Windows Insider

4 Strategies To Stay Ahead of Microsoft’s New Timeline

With major updates for Windows 10 coming at an accelerated rate, IT will have to adjust how they stay on top of keeping systems current.

Once your organization moves to Windows 10, you’ll need to move faster -- a lot faster -- just to stay in one place. You can, of course, push the snooze button and continue with Windows 7 for a while longer. But that delay will buy you less than three years.

Windows 7 support ends for good on Jan. 14, 2020, and Microsoft is unlikely to extend that deadline. Unless you can convince management to pay for a very expensive custom support contract beyond that date, you need to put a migration plan on the fast track.

Why the sudden change of pace? Simple. With Windows 10, Microsoft has increased the frequency of major updates. It used to be you could expect an upgrade every three years, and you had the option to skip any of those upgrades and just stick with your current version for its full 10-year support lifecycle.

Major upgrades to Windows 10 (now called "feature updates"), on the other hand, will arrive once or twice per year. And although you can delay the installation of those feature updates by a few months, you can’t skip them completely.

For IT managers accustomed to taking a year to ponder each service pack, who usually skip every other major Windows release, Microsoft’s new timetables are going give them a rude awakening.

These are big, big changes, and if you’re not ready to move quickly, you could get steamrolled. To help you acclimate to Microsoft’s new world order, here are four key facts that should help you stay ahead of the pack.

Move to the Current Branch for Business (CBB). New feature updates go first to customers in the Current Branch, via Windows Update. In an explicit nod to business customers, Microsoft waits a minimum of four months before publishing those updates to the CBB. By using Group Policy to switch to this delayed schedule, you get the benefit of four months of additional reliability updates, which should mean fewer compatibility headaches.

Use additional deferrals for machines where you can’t afford unexpected downtime. A separate Group Policy setting allows you to defer the CBB updates by up to an additional eight months. Use that extra time to keep critical systems running on an older, more stable branch while you test the newer features.

Set up your own testing rings. Those delays in feature updates aren’t just an excuse to spend more quality time with your Xbox. After the 12 months of allowed delays are up, those feature updates are going to be mandatory. Use that year-long grace period to perform testing within your own organization. Start with your more experienced users on the Current Branch, the bulk of users on the CBB and defer a core of critical devices by a few months. If you monitor each, erring carefully, you can expect few surprises.

Consider joining the Windows Insider Program. Microsoft offers free access to early releases of Windows 10 via the Windows Insider Program. It doesn’t cost anything, and the exposure can give you valuable insight into what to expect when those new features roll out as part of public releases later. I’m not suggesting that you move your production laptop to one of these preview channels, which can be ragged and buggy. But setting up a second device with an Insider build, and enlisting a few of your more technical users to do the same, can pay dividends later.

If that sounds like more work than you’ve been used to, well, yes, it is. But it’s also the way every computing platform is moving, with cloud connections driving the continuous-delivery model. Learning to move at Internet speed isn’t just smart business -- it’s an essential survival skill.

About the Author

Ed Bott is a Microsoft MVP and an award-winning tech journalist who has covered Microsoft for 25 years. He's written numerous books on Windows and Office, including the best-selling "Inside Out" series from Microsoft Press. Bott delivers outspoken advice on a wide range of technology topics at his ZDNet blog, "The Ed Bott Report."

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