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Version 2004 of Windows 10, Windows Server Released

Microsoft announced the latest update milestones for Windows 10 and Windows Server this week.

Version 2004 of both products were released on Wednesday. The Windows Server version 2004 release is for organizations that get "semiannual channel" releases of that product. This server feature update is notable for delivering smaller Sever Core container images, Microsoft indicated.

Meanwhile, Microsoft had a lot to say about Windows 10 version 2004, known as the "May 2020 Update." Highlights for consumer users of Windows 10 version 2004 are described in this announcement. IT pros get an earful about what's new in this Windows IT Pro blog post by Joe Lurie, a senior product marketing manager for Windows Commercial marketing and Microsoft 365. And if that wasn't enough, there's this documentation.

Windows 10 Version 2004 Availability
This new Windows 10 release is apparently just available to so-called "seekers," that is, people who actually try to get it, provided that their machines are running the last two versions of the product.

Here's how that idea was expressed by John Cable, director of program management for Windows servicing and delivery, in another blog post on how to get Windows 10 version 2004:

To ensure you continue to have a reliable, productive experience with your Windows 10 devices, we are taking a measured and phased approach to how we offer the May Update, initially limiting availability to those devices running Windows 10, versions 1903 and 1909 who seek the update via Windows Update.

Getting a Windows 10 feature update by seeking it means going to the Settings menu in Windows and selecting "check for updates." There's now a more polite "Download and install" added step that makes getting a new OS more intentional, but that step is only available for Windows 10 version 1903 or 1909 users.

The new OS will get blocked from delivery if Microsoft's "telemetry" data indicate a possible problem. Microsoft's "notifications" page for Windows 10 and Windows Server versions 2004 listed 10 "known issues" associated with this release. Additionally, Microsoft published a support article on Wednesday noting that it is blocking this update for machines that use hypervisor-protected code integrity until a display driver issue can get fixed.

Alternatively, the new OS can be downloaded from the Volume Licensing Service Center. It's also available via management tools, such as the Windows Server Update Services solution or Windows Update for Business.

Notable Features
Many of the new features in Windows 10 version 2004 were described last month during the preview phase, but Microsoft has since managed to cram a lot more into the final product.

Lurie described a number of servicing enhancements associated with Windows 10 version 2004. He suggested the May 2020 Update could get installed in as little as 16 minutes, with one reboot.

"With Windows 10, version 2004, offline time continues to decrease, from a median time of over 80 minutes in version 1703, to 16 minutes in version 2004, including only a single reboot for many users," Lurie wrote.

There are also new PowerShell commandlets that can be used to better see how Microsoft's Delivery Optimization scheme is used. Delivery Optimization allocates bandwidth and uses local machines in a peer-to-peer scenario to perform Windows 10 feature updates across a computing environment.

The ability to recover a Windows 10 machine by getting Windows files from Microsoft's datacenters is available with this Windows 10 version 2004 release, although it apparently wipes installed apps. It's known as the "Reset this PC option: Cloud download" option.

The Windows Subsystem for Linux capability, which lets developers run Linux tools on Windows 10, is getting support for running "ELF64 Linux binaries," plus support for ARM64 devices.

The Windows Sandbox in Windows 10 version 2004 now supports running configuration files. Users can test the configuration files without any problems affecting the PC, since they run in a virtual machine.

More feature descriptions can be found in Lurie's post.

Lord of the Rings Advice
Under Microsoft's Windows 10 feature update scheme, the underlying operating system gets replaced automatically by an "in-place upgrade" approach with a new operating system. Organizations using management software get some options to defer the upgrade for a time, but consumers have fewer options to defer an upgrade.

This Windows 10 OS replacement scheme is planned for twice per year, in the spring and fall. The bits that arrive are called "semiannual updates" or "feature updates."

A spring feature update (such as Windows 10 version 2004) gets supported for 18 months. However, organizations that opt to just get the fall feature updates are supported for 30 months if they are using the Enterprise, Education or Enterprise IoT editions of Windows 10.

IT pros who fail to hop to the next Windows 10 feature update in time will have a so-called "unsupported" OS that doesn't get updates from Microsoft, including security fixes. IT pros face time pressures to assure that applications will work with these newly arriving OS feature update releases.

Microsoft's scheme for helping IT pros stay up to date in testing apps for new OS releases is its "rings" triage delivery strategy. IT pros serve as the "lords of the rings" in this scheme by selecting the testing groups among end users. It's supposed to be a time saving strategy.

The latest expression of how to put certain end users into testing rings (or groups) with a new OS release can be found in "Deploying a new version of Windows 10 in a remote world," a Windows IT Pro blog post by James Bell of Microsoft.

Despite the title, this post is more about Microsoft's OS upgrade triage approach than being about remote upgrades. It outlines a "plan, prepare and deploy" approach that suggests IT pros should start deploying Windows 10 version 2004 in about mid-August (see diagram):

[Click on image for larger view.] Microsoft's proposed deployment calendar for Windows 10 version 2004 (source: May 27 Windows IT Pro blog post).

Unlike past descriptions by Microsoft, Bell's schedule seems to place more emphasis on including time for application testing. Microsoft has tended to downplay this aspect in the past by claiming high app compatibility with Windows 10. Bell suggested using Microsoft's Desktop Analytics tool to automatically identify important apps to test. Desktop Analytics also can be used to create pilot groups of end users for testing new OS releases.

"To utilize Desktop Analytics, you need Configuration Manager and Windows 10 Enterprise E3, and to enable diagnostic data on your end user devices," Bell explained.

Perhaps another new nuance of note by Bell is that Windows Update for Business operates via "pull" controls:

Deploying a Windows 10 feature update through Windows Update for Business is a unique shift from traditional deployment methods. Instead of "push" controls where you send down the update to the next ring of devices, Windows Update for Business provides "pull" controls to prevent the update from automatically going to the next ring. This is a mental shift for many IT admins as they have little to do if everything is going right. More attention needs to be spent to determine if an update needs to be stopped or slowed in the event that end users are having a poor or broken experience. Again, Desktop Analytics can provide real-time data to help make decisions and increase IT confidence in those decisions.

Microsoft describes Windows Update for Business as a free "service" for Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education editions users, per this document. Windows Update for Business uses the Windows Update service to upgrade client OSes.

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