Windows 10's 'November 2021 Update' Released

Windows 10 version 21H2, also known as the "November 2021 Update," is now generally available, marking the start of a new update release cadence for the Windows 10 operating system.

The new OS can be accessed on eligible devices by "seeking" it through the Windows Update service. Windows 10 systems running version 2004 or later can undergo a fast "in-place upgrade" in which the underlying OS bits get automatically replaced. It's also available for IT pros in the usual places, namely, "Windows Server Update Services (including Configuration Manager), Windows Update for Business and the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC)," according to John Cable, vice president of program management for Windows servicing and delivery.

Microsoft is promising one reboot to activate the new OS because of the use of "enablement packages" implemented with Windows 10 version 2004 and later versions. New OS bits are already present on machines (in a dormant state) with the enablement package approach.

New Features
Windows 10 version 21H2 has some improvements, as described in this announcement for IT pros. They include:

  • The addition of virtual private network APIs for the Universal Windows Platform, which facilitate the use of "common web-based authentication schemes."
  • Wi-Fi 6 support with "Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 Hash-to-Element protocol (WPA3 H2E)," which promises "better protection from Wi-Fi side-channel attacks that could steal Wi-Fi passwords and other sensitive information," particularly from home networks.
  • Mobile device management (MDM) parity with Group Policy settings, with 1,400 added MDM settings.
  • Universal Print support for 1GB print jobs per individual user, plus integration with OneDrive for Web, as well as Excel for Web (happening at "end of 2021").
  • Automatic provisioning of apps for Azure Virtual Desktop users, with copy and paste capabilities between "remote and local apps."

Windows 10 version 21H2 also delivers security updates to other Microsoft products. The list includes the "Windows AI Platform, Windows App Platform and Frameworks, Windows Apps, Windows Cryptography, Windows Fundamentals, Windows Input and Composition, Windows Kernel, Windows Media, Windows Office Media, and Windows Virtualization."

Likely the biggest perk for IT pros, though, is the switch to a once-per-year feature update model, which kicks off with Windows 10 version 21H2. Windows 10 version 21H2 ushers in a new "service channel" change. It commences a once-per-year feature update release cycle, with the update arriving in the second half of a particular year.

For instance, Microsoft's next Windows 10 feature update release is planned for release in H2 2022. There won't be an H1 2022 OS release.

Up to this point, Microsoft had been releasing Windows 10 feature updates twice per year, in the spring and fall. A feature update is a completely new version of the Windows operating system. When Windows 11 was released, Microsoft switched to once-per-year feature updates for that OS, and it's now doing the same thing on the Windows 10 side.

The old "semiannual channel" term used to describe Windows 10 feature updates is now dropped. Microsoft refers to this release of Windows 10 version 21H2 as a "general availability channel" release.

Support for Windows 10 Version 21H2 Editions
Despite the switch to a once-per-year release model with Windows 10 version 21H2, nothing is changing in terms of how long a feature update will be supported before requiring an upgrade. Microsoft varies the support length based on the Windows 10 edition that's used.

For instance, Windows 10 Home and Pro editions will be supported on the November 2021 Update for 18 months, while Enterprise and Education edition users will have 30 months of support. Those support terms didn't change with this release.

Microsoft recently warned that Windows 10 version 2004 is nearing its end-of-support phase, which will occur on Dec. 14, 2021. When support ends, security updates from Microsoft don't arrive.

The support clock, though, is starting today (Nov. 11) for Windows 10 version 21H2, Microsoft's announcement noted.

General Availability Channel Release
Microsoft is recommending that organizations initiate "targeted" deployments of Windows 10 version 21H2 before performing an organization-wide OS rollout.

In the past, Microsoft used to refer to targeted Windows 10 OS releases, which were designed for testing purposes. A targeted release came before a general availability commercial release. Lots of organizations waited for the general availability release to start their OS testing, which wasn't optimal from Microsoft's standpoint.

However, Microsoft dropped that targeted nomenclature years ago and started using weirder terms, like "commercial preview." It was perhaps even more confusing.

Circumstances are maybe less ambiguous now with the Windows 10 version 21H2 bearing a general availability channel release stamp. The general availability term implies commercial release.

Long-Term Servicing Channel Releases
Also on Tuesday, Microsoft announced the availability of Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2021 and Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC 2021 OS products.

The LTSC (long-term servicing channel) term means different things for different products. It can range from 10 years to five years to three years in length. Here are the support lengths for the new LTSC OS releases:

  • Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2021 supported for five years.
  • Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC 2021 supported for 10 years.

Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC used to have 10 years of support, but Microsoft had announced back in February that it planned to lop off five years of support from it, which was done to align with similarly truncated Office support.

Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2021 and Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC 2021 are essentially the same products with different licensing. Microsoft advises against the use of Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2021 in production environments, saying that it should mostly be used with devices that can't tolerate frequent updates, such as medical devices. The other IoT product is just intended for use with Internet of Things (IoT) devices.