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(Please note: This post is part of the "Definitive Guide To Windows 10 Servicing" blog series and will be updated periodically as the latest information is available. Last Update: September 13, 2018)

A while back, we took a closer look at the Windows 10 Servicing Model, formerly known as Windows Branching — a topic that is causing much confusion since the launch of Windows-as-a-Service. Because a lot of people felt they didn’t know enough about it, we are covering this topic extensively by:

In this article, we will pick apart the confusion around the Windows 10 Servicing Model release and support timelines and keep you updated on the latest news on terminology and rule updates. 

But before we start, we would love to know: "Which of these issues below is your biggest fear when it comes to Windows-as-a-Service Management?" Vote below and, if you like, you can then see the breakdown of the answers from your peers: 

 

Planning Your Upgrade & Support Timeline

So, let’s talk about the exact timing. Please note that we will only talk about Semi-Annual Channel updates for Windows 10 Enterprise and Education editions below. Long-Term Servicing Branch does not receive any feature upgrades and the Windows Insider Preview precedes each release.

Windows 10 Servicing Timeline Sept 2018

(Image Credit: Juriba, Updated: September 13th, 2018)

As you can see from the graphic above, Microsoft published their initial release of Windows 10 in July 2015. Feature updates are named (e.g., "Initial Release") and each one receives a version number (“1507”) that is based on its release date (YYMM). In a deviation from the expected, Microsoft announced that the originally planned end-of-life date for version 1507 was being pushed back from March 26, 2017, and was subsequently confirmed for a new date of May 9, 2017. Only the LTSC is still receiving updates at this point.

Further releases:

  • In November 2015, Microsoft released the first feature upgrade (1511 or the so-called November Upgrade). Four months later, in March 2016, this release was declared enterprise ready and published into the Current Branch for Business. 
  • On August 2, 2016, Microsoft published the first Anniversary Upgrade which was widely anticipated by larger organizations. 
  • Microsoft published the Creators Update on April 11, 2017 which was deemed enterprise ready and released into the Semi-Annual Channel on July 27, 2017. 
  • After that, the so-called Fall Creators Update, which was originally slated for September, was released on October 17th, 2017.
  • This was followed by the Windows 10 April 2018 Update (a.k.a. the Spring Creators Update, version 1803) which was planned for release on March 14th, 2018, but was delayed until April 3oth, 2018 due to reliability issues leading to frequent BSODs on some PCs.
  • The next update will be the Windows 10 October 2018 Update (code-named Redstone 5) and is slated for an early October release date. 

Since it is almost impossible to keep up with all the release and end-of-life updates, here is an updated overview of all the important dates:

[EoL] Windows 10 Initial Release 1507 RTM (OS Build: 10240.17236)

[EoL] Windows 10 November Update 1511 (OS Build: 10586.753)

  • 1511 Current Branch Release Date: 11/10/2015
  • 1511 Current Branch for Business Release Date: 4/8/2016
  • Confirmed 1511 End-of-Life Date: 4/10/2018 (Source: Computerworld)

Windows 10 Anniversary Update 1607 (OS Build: 14393.693)

  • 1607 Current Branch Release Date: 8/2/2016
  • 1607 Current Branch for Business Release Date: 11/29/2016
  • 1607 End-of-Life Date: 2/2/2019*

Windows 10 Creators Update 1703 (OS Build: 15063.138)

  • 1703 Current Branch Release Date: 4/5/2017
  • 1703 Current Branch for Business Release Date: 7/11/2017
  • Expected 1703 End-of-Life Date: 10/5/2019*

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update 1709 (OS Build: 16299.19)

  • 1709 Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) Release Date: 10/17/2017
  • 1709 Semi-Annual Channel Release Date: 1/18/2018
  • Expected 1709 End-of-Life Date: 4/17/2020*

Windows 10 April 2018 Update (OS Build: 17134.285)

  • 1803 Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) Release Date: 4/30/2018
  • 1803 Semi-Annual Channel Release Date7/10/2018
  • 1803 End-of-Life Date: 10/30/2020*

Windows 10 October 2018 Update (Redstone 5)

  • 1809 Semi-Annual Channel Release Date: October 2018
  • 1809 End-of-Life Date: April 2021*

Windows 10 "19H1" 

  • 1809 Semi-Annual Channel Release Date: March/April 2019
  • 1809 End-of-Life Date: Sept./Oct. 2020 (earlier than the two releases before it)
* Expected based on the new Windows 10 Servicing support model changes announced on Sept. 6th, 2018. 
** Following the new release schedule (see below).
 
Sidenote: Sometimes it is difficult to see which branch and/or version you are on. If you check your PC for the branch and release, it might only show the OS Build Number instead of the release (e.g. 1507). If you go to the TechNet page, you can map it to the release and version. Alternatively, type winver into the Cortana search box and you will see the current version information.
 
