Microsoft's Plan To Shrink Windows 10 Update Sizes by One-Third

A new Microsoft technology dubbed "Unified Update Platform" promises to cut the size of future Windows 10 updates by a third.

As Microsoft explained in its announcement last week, this emerging technology potentially can reduce Windows 10 download sizes by "approximately 35% when going from one major update of Windows to another." The amount of processing time on devices also is expected to decrease with the new technology.

Some Windows Insider Program mobile device testers using Windows 10 build 14959, released last week, could soon see the effects of the Unified Update Platform technology. It will have an extra benefit for them because it will let mobile users upgrade to the latest Windows 10 release all at once, instead of via incremental hops, Microsoft is promising.

PC users that are participants in the Windows Insider Program also will see smaller Windows 10 update releases from the Unified Update Platform technology, Microsoft suggested. However, that's coming sometime "later this year," the announcement indicated.

Microsoft eventually plans to implement the Unified Update Platform with other Windows 10-based products, such as Internet of Things devices and the Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality devices. The timing for a general, production-ready rollout wasn't indicated in Microsoft's announcement.

Microsoft releases its Windows 10 updates on a monthly basis. It also periodically delivers major operating system feature upgrades, which happen a few times per year. The monthly updates are "cumulative," meaning that they contain all past update releases. Consequently, the size of Windows 10 updates can get somewhat large, such as over 3GB, which can be problematic for mobile devices that may lack sufficient storage space.

The update size issue is partly addressed by "differential download package" technology, which just delivers the changed bits, instead of a full download, Microsoft's announcement explained. That approach apparently is part of the coming Unified Update Platform scheme.

The Unified Update Platform perhaps will be helpful to individual end users. On the IT management side, Microsoft has its Windows Update Delivery Optimization feature, which can be refined via Group Policy settings. It's a peer-to-peer client update scheme that got initiated with the Windows 10 version 1607 "anniversary update," released in August. The Delivery Optimization solution is designed to download the update bits from PCs and the update bits from Microsoft's datacenters as a way of reducing the potential bandwidth hit that organizations may face when Windows 10 updates arrive. The scheme reportedly taps unused portion of a network's upload capacity to perform the PC upgrades.

System Center Configuration Manager users have an alternative to Delivery Optimization called "Client Peer Cache." It rolled out with preview version 1604, but it will be available in a later System Center Configuration Manager release, according to this TechNet article. An early look at the Client Peer Cache preview, as described in this May blog post by management consultancy 1E, found that it had some rough aspects at that time.

BranchCache is Microsoft's other, more venerable system for managing bandwidth issues, especially with remote updates. BranchCache is designed for organizations with spread-out operations and is available via the Enterprise or Education editions of Windows 10, although some of its BITS capabilities are in the Pro edition. BITS, or Background Intelligent File Transfer Service, is Microsoft's technology for handling the timing of file transfers within a network.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.