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Windows 10 refresh: It's an upgrade, not an update

Gregg Keizer | Nov. 16, 2015
Microsoft's rules say to call this week's 1511 release an 'upgrade,' but execs downplay it as an 'update'

Someone at Microsoft must not have gotten the memo.

In a statement issued Thursday, Microsoft's top operating system executive repeatedly used the term "update" to describe the first major refresh of Windows 10, which has been tagged within the OS as 1511 to indicate it was released in November (11) of 2015 (15).

"Today, we reach our next milestone as the first major update to Windows 10 is now available for PCs and tablets," Terry Myerson, who leads the combined OS-and-device division at Microsoft, wrote in a post to a company blog [emphasis added]. "With this update, there are improvements in all aspects of the platform and experience, including thousands of partners updating their device drivers and applications for great Windows 10 compatibility."

All told, Myerson typed the word update 15 times. But used only four upgrades in the post -- and all of those were used to describe moving from an older edition of Windows to version 10, not from Windows 10's original to 1511.


So, Microsoft's own guidelines are clear cut, and presumably designed to make it easier for everyone to figure out exactly what the company's doing with Windows 10 as it overhauls a development-and-release model that's served it for four decades. That's especially true in the enterprise, where IT administrators have more scheduling options for upgrades and updates than do consumers, who are locked in to the fastest tempo for both: Immediate.

Update, upgrade, tomayto, tomahto? Maybe. But Microsoft's rule-setters say different.

"Microsoft will publish two types of Windows 10 releases broadly to the public on an ongoing basis," the company stated in a technical document titled "Windows 10 servicing options for updates and upgrades," the definitive -- and by far the clearest -- description of the nuts and bolts of the "Windows as a service" model that Microsoft's touted from here to Timbuktu and back.

First on the short list of two was Feature upgrades "that install the latest new features, experiences, and capabilities on devices that are already running Windows 10."

Second: Servicing updates "that focus on the installation of security fixes and other important updates."

In Redmond, there is a difference between upgrades and updates. The former are the two-to-three-times-a-year refreshes like 1511, which as far as Computerworld could tell, wasn't named "Fall Update" as some had predicted, or for that matter "1511" in any online materials. (But Myerson, as well as Gabe Aul, the engineering general manager for Microsoft's OS group, tried out "November Update" a few times each just to see if it would catch on.)

Updates, on the other hand, are the much more familiar packages that Microsoft delivers on Patch Tuesday, the second Tuesday of each month, and then helter-skelter throughout the month that contain fixes for non-security bugs and code tweaks. Last month, for instance, Microsoft issued an update of some kind on 12 of October's 31 days, with the most important one dumped onto customers Oct. 13.


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