Microsoft Deems Windows 10 Version 1809 Ready for 'Broad' Use

Microsoft this week signaled to organizations that they should now be running Windows 10 version 1809.

The company designated Windows 10 version 1809 as being ready for "broad deployment" on Thursday. Moreover, according to Microsoft's Windows-as-a-service evangelist John Wilcox, Windows 10 version 1809 will show up as a "semiannual channel" (SAC) release on Microsoft's release information page.

The Meaning of 'Broad Deployment'
The "broad deployment" phrase apparently is equivalent in meaning to the "SAC" release phase. The phrase also can be found in this Windows-as-a-service "Overview" document dated Sept. 23, 2018, under the "Semi-Annual Channel" subhead:

Organizations are expected to initiate targeted deployment on Semi-Annual Channel releases. All customers, independent software vendors (ISVs), and partners should use this time for testing and piloting within their environments. After 2-4 months, we will transition to broad deployment and encourage customers and partners to expand and accelerate the deployment of the release.

That description is confusing because it seems to be describing the semiannual channel "targeted" release (which Microsoft abbreviates as "SAC-T"), not the SAC release. The passage seems to be saying that an SAC release will transition to broad deployment, but broad deployment is the SAC release, per Wilcox's description.

Chronologically, an SAC-T release arrives before an SAC release, but Microsoft previously explained that it conceives of SAC-T releases as only meaningful for users of the Windows Update for Business management solution. Windows Update for Business is a collection of technologies associated with Group Policy settings that organizations can use to manage Windows 10 upgrades. Microsoft's alternatives to using Windows Update for Business include using Windows Server Update Services and System Center Configuration Manager. Users of those management systems are supposed to track Windows 10 SAC releases for their OS deployments.

Much of this confusion has been needlessly inflicted on others by Microsoft. Last month, Microsoft indicated that it planned to drop the SAC-T designation altogether when it releases the spring 2019 version of Windows 10 ("version 1903"). In Thursday's announcement, though, Wilcox said that Microsoft planned to "continue to communicate for future releases the transition from targeted to broad deployment status," so the SAC-T label perhaps will live on in some form.

Microsoft has also previously said that SAC-T release dates mark the actual release date of Windows 10 upgrades. In other words, the lifecycle of a particular Windows 10 version (typically lasting 18 months) starts with the SAC-T release date.

Microsoft has also used the term "fully available" to describe its Windows 10 upgrade phases. Fully available was equated with the SAC release of Windows 10 version 1803, for instance. Likely, the phrases "designated for broad deployment" and "fully available" mean the same thing, namely the SAC phase, but it's also possible they have different meanings for Microsoft that aren't well understood.

The 1809 Disaster
Windows 10 version 1809 was a troubled release. It was released about five months ago, but it's only now reached SAC. The delay becomes all the more noticeable as Microsoft could release its spring 2019 Windows 10 release (known as "version 1903") next month.

Microsoft actually first declared the release of Windows 10 version 1809 on Oct. 2. This release could be thought of as a so-called "targeted" release, abbreviated "SAC-T." However, Microsoft didn't use that descriptor for it at that time.

A table in Microsoft's release information page doesn't show the Oct. 2 release of Windows 10 version 1809 at all. Instead, it shows that Windows 10 version 1809 SAC-T was released on Nov. 13. However, the Nov. 13 date is actually the rerelease date. Data loss issues were associated with the original October release. It caused Microsoft to suspend Windows 10 version 1809. Microsoft resumed its release on Nov. 13.

Troubles for Windows 10 version 1809 seemed to continue after that rerelease, though. On Jan. 16, Microsoft announced that it had resumed releasing Windows 10 version 1809, but it was deemed to be a phased rollout rather than a general rollout. However, many observers reported not seeing Windows 10 version 1809 during that interval.

Microsoft typically staggers its Windows 10 releases. It also blocks delivering them when its "telemetry" information suggests there are possible incompatibilities.

Why It Matters
Under Microsoft's Windows-as-a-service OS upgrade scheme, organizations get upgrade deadlines. There are two Windows 10 SAC releases per year, arriving in the spring and fall, which are new versions of the Windows 10 OS that IT pros have to test before deployment. Last year, Microsoft's spring release of Windows 10 was called "version 1803," while "version 1809" was the fall release. The year/month descriptor signified by the OS version numbers, such as "2018 September" for "version 1809," is typically not a literal description, as the releases usually occur one month later than the digits suggest.

Organizations and individuals have 18 months of support for these SAC releases before they will need to upgrade to the next SAC release. If they don't upgrade, then monthly Windows 10 security and quality updates won't arrive, which can pose security and compliance issues for organizations.

Typically, Windows 10 Home edition users have minimal control over the arrival of Window 10 upgrades. They're the test subjects, or "guinea pigs," for the business users of Windows 10.

There's an exception to the above 18-month-support scheme for Windows 10 channel releases. Enterprise and Education edition users of Windows 10 have the option to get 30 months of support for an SAC release if they use a fall Windows 10 upgrade. However, if they use a spring upgrade release, then they are back on the 18-month OS support cycle. Microsoft had explained these sorts of details back in September.

Microsoft likes to paint the Windows 10 upgrade release process, with its SAC-T and SAC phases, as all one thing, the same OS release. It's true, at least from the standpoint that no new features are added to the OS, but software flaws get fixed along the way. Essentially, SAC releases constitute deadlines for organizations to get their testing and deployment done within a certain time. Microsoft had openly complained that organizations had been waiting for SAC releases, instead of deploying SAC-T releases, because IT pros wanted to avoid encountering software flaws. Such deployment delays make it harder for Microsoft to get its telemetry and fix OS problems.

In essence, Microsoft has foisted some of the costs of testing Windows 10 upgrades onto its customers. As a consequence, it laid off some of its testing personnel. However, Microsoft still claims to maintain internal and external testers for Windows 10 releases, which it recently described. Recent quality issues with Windows 10 releases have prompted even some longtime Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals, such as Susan Bradley, to call for a slower Windows 10 release pace by Microsoft.

In a response of sorts, Microsoft has promised to be more forthcoming in its documentation of Windows 10 releases. It now shows the reasons why it blocks a Windows 10 release in its update history page, for instance. Microsoft's main rationale for why frequent Windows 10 releases are necessary is security, where frequent OS upgrades are deemed to thwart potential attackers.

Microsoft is now soliciting feedback about its Windows 10 update history documentation pages. It's offering this survey, but it's only about the documentation, not the Window 10 upgrade process.

About the Author

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