Click here to download the Windows 10 Project Plan Template
 

CB, CBB: A Little Windows 10 Servicing History

There is a lot of outdated information floating around and for that reason, we have decided to add a little background context to explain Microsoft's original approach to the service timeline for Windows 10 before we discuss the Support Timeline Logic going forward.

Initially, Microsoft announced that it would only ever support two subsequent Current Branch for Business (CBB) versions (e.g., 1511 and 1607), that is a feature update that was previously released into the Current Branch (CB) but now deemed enterprise-ready by Microsoft and republished as a Current Branch for Business, at one given point in time.

That means, as soon as N+2 version is published into the Current Branch for Business, the 60-day grace period countdown to End-of-Life for version N kicks in. To calculate the end-of-life date of the version you were upgrading to, you had to know the release date of the two versions ahead, add the four months for releasing the version into the Current Branch for Business as well as the grace period. 

For example, if you are on CBB 1511, based on this schedule, you have 10 months to upgrade starting from the release of 1703 into Current Branch (April 2017) — which brings you to January 2018Consequently, if you are currently on the initial release, you have to upgrade as soon as possible, since 1507 reaches its end-of-life on May 9, 2017 and security updates will no longer be delivered! In extreme cases, businesses do not have more than 16 months on one version and will be on a perpetual upgrade cycle to ensure security compliance.

Things got very confusing very quickly. And even if you could figure it out, release dates slipped all the time. For example, following this logic, 1507 should have lost support in January, but the EOL date was pushed to March and actually went end-of-life on May 9, 2017. 

New, Simplified Windows-as-a-Service Support Timeline Kicks In

Microsoft announced in April 2017 significant changes to its Windows-as-a-Service support model to align the Office 365 ProPlus release cycle with the Windows 10 and Microsoft SCCM support calendars. With the release of the Fall Creators Update in October 2017, all feature updates would be released in March or September and have a set support window of 18 months with no additional grace periods.

However, in November 2017, Michael Niehaus, the former Director of Product Marketing at Microsoft, announced that the software giant will grant enterprises and educational institutions who are currently running version 1511 an additional six months of patches for 'critical' and 'important' security vulnerabilities. And in February 2018, Microsoft announced that it will also grant the 6-month EOL extension for versions 1607, 1703, and 1709.

Much of the originally simplified support timelines were revised to a new support model: Starting on September 6th, 2018, Microsoft has extended the support windows for all currently supported Windows 10 Enterprise and Education editions (versions 1607, 1703, 1709, and 1803) to 30 months. In addition, starting with 1809, all Fall Feature Updates will also receive 30 months of support, while all Spring Feature Updates only get 18 months. 

Windows 10 Deployment Rings & Skipping An Update

To improve the release quality and simplify deployments, quality updates as well as feature upgrades are cumulative; meaning, they get bigger with each new update as they include the previous updates as well as new updates. This means that by installing the latest version, your device is completely up-to-date. In addition, unlike earlier versions of Windows, the new servicing options cannot be deployed as subsets but must be installed entirely or not at all. Consequently, many IT project managers are wondering whether or not it is feasible to just skip one or two upgrade cycles. 

If you are debating whether you should go ahead and install every one as they come or skip some, you will be happy to know that, theoretically, you can skip an update. This has now been made even easier by Microsoft with the new extended support.

But since they are only available for a limited amount of time, the clock is now ticking much faster before you will have to install all fixes and features. No matter what the exact details are for when each release goes End-of-Life, the cadence is faster than it has ever been and IT project managers must have upgrade plans in motion way in advance of a feature upgrade EOL date.

However, before you decide to go down that road, read our article on Windows 10 Deployment Rings which goes into more detail regarding why, if you decide to skip one release, the majority of your business users would be left unprotected while you are trying to play catchup.

Conclusion

It is clear that with so many management options and the forced nature of updates and upgrades, IT departments need to prepare themselves for a significant culture shift in managing Windows-as-a-Service.

Every month, assets on old OS versions will get nearer to their end-of-life, and a constant plan of action is required to ensure that your organization is ready for the latest feature upgrade. In the future, this could mean an entirely new version of Internet Explorer, or depreciation of an old OS feature used in some of your critical applications.  

Understanding your application estate (both fat client and web apps) and its readiness for the latest feature upgrade will be of paramount importance to ensuring minimal impact to your end users. We're building Juriba's Dashworks software to help you navigate these uncharted waters, so look out for release announcements in the near future. 

Download Definitive Guide to Alleviating Your Windows 10 Branching Headaches

Barry Angell

Written by Barry Angell

Barry is a co-founder of Juriba, where he is focused on using his experience in IT migration to help drive product strategy, pre-sales and service delivery. He is an experienced End User Services executive that has helped manage thousands of users, computers, applications and mailboxes to their next IT platform. He has saved millions of dollars for internal departments and customers alike through product, project, process and service delivery efficiency.

Topics: Windows 10 Servicing