Microsoft Will Offer Businesses a Mixed Servicing Approach with Windows 10

When Microsoft revealed that it would effectively treat Windows 10 as a service and keep it updated regularly for consumers going forward, some warning bells went off at enterprises and other businesses. How would Microsoft support Windows 10 servicing in corporate environments? Today, the software giant clarified its plans.

At the Windows 10 media event earlier this month in Redmond, Microsoft revealed its “Windows as a service” concept as part of the announcement about free upgrades to Windows 10 from Windows 7, 8 and Windows Phone 8.1.

“With Windows 10, we think of Windows as a service,” Microsoft’s Terry Myerson said during the event. “Windows [will become] one of the largest Internet services on the planet. And just like other Internet services, the question ‘what version are you running?’ will cease to make sense.”

There is a big benefit here for developers, of course, and for end users. But what about the enterprise? Here, Myerson offered a fairly short answer.

“We will continue to support how Windows works today, with long-term branches and long term support,” Myerson continued. “However, the best practice for most enterprises … will be to directly connect devices to Windows Update, so those devices receive the best security, the best productivity functionality over time, as soon as [those updates] are available.”

So there are really just two things going on there. First, Microsoft said it would continue supporting the current servicing schemes with which businesses are familiar. And second, it would like businesses to ultimately stop doing that.

I don’t see the latter happening anytime soon. But that first and only sentence about supporting the current way of doing things has been expanded on nicely today by Microsoft’s Jim Alkove. And here’s what he had to say about this.

Software Assurance will continue with Windows 10. Microsoft’s volume licensing scheme will still be offered for those companies that require “enterprise-grade capabilities.” That said, Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise are not included in the terms of the free Windows 10 Upgrade offer that Microsoft just announced. But Software Assurance customers will continue to have rights to upgrade to Windows 10 enterprise offerings outside of this offer (just as they did with previous Windows versions), “while also benefitting from the full flexibility to deploy Windows 10 using their existing management infrastructure.”

Let businesses pick the speed of innovation. While Microsoft speaks highly of keeping everyone up to date with both security enhancements and new features, its business customers want the right to “pick the speed at which this innovation occurs.” (Microsoft’s words, sorry.) To accommodate this, Microsoft will provide “branches” of updates, which both explains Myerson’s weird use of this word (above) and mimics how Office 365 for businesses works today. The Long Term Servicing branch will provide enterprise Windows 10 devices with “the latest security and critical updates” but will not “deliver new features for the duration of mainstream (five years) and extended support (five years).” These customers can use WSUS to fully control the internal distribution of updates, Microsoft says.

Let businesses move more quickly. For those businesses that wish to keep non-mission-critical devices more up-to-date, Microsoft will also introduce a Current branch for businesses that will let certain devices in the enterprise “receive feature updates after their quality and application compatibility has been assessed in the consumer market, while continuing to receive security updates on a regular basis … By the time Current branch for Business machines are updated, the changes will have been validated by millions of Insiders, consumers and customers’ internal test processes for several months, allowing updates to be deployed with this increased assurance of validation.” Enterprises can choose to receive updates automatically via Windows Update, or via WSUS to have more control.

You can mix and match. Obviously, many enterprise environments are complex, with a variety of device types and groups of users. So enterprises will be able to put mission-critical Windows 10 devices on the Long Term Servicing branch and others on the Current branch. They will be able to move between the branches. And they can even skip one Long Term Servicing branch and jump to the next “using in place upgrade technology in Windows 10.”

“Based on what we are hearing from customers, we expect most will take a mixed approach in how they keep their Windows 10 systems up to date,” Alkove writes. “They will likely target a different pace of updates for different users and systems, depending on the specific business needs of each group.”

This sounds like a common sense plan. Microsoft says it will deliver its first Windows 10 Long Term Servicing branch in the same time frame as Windows 10 market availability, so customers can start testing the this branch as soon as it becomes available.