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Microsoft Refines Its Windows 10 Update Release Model

Microsoft this week described its Windows 10 Creators Update (version 1703) as being "fully available" for commercial deployments worldwide.

Update 7/28: It's the "current branch for business" (CBB) release that was described in Microsoft's announcement, which is not a new release, a Microsoft spokesperson clarified, via e-mail. It reached that milestone on July 11. Of note, some users trying to defer this update could see it get pushed down to them, since it's a CBB release.

The Creators Update had its public rollout in April, so it's already broadly used, typically on consumer machines. However, that release (build 15063.483) actually was just the "current branch" (CB) version of the operating system. Under Microsoft's Windows 10 update scheme, consumer users get CB releases directly and have limited ability to defer their arrival. Organizations, on the other hand, are supposed to treat CB releases as test releases and deploy them to just a small number of internal users. At least, that's how Microsoft has characterized its Windows 10 update scheme in the recent past.

Consequently, what Microsoft perhaps announced on Thursday was the release of the "current branch for business" (CBB) version of the Windows 10 Creators Update. That's a simple interpretation, and if it's true, IT pros wanting stabile Windows releases might rejoice at this point because CBB releases are the ones Microsoft has previously suggested are ready for deployment in production environments.

Except that it's maybe a little more complicated than that characterization. Thursday's announcement doesn't refer to this release as a CBB release. In Microsoft's Windows 10 release information page, it's called the "semi-annual channel" release (build 15063.483). Moreover, it bears a release date of July 11, not July 27.

So, what is Microsoft trying to say?

Name Changes
The naming discrepancy -- CBB versus semi-annual channel -- has an explanation of sorts. CBB and semi-annual channel are the same thing. Microsoft just changed the nomenclature.

Here's the background. IT pros may recall that Microsoft announced in April that it was consolidating the update cycles of Office 365 ProPlus, Windows 10 and System Center Configuration Manager into a biannual (March and September) major update release cycle. Along with that consolidation, Microsoft announced update model name changes. Basically, "branches" became "channels" across those products. Consequently, the CB release became the "semi-annual channel (pilot)." The CBB release became the "semi-annual channel (broad)."

But that was three months ago. A Microsoft support document, entitled "Upcoming Changes," now indicates those names are known as "semi-annual channel targeted" and "semi-annual channel," respectively. See the following table:

[Click on image for larger view.] Microsoft's channel update scheme for Office 365 ProPlus, which also applies to Windows 10, Windows Server 2016, and System Center Configuration Manager. (Source: Microsoft's "Upcoming Changes" Office 365 ProPlus document.)

In essence, that's how the CBB release became semi-annual channel release.

Update Advice
Microsoft's Window 10 deployment advice to IT pros regarding major update releases also seems to have shifted slightly as of Thursday. Instead of just deploying the semi-annual channel release as a production-ready release in a computing environment, IT pros are supposed to roll it out to some users for testing first. That used to be the old CB test scenario, but now it seems to apply to semi-annual channel releases, too.

Here's Microsoft's explanation.

"When the Semi-Annual Channel feature update is released, organizations can begin targeted deployments to a select group of machines to validate their apps, devices, and infrastructure, prior to beginning a broad deployment at a time that is right for them," explained John Cable, director of program management for Windows servicing and delivery, in Microsoft's announcement.

That triaged approach that organizations should adopt when deploying semi-annual channel releases -- formerly known as "semi-annual channel (broad)" or "CBB" -- is also the approach recommended by Michael Niehaus, director of Windows Commercial, in a Windows for IT pros blog post.

"Start with targeted deployments to validate that apps, devices and infrastructure used by the organization works well with the new release," Niehaus stated regarding Windows 10 semi-annual channel releases. "When that validation is complete, begin broadly deploying."

Niehaus added that Microsoft is updating the Windows 10 version 1703 ISOs at the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center to include the July cumulative update, but didn't say when it would be available.

Niehaus also summarized that each channel release is supported for 18 months, which Microsoft had explained back in May.

End of Support Dates
Microsoft is now publishing the end of support dates for Windows 10 versions at this "Windows Lifecycle Fact Sheet" page. It shows that Windows 10 version 1703 will fall out of "mainstream support" on Oct. 13, 2020, and it will lose "extended support" on Oct. 14, 2025. Those traditional details regarding mainstream and extended support are perhaps being published for the first time.

The history of other Windows 10 versions isn't listed on Microsoft fact sheet page. Such details can be confusing, as prior to Microsoft's more regular biannual Windows 10 update release cycle, support for various Windows 10 versions varied somewhat. For instance, Windows 10 version 1507 isn't listed on the fact sheet, and it was supposed to be unsupported as of May. However, an obscure Microsoft support document, dated Thursday, now states that Windows 10 version 1511 will reach the end of service on Oct. 10, 2017. No reason was given for the extended support, but Windows 10 support only now seems to be getting documented by Microsoft.

Microsoft's biannual update cycle will also apply to Windows Server 2016, Niehaus suggested, in a video. This month, Microsoft released the first test release of Windows Server 2016 (build 16237) to Windows Insider testers. This release marks the new biannual (March and September) update scheme for the server product. Windows Server 2016 is getting a semi-annual channel" release cycle in addition to its more traditional "long-term servicing branch" release cycle. It's optional to use the semi-annual channel, and it also comes with a requirement to have Software Assurance coverage in place to use it.

About the Author

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