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Windows 10's decade of support starts when customer begins using the OS

Gregg Keizer | July 23, 2015
Microsoft will provide feature and functionality updates and upgrades to Windows 10 for a full decade from the time the OS is purchased, an analyst briefed by the company said.

Historically, Microsoft has offered both security and bug fixes in Mainstream but only security updates in Extended. Because it slotted Windows 10 into the two periods, and because the company hedged in its description of what the OS was to receive when -- the sheet noted, "Updates may include new features, fixes (security and/or non-security), or a combination of both" [emphasis added] -- the support policy could be interpreted as offering feature/functionality changes and upgrades for only the first five years under Mainstream support. (Security-related updates would be delivered throughout the decade.)

Microsoft seemed to say that in a reply to Computerworld's questions on Monday about whether it would deliver new features and other changes for only five years, or for the full decade lifecycle of Windows 10.

"Examples of non-security updates could include new features and capabilities, or driver and firmware updates for a better customer experience when using Windows 10," a spokeswoman said in an email. She also pointed to a graphic on this lifecycle support page that showed non-security updates available only during mainstream.

So, was Microsoft sticking with the usual support for Windows 10 or not? Would it introduce new features and capabilities only for 5 years, not 10?

Those questions were important: Microsoft had repeatedly trumpeted Windows 10 as different, radically so, from predecessors, and had cast it with the phrase "Windows as a service" to describe its constant evolution. "This changes the rules of the game," said Terry Myerson, chief of the Windows group, in February of Windows 10.

But a strict Mainstream + Extended support policy was nothing but old-school. If Windows 10 adhered to it, what was new about the OS's approach?

"That is very specific to the LTSB [Long-term Servicing Branch]," said Kleynhans of the 5 + 5, Mainstream + Extended policy outlined by Microsoft on Friday. "There are very specific things built around that."

LTSB is one of four update tracks -- Microsoft calls them "branches" -- that determine when a customer receives updates and upgrades. It will be available only to organizations with volume licensing deals for Windows 10 Enterprise, and requires the extra-expense Software Assurance program as well. Unlike other branches, LTSB treats Windows in the old style, serving PCs on that branch only security patches and critical bug fixes, but not pushing new features or other changes to the devices.

"This new Windows-as-a-service model ... I think Microsoft is having difficulty taking its older [support policy] language and reworking it to fit their new model," said Kleynhans as he tried to explain the disconnect between what the lifecycle fact sheet showed and what Microsoft had told him.


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