For the past few years, Microsoft has been pushing the idea of Office and Windows as a service that’s continually updated rather than as discrete products you purchase off the shelf. At various points throughout 2017, the company has been synchronizing and simplifying its update schedule. Now it’s unveiled the final result: From the launch of Windows 10’s Creators Update, all Office, Windows Server, and Windows 10 updates will be handled the same way, with the same nomenclature.
Currently, Microsoft splits updates into three buckets: Current Branch, Current Branch for Business, and Long Term Servicing Branch. Going forward, Microsoft will combine CB and CBB into the Semi-Annual Channel, or SAC. Each SAC release will occur on a regular March/September cadence, and customers will be supported on that OS version for 18 months. Microsoft is retroactively calling the first Creators Update its first SAC release (Windows 10 v.1703) and the Fall Creators Update will be labeled as Windows 10 v.1709. The LTSB is now the LTSC (swap “branch” for “channel” and you’ve got the acronym).
Technically, the SAC brand switch didn’t completely eliminate the difference between the Current Branch and Current Branch for Business; these updates will now be referred to as the Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) for regular users and Semi-Annual Channel for business customers. But the more important aspects of the policy, like a synchronized update cadence across all branches, are more important here.
Microsoft has made these changes to give businesses more flexibility in delaying specific updates, while simultaneously giving us a look at how it expects businesses to use these branches. Companies can delay installing an update for up to 12 months while evaluating it, though MS hopes you won’t. Instead, it suggests that companies should engage in pilot testing for roughly four months on a select group of PCs. After four months have passed, MS expects to certify an OS for universal deployment, which means it can be used on any machine with a compatible hardware configuration. That’s what’s happening today with the Creators Update, which is now certified for universal deployment.
Windows 10 LTSC is positioned as a specialty OS for a very small number of customers. The company notes:
The Long-term Servicing Channel is available only in the Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB edition. This build of Windows doesn’t contain many in-box applications, such as Microsoft Edge, Windows Store client, Cortana (limited search capabilities remain available), Microsoft Mail, Calendar, OneNote, Weather, News, Sports, Money, Photos, Camera, Music, and Clock. Therefore, it’s important to remember that Microsoft has positioned the LTSC model primarily for specialized devices.
Going forward, it should be easier to manage Windows 10 and Office updates, but it’s not clear if Microsoft’s push for a relatively fast update structure will work with IT rollout schedules. We’ve covered some of the deployment and resource monitoring tools coming with the Fall Creators Update. But to give an example of how these deployments can lag, Microsoft has yet to certify my own system for the Windows Creators Update that started rolling out four months ago. I’m curious to see if today’s news changes that, or if I’ll have to manually install the CU to update my OS.
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