Microsoft Revamps Windows 10 Model: Fewer Yearly Updates, Insider Changes
Microsoft’s model for how it updates Windows 10 has steadily evolved since launch — and been criticized for how major bugs continue to slip through the cracks. The company’s messaging on these topics has not been particularly good; its blog posts have tended towards self-praising, feel-good discussions of its own improvements. Today, however, the company unveiled some significant changes to how it’s performing Windows updates. While Microsoft hasn’t specifically said this, general expectations are that the changes are permanent, not a one-off adjustment.
Up until recently, Windows updates were delivered to Fast Ring Windows Insider testers first, for early evaluation. After several rounds of improvements, those builds were then sent over to the Slow Ring for secondary testing. Slow Ring builds tend to be more stable than Fast Ring; the test progression reflects improvements to the underlying OS.
Now, Microsoft is adopting a new method of testing. Instead of pushing updates through first the fast and slow rings in sequential order, the Fast Ring will move from major yearly update to major yearly update. The number of major OS updates per year is being cut from two to one. The Slow Ring, meanwhile, will be devoted to testing the intended minor update for each major update.
The Windows Insider Fast Ring is currently testing Windows 10 2003 (March 2020) right now. After testing on that build is complete, assuming Microsoft keeps this new strategy, the Fast Ring will move to Windows 10, 2103. The Slow Ring is currently testing Windows 10 1909, intended for release in September. Again, assuming Microsoft keeps this deployment strategy, we would expect the Slow Ring to move from Windows 10 1909 to Windows 10 2009.
From Full OS Debuts to Point Updates
Instead of launching two major rebuilds of the OS per year, Microsoft will launch one major OS version per year, and a smaller point update with various bug fixes and stability improvements. It’s this second version of the OS that the Slow Ring will spend time with, while the Fast Ring gets the early version of each major build.
These changes will only take effect if you are already running May 1903 or after — those upgrading to 1903 or a later version of the OS will still have to go through the major update process at least once more. Once you are on 1903, however, you’ll be able to get 1909 as a smaller, bite-sized package.
Microsoft notes that new features in the secondary minor updates won’t all roll out instantly, even to Insiders. Instead, the updates will be unlocked for groups of users over time, in what Microsoft is calling a Controlled Feature Rollout. This is intended to make certain that the company has a good picture of overall build quality at all times.
The implication of this change is that Microsoft is going to spend more time polishing each major Windows build rather than racing to kick out two per year. The twice-per-year schedule has been challenging for the company; some major features have been delayed to later updates because they weren’t ready for debut. Taking more time to build each version of the OS should help the company bug-check and ensure it isn’t rolling out critical problems to its users. Each ring should have more time to test each update ensuring that both major and minor updates see quality improvements.
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