Windows 10 Updates: The Basics

Things have changed! Windows 10 is here now and for the foreseeable future. No more time consuming, costly OS upgrades, but what about Windows 10 Feature and Quality Updates? Do I need to be concerned about support? And how do I manage them?

How things were…

Before we investigate Windows 10 as a Service, let’s take a moment to consider how things were, or even are if you are still running Windows 7. We used to wait for the release of a new operating system version (for example Window 7, or Windows 8) to bring new features. Then we struggled with the deployment as the new OS represented such a large change; where application compatibility, device compatibility and end user education were feared, sometimes to the extent of skipping the OS version entirely! How many people ran Windows 8? Not as many as MS hoped, I am sure!

Security updates in previous Windows versions were often overwhelming because of the sheer number of individual  updates available each month. The complexity of this led many organisations to selectively choose which updates they wanted to install, and to which machines. This created countless scenarios in which organisations deployed essential security updates but picked only a subset of non-security fixes, leading often to platform fragmentation.

How they are now…

Windows 10 is the current version of Windows, more specifically Windows 10 20H2. Before we talk about what 20H2 means, let’s take a moment to look at how updates to Windows 10 have changed.

There are two update types to Windows 10, Feature Updates and Quality Updates:

Feature Updates

Windows Feature Updates are technically new versions of Windows 10, which are available twice a year in spring and in autumn. They are often referred to as “semi-annual releases” or “Windows 10 Upgrades”

New Windows 10 features are packaged into Feature Updates which can be deployed using your existing management tools, such as Configuration Manager, WSUS or Windows Update for business.

Feature updates are given a four-character identifier, for example 20H2, the first two characters denoting the year of release, in this case 2020, and the second two denote which half of the year, in this case the second half. The first Windows 10 update of this year, 2021, will be referred to as 21H1.

Windows 10 21H1 update will be widely available from 10th May 2021 – if you’re interested in the changes, check out Microsoft’s blog here

As feature updates are delivered more frequently than previous Windows versions, which was around every 3 to 5 years, changes will be smaller, deployment will be faster, and end user readiness time much shorter.

Quality Updates

Quality Updates contain security updates and reliability updates, as well as bug fixes. Quality Updates are released monthly and are cumulative, meaning only the latest Quality Update needs to be applied. This means, for example, if a machine was offline in a storeroom for a few months, only the latest Quality Update need be applied.

To receive monthly quality updates, customers must be on a supported version of Windows 10.

How Long Will I be Supported?

The following table shows the support window for each Windows 10 version. Remember, Quality Updates are only available for supported versions.

Table showing the Windows OS support dates

From the above table, we can see that Windows 10 version 1803 and 1809 are nearing the end of support, and when this happens no further Quality Updates will be available. These versions require a Feature Update to remain supported.

Update Deployment

We have now learnt that Feature Updates will become available twice a year (H1 and H2) and Quality Updates, monthly. Becoming available does not mean the update will be deployed and implemented, we still need to consider how and when the update is deployed.

Microsoft recommends beginning deployment as soon as possible to devices selected for early adoption – then you can move to full deployment when you’re ready to do so. This gives you access to new features and integrated security in a timely manner, whilst remaining on a supported version.

In the upcoming blogs in this series, we will examine the following methods for the deployment of updates:

  • Windows Update
  • Windows Update for Business
  • WSUS
  • Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager

Check back here for updates, but in the meantime if you’d like to learn more check out the Windows 10 and Windows as a Service info pages.

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