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FAQ: How Microsoft will update Windows 10

Gregg Keizer | June 16, 2015
It's a complicated process, different than past decades, but offers more options for some customers

Start Menu: Windows 10 Build 10122
Start Menu: Windows 10 Build 10122 default Start menu for a new Microsoft account

Microsoft is just weeks away from pushing customers into a radical overhaul of how they receive security, maintenance and new feature updates.

Windows 10, which Microsoft has promised will be updated more often than past iterations, especially with feature and functionality, user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) changes, will debut July 29. That's only six weeks from now.

And while Microsoft remains closed-mouth about some of the details of how it plans to keep Windows 10 up to date on customers' devices, enough has surfaced for a relatively-clear picture of the process.

Short take: It's confusing and complicated, particularly for long-time Windows veterans, who have dealt with the one-size-fits-all patch policy of the past — under which Microsoft presented updates to everyone, whether consumers or massive corporations, at or almost at the same time — for decades.

We've collected all the hints and clues, the company's statements — straight out and implied — and tried to stick together the update ball of wax.

Wish us luck.

I use a PC at home. What do I get and when? If you're running Windows 10 Home, the least-expensive retail SKU (stock-keeping unit) on a new device or a PC you upgraded from Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic or Home Premium or from Windows 8.1 via Microsoft's one-year free deal, you don't have much of a choice: You get what Redmond's calling the Current Branch.

(Some of the confusion around Windows 10's new update practice is the terminology: Microsoft has introduced a whole new vocabulary. In its lingo, a "branch" is an update track, a meta track at that. Different groups of customers will be able to adopt different branches. Then there are the "rings" within a branch, but more on that later.)

The Current Branch (CB) will be pushed to users via Windows Update (WU), the update mechanism in play since 1995. Every four months or so, Microsoft will release an update to CB.

That's where things depart from the familiar. Those on CB will not be able to ignore an update, postpone it — with the exception of registering with a slower ring — or even selectively install some of its contents and not others, as they can now with WU. A CB update is all-or-nothing, minus the nothing. Think of it as a "service pack," the now-discarded label for large updates: You were never able to take just pieces of a service pack, either.

So Microsoft ships a Current Branch and I have to take it? Can I least delay it to let others be the guinea pigs? Yes, you have to take it. And yes, you can delay it ... to a limited extent.


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