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The 'when' of Windows 10: Microsoft's update and upgrade schedule explained

Gregg Keizer | July 20, 2015
If Microsoft follows through on its announced plans for updating and upgrading Windows 10 after the new OS launches in two weeks, it will issue the first update no later than the end of November or early December, then follow with three more in 2016, repeating with a trio each year following.

The staggered releases Microsoft plans will create a situation where multiple builds are in use at any one time, each by a segment of the Windows 10 device population.

Come December 2016, Microsoft will have issued its fourth build to the CB, and the third to the CBB. But there will be some still using the second build (those on the CBB managing updates with WSUS).

Analysts, however, have largely discounted fragmentation as a factor, arguing that while the delays offered to businesses on the CBB may be disruptive, Windows 10 will ultimately be a more uniform ecosystem than the current mix of vastly different editions of Windows.

What Microsoft gets out of this stretched, staggered release schedule

Microsoft may pitch the Windows 10 update and upgrade schedule as all about customers, but there's something in it for the company, too.

"Rings will be more about controlling the rate at which the updates flood out into market," said Steve Kleynhans, an analyst at Gartner, in a recent interview. "With potentially a billion devices ... eventually ... getting an update, you need some level of flow control or else you could crush your servers and a large part of the Internet. By using rings, Microsoft can stagger the release over the period of days or weeks."

In fact, the entire cadence, not just the rings, can be envisioned as Microsoft's way of reducing stress on its update servers. Although the second build for the CB -- slated for late March-early April 2016 -- will coincide with the launch of the first build for the CBB on Computerworld's timeline, it will not be a surprise if Microsoft staggers the two by launching first one, then the other.

Microsoft is clearly concerned about server load and the possibility that something could go awry: It's not releasing the free Windows 10 upgrade to all eligible customers on July 29. Instead, it plans to give the several million Insiders the code first, then gradually trigger upgrades on others' devices in an unknown number of "waves" that could run weeks or months.

The company will also control demand for the upgrade another way by silently downloading the bits in the background to eligible PCs and tablets, then notifying them on its own schedule that the upgrade is ready to process locally.

It may do the same with later updates and upgrades, Kleynhans speculated.

"I wouldn't be surprised if under the covers Microsoft uses a separate ring for each week after an OS is released, or maybe even one for each day immediately after it is out," said Kleynhans. "But these will be mostly invisible to users and really isn't all the different from the way some updates roll-out today."


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