Windows 10's staggered release cadence means that any given build will be active <i>somewhere</i> for about 16 months. Credit: Microsoft, Computerworld
Microsoft's Windows 10 will not have a fragmentation problem, analysts argued, even though its rapid development tempo and a host of update cadences will spin off so many versions that not everyone will be running the same code, or even have the same features, at any one time.
"There will undoubtedly be some fragmentation of the installed base due to timing but it shouldn't be extreme, and indeed should be better than the situation today," contended Steven Kleynhans of Gartner.
For Kleynhans and others, Windows 10 will ultimately be an improvement over the current situation, where the majority are on Windows 7, but sizable numbers remain on other editions, notably 2012's Windows 8 and 2013's follow-on, Windows 8.1, and 2001's Windows XP, each of which is significantly different.
Still, Windows 10 will not exactly be the monolithic operating system that Microsoft has portrayed: The same code running on a billion systems.
Because Microsoft will be constant tweaking, refreshing and upgrading the OS, it will be a moving target compared to past editions, which once finished were generally left alone, serviced by security patches and behind-the-scenes bug fixes, but not significantly altered.
The Redmond, Wash. company experimented with a different model with Windows 8.1, which shipped a year after its Windows 8 parent with new features and functionality, and some limited user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) modifications. That practice has been both greatly expanded and accelerated with Windows 10, which will receive updates about three times a year.
But the churn of Windows 10 changes isn't the only new practice in play: The multiple release tracks Microsoft is to offer will result in some users running Build n, while other run n-1 and still others n-2 (where n is the most current). Those tracks -- Microsoft calls them "branches" -- will offer customers a range of update and upgrade tempos, from the previews handed to Windows Insider participants to the automatic get-everything Current Branch (CB) for consumers to the Current Branch for Business (CBB), which allows for delayed deployments.
The multiple tracks will create several "forks" in Windows 10 once the operating system starts to deliver the three-times-a-year updates and upgrades. By Computerworld's count, which was based on Microsoft's description of the process earlier this year, in October 2016 there will be three builds active simultaneously: The original Build 1 released in December 2015 (still being run by those on the CBB track who have postponed the update using Windows Server Update Services, or WSUS), April 2016's Build 2 (still allowed via CBB served by Windows Update for Business, or WUB), and Build 3, issued in August 2016 (consumers on the CB track).
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