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Windows 10: Has Microsoft cleaned up its update mess? (Spoiler: no)


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By Ed Bott for The Ed Bott Report


Four years after the debut of "Windows as a service," Microsoft continues to tweak the Windows Update for Business rules. And if you don't know how to play the game, you're likely to be surprised with unexpected updates.





We are days away from the fourth anniversary of Windows 10's initial release, which also marks the beginning of the "Windows as a service" era. By this time, you'd think Microsoft would have settled on an easy-to-understand set of rules that IT pros can follow for managing updates.

Think again.

For 2019, Microsoft has changed the rules you painstakingly mastered last year. And if you're not paying attention, you could end up with a network full of update headaches.


Effective with version 1903, which is now rolling out via Windows Update, Microsoft is no longer supplying updates on separate channels for consumers and business customers. Instead, the initial public release goes to the Semi-Annual Channel, with no more Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) option. (And even those names represented changes from the original November 2015 designation of Current Branch and Current Branch for Business.)


For anyone administering Windows 10 PCs in a business who used the older Windows Update for Business settings to manage feature updates, these latest changes require immediate action. On systems where the Branch Readiness Level is set to Semi-Annual Channel and no additional deferral is specified, Microsoft says your devices will begin updating to Windows 10, version 1903 in one week, on Tuesday, July 23, 2019.


Or at least that's when they'll be eligible to receive that update. Exactly when each device will receive the update is an AI-driven mystery.


Some devices, including Microsoft's top-of-the-line Surface Book 2 models that contain a discrete Nvidia GPU, are currently blocked from receiving the update automatically. (For details, see "Microsoft blocks major Windows 10 update for Surface Book 2 after bug makes GPU vanish.")



PCs that were previously blocked from updating because an external USB device or SD card was attached are no longer prevented from doing so, in a change that was documented just a few days ago.


For a list of other known issues with this and other updates, see the official Version 1903 Release Information page.


As I wrote in a column nearly two years ago, the ever-changing rules governing Windows Update for Business sometimes feel like a game of Calvinball, from Bill Watterson's classic "Calvin & Hobbes" comic strip. In Calvinball, you make up the rules as you go. And it doesn't matter if you start with an organized sport. "Sooner or later," says Calvin, "all our games turn into Calvinball."


Over the past four years, the deferral periods have changed, from eight months to 180 days and then to 365 days. There were two branches, which became two channels, and then became a single release period. Earlier this year, Microsoft formalized an 18-month support deadline for Windows 10, which trumps the deferral periods you might have set.


The only rule that matters for people who have to support PCs in business is simple: "No surprises." For large organizations that use central update management tools such as Windows Server Update Services or System Center Configuration Manager, that's possible. For everyone else, including the enormous population of PCs in small businesses, the only way to prevent unexpected updates is to manage the process aggressively.


That means setting deferral periods of roughly 180 days (to avoid being surprised when a Windows version reaches its end-of-support deadline) and then scheduling manual updates for a date shortly before the end of that deferral period.


When I wrote that Calvinball column, one Microsoft product manager told me I was being too harsh, that the company was simply responding to feedback from customers. Two years later, I think Calvin and I were right.




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If people were to be totally honest they would know that Microsoft updates have always screwed up as much as they have fixed.  That is why the most secure windows system we use is just Windows 7 SP1 without any updates and all our GPOs in place.  No AV, no anti-malware, no nothing.  One university that I have connection with just decided they would update their machines that are running Windows 10 to version 1803, since they now have it configured the way they want it.  But it has taken their security group months of testing, configuring, and consulting with Microsoft in order to attain their goals.  Those machines running Windows 7 and 8.1 will NOT be upgraded to Windows 10 until those machines are replaced during the normal equipment replacement cycle beginning in 2024.  They are finding out that no matter what version of Windows 10 they are running the cost of maintaining the systems has doubled, desktop support alone has increased by $100,000 a year even though enrollment, and therefore staff and faculty, numbers have dropped.  Windows 10 will never be what professionals want it to be which leaves room for the release of an entirely new operating system.  Too bad IBM dropped its development of OS/2 Warp back in the early 90s. It was a decent OS, had great potential, and would definitely have a place on systems today.

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