Which Windows 10 should your business install? This one

Microsoft's mixed-up metaphors of Windows 10 rings and branches can be confusing. We cut to the chase to offer clear recommendations

Which Windows 10 should your business install? This one
Thinkstock (Thinkstock)

In one sense, Windows 10 is the “end of history.” There will be no Windows 11 — or 12, were Microsoft to decide to keep skipping odd numbers. Windows 10 is it!

One the other hand, despite its immutable name, Windows 10 changes all the time. Constant updates can’t really be escaped by Home version users, whereas admins mete out updates for Pro and Enterprise users who are attached to an update server (that is, either Windows Server Update Services or System Center Configuration Manager). Update management and troubleshooting is literally part of the cost of doing business with Windows 10.

Then there are the major versions of Windows 10: 1507 (“RTM”), 1511 (“Fall Update”), 1607 (“Anniversary Update”), and 1703 (“Creators Update”). This bestiary raises a big question: If you’re running a business, which of these versions of Windows 10 should you deploy? Here are the basics:

  • For business use, you want the CBB (Current Branch for Business) servicing option. Not some Insider Ring beta, of course, nor just a CB (Current Branch). The CBB is what you need because versions designated “CBB” have been put through the wringer — many months on millions of users’ computers — to shake out the bugs. Think of the CBB as the result of a massive unpaid beta testing cycle. Right now, 1507, 1511, and (as of late November) 1607 have been granted CBB status.
  • Just last week Microsoft announced that version 1507, the first-ever Windows 10 launched on Jul. 29, 2015, would go off support in May. You should not be running this version. If somehow you’ve managed to block updates to 1507 to prevent it turning into a later version, stop that right now. It’s unfinished and not particularly stable. Upgrade!
  • Version 1511, which was granted CBB status on Apr. 8, 2016, is pretty much the same deal as 1507. It’s an old and incomplete version. Our best guess is that it will go off support in early 2018. Time to update sooner rather than later.
  • Version 1607, the so-called Anniversary Edition, is today’s Windows 10 gold standard. Microsoft released it on Aug. 2, 2016, and granted it CBB status on Nov. 29, 2016. This is the last Windows 10 version that InfoWorld has reviewed — and it actually earned a 2017 InfoWorld Technology of the Year Award, primarily for its omnidevice management.
  • Version 1703, the Creators Update, is currently in beta but should be available in a couple of months. It’s anybody’s guess when 1703 will reach CBB status, but figure on four months or so after release. You’ve probably heard about the features that give this version its name, such as the drafting features that work hand in glove with Microsoft’s new Surface Studio, Redmond’s first all-in-one desktop. As InfoWorld’s Galen Gruman has said, Microsoft is reaching for Apple’s creative crown. But at the same time, the Creators Update promises improved security, better device management, and greater admin control over updates — not to mention new analytics features for admins to gain insight into how users work with Windows 10.

So you might say that Windows 10’s continuous improvement seems to be accelerating. Yes, there are annoyances: Patch management has been a hassle, end-user data collection has stoked privacy fears, and it has taken awhile for new major versions to become stable. And, well, some of us still find the UI cloying compared to that of Windows 7, and the unfinished stuff like Cortana or the Edge browser sometimes make you wonder what they’re smoking in Redmond. But that’s kind of beside the point.

Windows 10, in all its constantly morphing glory, is Windows forever. As I and many others have pointed out, the improved security of Windows 10 alone provides ample reason to leave behind any previous Windows you may be clinging to. Just make sure that, at this juncture, you’re running the Anniversary Update. You might also make a habit of checking Woody Leonhard’s blog regularly to see which problematic patches and updates he has flagged this week.

One final note: If you’re super-conservative, you might want to consider the LTSB (Long-Term Servicing Branch) servicing option. This is the slowest-moving branch of Windows 10. You get security and bugfix updates automatically, but not feature updates, and you need to install new versions manually. The Anniversary Update 1607 has been granted LTSB status; we don’t know if Creators Update will ever be given LTSB status (1511 never made LTSB).

Microsoft sees LTSB as being for mission-critical systems only — after all, labor-intensive updates defeat the ability to deliver the latest features quickly. But if you want to avoid disruption at all costs, it’s worth considering.