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Semiannual Channel vs. Full Availability: Microsoft Clarifies Windows 10 Update Lingo

Michael Niehaus, director of product marketing for Microsoft's Windows Commercial group, this week explained Microsoft's communication approach with regard to Windows 10 updates.

In a phone interview, Niehaus clarified that Microsoft is on the verge of releasing the "semiannual channel" version of Windows 10 update 1709. Semiannual channel is Microsoft's lingo for an operating system update that's deemed tested and ready for deployment by organizations. Windows 10 update 1709, known as the "Fall Creators Update," is expected to arrive in a day or so through the Windows Update service. When available, its published date will show up in Microsoft's release history page here. Currently, that page just records that the "semiannual (targeted)" test release of Windows 10 update 1709 arrived back in October.

The final semiannual channel version of Windows 10 update 1709 is expected to arrive via the Windows Update service after Jan. 18. Refreshed media (ISOs) are expected to be available in the week of Jan. 22.

According to Niehaus, Microsoft has been trying to arrive at a more uniform messaging, both for consumers and IT pros. Last week, Microsoft noted the "full availability" of Windows 10 update 1709, but that phrase is just an attempt to prod awareness. The full availability release is the same thing as the semiannual channel release. Microsoft was just giving advance notice.

In a brief Q&A, Niehaus explained Microsoft's approach in trying to get its customers aligned to Windows as a Service cycles with Windows 10.

Is the full availability release different from the semiannual channel release of Windows 10?
Niehaus: They're all kind of interrelated. If you think about how we are updating Windows 10 on consumer noncommercial devices, we go through basically acting as IT for the world at large, starting out slowly, starting out with newer machines, and then over time broadening up to a point where we basically say, "All right, full speed ahead." At this point, let's remove all of the brakes and keep deploying as quickly as we can to get the newest Windows 10 release out to all of the machines that are talking to Windows Update. So that's kind of the point where [Microsoft Director of Program Management John Cable's] blog is saying we're at. We're making that declaration that we've removed all of the throttles from Windows Update and we're deploying to all of the remaining machines. Now, there probably are some exceptions to that where we have specific blocks in place for specific issues, but as far as the broad population goes, we are full speed ahead.

What we've been working toward is aligning that point in time with the commercial point in time -- that "ready for broad deployment" declaration -- so that when we are confident enough to say we are ready for broad deployment for the consumer audience, we're also making a statement for the commercial audience. So, they're kind of tied together at this point, and that's where the note in the blog talking about commercial refresh availability comes in. That generally, when we are making that "ready for broad deployment" declaration for businesses, we refresh the media to give you a new baseline that you can build from or to deploy with, and that's what we are saying will be available probably within the next week. I think there was a week range in there just to make sure that we have all of the channels updated -- Windows Update, Windows Update for Business, WSUS, MSDN, Volume Licensing Service Center -- all of them will get updated with new media. That new media is basically provided as a convenience where we inject the latest cumulative update into that media and publish it.

"I think what you're seeing is kind of a...I wouldn't say a change in messaging, but more of a tweak in the messaging to put more of the focus on the process that we want our commercial customers to go through."

Michael Niehaus, Director of Product Marketing, Windows Commercial Group, Microsoft

Will that timing be reflected on the Windows 10 release information page?
Niehaus: If you watch, as soon as the media is available through all of those channels, the Windows 10 release info page will be updated to reflect that Windows 10 [update] 1709 is now a semiannual channel release. It will no longer be labeled a semiannual channel (targeted) release. It's all linked together like that.

What's Microsoft trying to signal?
Niehaus: I think what you're seeing is kind of a...I wouldn't say a change in messaging, but more of a tweak in the messaging to put more of the focus on the process that we want our commercial customers to go through. We want them to go through a validation process with each new release, starting with targeted pilot deployments, where they validate their apps, infrastructure, devices -- just to make sure that everything works well with the new release. And as soon as they finish that validation, then begin deploying broadly. Some customers will finish that process in a couple of months; some customers might take six.

So, to have this kind of arbitrary point where we make this declaration, where we say we think it's ready for broad deployment, who's really going to listen to us anyway? We really want them to be comfortable themselves with when it's time to begin that broad deployment, and if you're ready before we make that declaration, by all means, go for it. If it takes a little longer after, fine. But we want to make sure that you're going through that motion of doing those targeted pilot deployments to get the validation in place. The problem that we've run into is a lot of customers look at that "ready for broad deployment" declaration as their starting point, not as their "take out the shackles" point. It's not advantageous to them if they just sit back and do nothing until that declaration arrives because we are actively trying to get feedback from these customers so that we can address any issues that we run into before we shift focus to the next release.

There have been some complaints that Windows 10 update 1703 instances are updating to update 1709, even when delays have been set. Any insights to share?
Niehaus: We have heard about the reports of that and we are investigating. At this point, I don't know that we've gotten to the bottom of any of the issues, but what we have been trying to do is look at our own telemetry and identify the machines based on their deferral settings -- how many of them have been upgraded and then drill into that set of machines and figure out why those machines have upgraded. In some cases, it's people manually initiated the upgrades, so we have to sort those out of the pile and then keep digging in deeper until we can figure out what's going on with each population of machines. I don't think we have a definitive answer yet, but we continue to investigate.

About the Author

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

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