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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'

This week, Microsoft delivered both an update -- Tuesday's set of 12 security bulletins -- and an upgrade, the latter in the form of Windows 10 1511. What Myerson described as an update was actually an upgrade by Microsoft's nomenclature, the first for the OS since its July debut, the first also for the Current Branch (CB), the upgrade track assigned to virtually all consumers, many small businesses, and those enterprises that want some PCs on the bleeding edge.

Labels are important for Microsoft, for customers, and for the two together.

When labels or terms are used consistently, everyone understands what's being discussed. And with Microsoft's scattershot communications strategy -- it's left some Windows 10 customer questions dangling for months -- the more clarity, the better. That's especially true during the stressful transition from a long-used, slow-paced servicing model to one that mimics the sometimes-frenzied agility of mobile.

The refresh process is complicated enough without Microsoft making it murkier.

That communication is particularly crucial in Windows 10 because Microsoft plans to deliver updates for an upgrade only for a specific stretch of time. For devices assigned to the "Current Branch for Business" (CBB) upgrade track, Windows 10 RTM -- that's the original that rolled out starting July 29 -- will receive updates, like the Patch Tuesday vulnerability fixes, only until the deferral clock runs out. Then users must upgrade to 1511 or lose patch privileges. Under current Microsoft rules -- the company's been vague at times here -- Windows 10 1511 must be in place for CBB devices by no later than November 2016.

It's also to Microsoft's benefit to get on the upgrade train for crasser reasons: Upgrade carries more weight, denotes significant changes, signals new versus old, refers to substantial improvements, implies "big" rather than "small." If Microsoft wants to impress customers with the steady state of Windows 10's evolution -- and it does -- it behooves it to swing the label as the bigger stick.

An update, on the other hand is lightweight, a tweak, a bug fix, a security patch, a repair on something gone wrong in a previous update. Updates are almost obnoxiously frequent: So far this month, Microsoft's released three for Windows 10. They're the empty calories of servicing.

Calling 1511 an update rather than an upgrade is a disservice to the work that went into the refresh and the significance of the changes, both visible and invisible, that landed on customers' PCs and tablets. Argue all you want about 1511's merits and the pace of Windows 10 improvements in stability and quality -- and many are beginning to do that, dismayed by the low number of major changes in 1511 -- but it's not an update.

It's an upgrade.

 

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