Windows as a Service – The new Update Model

 Dec 14, 2015

With the release of Windows 10 back at the end of July 2015, Microsoft also brought in a new update model, so out with the old monthly “Patch Tuesday” modality, and in with the new incremental update model. No more “wipe and load” in deployments either, just update!

This actually means that most people will automatically be used to this – after all it is the update model you are used to on your smartphones. Note here that this new model only applies to new features and updates – security patches and critical fixes will be released as soon as they are developed.

So how does this WAAS (Windows as a Service) actually work?

Well obviously it all starts with the developers writing new or updated feature releases or patches, and testing them amongst themselves – what Microsoft is calling the “canary” test phase - their Engineering builds. When they pass that stage, the features or updates then get released to a broader group of testing personnel within Microsoft, for internal validation.

Assuming they pass that stage then this where it gets interesting; because they are then given their first “public” airing – they are released to the general population who have signed up for the Windows Insider Preview. The Windows Insider Preview consists of people who have volunteered to test these features and updates before full release, and provide feedback to Microsoft. Anyone can join the Windows Insider Preview Branch – it is free and can be done easily here. If you are part of an IT organisation and are responsible for testing updates and features, or if you just want to have a crack at the latest pre-releases, I would suggest you join. This preview testing phase can last anything up to 4 to 6 months, but if found satisfactory, then the new features and updates are scheduled for the next Current Branch release.

Microsoft have stated that they will be releasing these features and updates about 3-4 times a year as a Current Release to the general Windows 10 population. Users with Windows 10 Home editions will get these Current Branch releases via Windows Update and will not be able to stop them being applied, but users who have Windows 10 Professional, Enterprise or Education editions will have a tick box in their Windows Update settings dialog box allowing them the to defer the updates, or this setting can also be controlled through Group Policy. Enabling this setting will effectively put that PC into the Current Branch for Business mode.

The Current Branch for Business allows businesses and enterprises extended time to test and be able to support these new features and updates, but there is a time limit. Businesses can delay a current build for up to 4 times, giving them a total delay time of 12 months (4 months + 8 months) from the time of that particular current build’s first release. After that time, any subsequent security patches will no longer recognize that “outdated” build - the PC will continue to work, but no more security patches or Current Branch releases will be applied, and the PC will no longer be supported. Businesses will then have to manually update that PC to the current build to be supported again.

Whilst the Current Branch builds are delayed in the Current Branch for Business, business, of course, can decide when and who to roll out these builds to via their normal management programs such as System Center Configuration Manager, WSUS and InTune etc., in a similar way to the Microsoft release model, called Internal Rings.

There is one exception to this new release model, and that is the Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB (Long Term Servicing Build) edition. This particular Windows 10 edition is different from all the other Windows 10 editions – it doesn’t get any Current Build releases and only has the basic Windows 10 OS without any of the extra apps such as Cortana, Edge, the Windows store etc. etc. as these app are continually being updated and therefore can cause issues in these special systems. It does however, still get security updates and critical fixes. This edition is specifically intended for mission critical devices where the Current Build features could cause major problems – and even threaten lives – such as airport control or medical device scenarios etc. The Windows 10 LTSB edition can only be updated by the next LTSB release from Microsoft.

So in conclusion, WAAS is providing an update model that users are actually reasonably familiar with, it will keep your devices more up to date than in the past, but still give businesses a reasonable time to prepare themselves, thereby making support a whole lot easier for both Microsoft and businesses in the long run – and after all, Microsoft have also stated they will be supporting Windows 10 for the next decade, provided that the hardware upon which it is being run is also supported by the hardware vendors!

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About the Author:

Gordon Cowser  

With over 22 years real world and training experience, Gordon is our most senior IT Infrastructure trainer. His expertise includes but is not limited to; Microsoft Server and Client OS, Messaging, Collaboration, Active Directory and Network Infrastructure. Gordon also specialises in SharePoint technologies training in both technical and end user aspects. With his extensive skill-set he brings a thorough mentoring capability to the classroom where he can advise on technical issues and challenges often beyond the scope of the course curriculum. A very approachable and experienced training professional, he has the ability to establish credibility fast with students at all levels.

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