Posted on October 8, 2018 by Paul Mew
Historically Microsoft released a completely new version of Windows every few years – Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. However, that model changed with Windows 10 (with one exception that we’ll come on to later…).
Windows 10 has a ‘Windows as a service’ model where rather than a new version number every few years, it’s continually updated with both new features as well as security and bug patches. Well, sort of…
Reality is that there are more significant updates, called ‘feature updates’ which are released roughly every six months. These are big changes to the code and therefore are large downloads which take a long time to install, potentially a couple of hours. You need to keep up to date with the latest feature upgrades, or you’re not able to install the more frequent, and important, ‘quality updates’ which usually include important security patches.
The challenge for business is how to manage those feature updates. With Windows 10 Professional, which is the most common edition within business, it’s not possible to centrally manage these feature updates, other than pausing them, which will eventually mean you are unable to install important security updates. Minor updates can be managed centrally using appropriate management tools, it’s just the feature updates that can’t be controlled.
One option is to move to Windows 10 Enterprise, which then allows you to move to the ‘Long Term Servicing Branch’, where new major builds are only released every two to three years, and there is no requirement to install them to maintain support. However, costs for Windows Enterprise licensing are significant, prohibitively so for many organisations.
That leaves businesses with three choices – allow staff to choose when to install feature updates themselves, schedule the IT team or provider to manually install them, or let Windows update automatically.
The first option may sound like an IT nightmare, as in the past we wouldn’t have wanted users choosing when to install a new version of Windows, but it does have some advantages. If users have control, as they do over the updates on their phones, tablets and home machines, they can choose a convenient time to install the update. Maybe when they leave the office for the day, or when they go into a long meeting.
The second option, having an IT team or provider manually install the feature updates by arranging downtime with users, is actually what we’ve been doing in the past with new versions of Windows. However, with feature releases coming every six months, and with a defined period of time where they have to be installed before minor updates start failing, it will be difficult and/or expensive to install them manually.
Allowing Windows control of when the updates are installed is unlikely to be desirable from a user’s perspective, as inevitably the update will install, taking their machine off-line potentially for a couple of hours, at the worst possible moment. Staff are not usually impressed with coming in early to get important work done, only to find their machine takes two hours to start-up.
Unfortunately doing nothing isn’t an option. Users can only defer feature updates for around 12 months, at which point Windows will force the installation, again this is likely to happen at the most inconvenient time. So, all organisations should have a plan for how they are going to manage feature updates and make sure users know what part they play.
Our approach with most clients has been maintaining central control of ‘quality updates’ so we can push those out using our own tools, ensuring machines are kept up to date with important security patches. We then allow users control over feature updates so they can install them at a convenient time, but monitor which machines have been updated, reminding users so we can make sure everyone has updated before the deadline expires.Get in touch for more information on managing Windows updates