Microsoft switches to twice-yearly Windows 10 update plan

The newly announced synchronized twice-a-year pace puts a big crimp in historic Win10 development cycles

Microsoft switches to twice-yearly Windows 10 update plan
Credit: Pixabay

Earlier this morning, Bernardo Caldas, GM of Windows Commercial Marketing, made a surprising announcement:

Windows is committing to a predictable twice-per-year feature release schedule, targeting September and March of each year, aligning with Office 365 ProPlus. The next Windows 10 feature update will be targeted for September 2017.

Each Windows 10 feature release will be serviced and supported for 18 months. This is consistent with our current Windows 10 approach, but adds further clarity and predictability to organizations by aligning with Office 365 ProPlus.

That's a significant turning of the update screws. For the past three Win10 versions (er, "feature updates")—1511, 1607, 1703—Microsoft's been able to churn out new versions every eight months. Now the devs are officially on a six-month upgrade schedule, with the next version of Win10 due in September. Get used to seeing "version 1709."

The new 18-month support limit turns the screws on IT departments. The original Windows 10, released on July 29, 2015, will receive its last security patches next month, probably May 9. That would be 650 days after its release. We don't yet know when version 1511, released Nov. 10, 2015, will die. An 18-month clock would turn the lights off next month, while 650 days would keep it ticking until August.

Windows 7 and 8 both lasted about a decade. Just sayin'.

Office 365 is a very different kettle of fish. Those running the Click-to-Run versions of Office 365 have seen version upgrades every few weeks (1702 on March 9; 1701 on Feb. 23; 1612 on Jan. 25; 1611 on Jan. 4; 1611 on Dec. 6; 1610 on Nov. 10; 1609 on Oct. 4), and the version changes correspond to clumps of feature improvements.

Office Click-to-Run has historically dribbled out feature changes, while Windows has hoarded feature changes and released them in a gush. I've often wondered how long it would take Microsoft to change from the gush model to the dribble model, particularly now that upgrades from Windows 10 version to version are free.

Ron Marzeich, posting on the official Office blog, dropped an even bigger bombshell:

Starting October 13, 2020, Office 365 ProPlus or Office perpetual in mainstream support will be required to connect to Office 365 services. Office 365 ProPlus will deliver the best experience, but for customers who aren't ready to move to the cloud by 2020, we will also support connections from Office perpetual in mainstream support.... This update does not change our system requirements or support policies for the Office perpetual clients, Office perpetual clients connecting to on-premises servers, or any consumer services.... We're providing more than three years' notice to give IT time to plan and budget for this change. Until this new requirement goes into effect in 2020, Office 2010, Office 2013 and Office 2016 perpetual clients will still be able to connect to Office 365 services.

(Defuzzing note: "Office perpetual" is the old-fashioned boxed version of Office, the MSI-based installed version. We're inching closer to Microsoft software as a rental service.)

The Office 365 update cadence has changed as well. There's a good overview, complete with a couple of new "Semi-annual" channels, in the Office Support blog.

I don't know anyone who will lament the passing of Office 365's three-times-a-year-or-so upgrade cycle, but I know plenty of admins who are feeling squeezed by the Win10 eight-month upgrade cycle as it stands right now, and this is a change in the wrong direction.

If Microsoft were churning out worthy feature upgrades in its new versions, it'd be a different story. But with such stellar improvements as 3D drawing, Cortana in setup, Xbox chat, and sliding tabs in Edge, many admins are rightfully wondering why they have to go through upgrade hell twice a year.

Discussion continues on the AskWoody Lounge.

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