will get declared as a CBB four months after the initial CB release. A CB is just a stage of the release, not a different release -- CBBs have just undergone more testing than the CB. Moreover, Microsoft expects to maintain two CBBs at a time. For instance, it already does. There's a Windows 10 1507 CBB and a concurrent Windows 10 1511 CBB, and both are active, he indicted.

Microsoft has been gradually describing its Windows 10 release scheme. Unfortunately, each new explanation doesn't seem to make thinking about it any easier. The bottom line appears to be that IT pros will have to track Windows 10 version numbers and CBB releases. They'll have to move to the next CBB per version within a year of the initial CB's initial release date in order to stay supported with patches.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.