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Microsoft Drops 'Preview' Label from Week 4 .NET Framework Updates

Microsoft announced a subtle change to its .NET Framework patch labeling earlier this week that's notable for IT pros handling the monthly patching of Windows 10 and Windows Server 2019 environments.

Essentially, Microsoft has dropped the "preview" descriptor for .NET Framework nonsecurity updates that typically arrive in the fourth week of the month. This change took effect for users of Windows 10 version 1809 and Windows Server 2019, and was announced in a Jan. 23-dated "Update Notice" that was added to this Jan. 22 .NET blog post.

'Production-Ready' Previews?
IT pros managing those Windows systems won't see the word "preview" when they visit the Microsoft Update Catalog or use Microsoft's Windows Server Update Services management console, Microsoft's update notice explained. In addition, Windows end users that use the "Check for Updates" feature can trigger the delivery of these formerly labeled preview releases.

The reason Microsoft dropped the preview label for .NET Framework patches arriving in the fourth week of the month is to avoid confusion with its Windows Insider Program preview releases, according to a response to a reader of the Jan. 22 .NET blog post. In this response, Brett Lopez of Microsoft also claimed that these .NET Framework releases (formerly labeled previews) are "production-ready updates."

Here's how Lopez described it:

If you take a look at the added "update notice" above, we are discontinuing the use of the term "Preview," since it was causing some confusion with the Windows Insider Preview program. The non-security updates (formerly distributed with the "Preview" naming) will continue to ship to seekers (those WU customers who go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update, and then select Check for updates), typically on the 4th week of the month. These non-security updates will also be available on WSUS and Catalog. These updates production-ready updates are available to businesses and individuals that want to take use of this content as soon as it is available.

Lopez was responding to a reader who said he had received the latest .NET Framework update automatically on his Windows 10 version 1809 Home edition machine, even though he hadn't checked for updates. Apparently, that incident occurred due to a glitch that Microsoft has fixed. It's described as a "known issue" in support article KB4481031 as follows:

For 24 hours, this Jan 22, 2019 Cumulative Update for .NET Framework 3.5 and 4.7.2 (KB4481031) was made available broadly on Windows Update as an automatic update. As of January 23, 2019, this update is no longer offered on Windows Update as an automatic update, but rather only to "seekers" who go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update, and then select Check for updates, as is expected. This update continues to be available on WSUS and Microsoft Update Catalog.

Of course, these so-called "seekers" may be just checking for a list of updates, rather than wanting to install something when using the "Check for Updates" feature, but they get the updates anyway.

Concurrent Patch Arrivals
Another change initiated for .NET Framework updates with newer Windows versions is that .NET Framework updates are "cumulative," meaning that they include updates from earlier releases. They even include patches for different .NET Framework versions. For instance, patches for .NET Framework 3.5 and .NET Framework 4.7 get combined into one update.

Moreover, .NET Framework updates now arrive concurrently with the Windows monthly cumulative updates. This practice started with Windows 10 version 1809 and Windows Server 2019, and was announced back in September, although it maybe wasn't noticed too much.

Microsoft's September announcement had included a note that the .NET Framework updates that get released in the later weeks of the month are considered to be "preview updates" and they aren't automatically installed.

"Preview updates for .NET Framework will be released one to two weeks after the Patch Tuesday release, for non-security fixes as a limited distribution release (will not be installed automatically)," the September announcement had stated.

Apparently, Microsoft is now dropping this preview label, and perhaps considers these releases in Week 4 to be production-ready updates, at least according to Lopez's description.

Fewer Reboots
Microsoft may be addressing an IT pain point by simultaneously releasing .NET Framework updates with Windows updates on "update Tuesdays" (the second Tuesday of each month). This approach will limit these updates to "a single reboot" of a Windows system after patch installation. This point is explained in a FAQ section of Microsoft's September announcement:

Windows Update will orchestrate making sure updates that ship at the same time are processed together and only require a single reboot. Guidance to WSUS/IT Admins is to continue to ensure that updates are grouped and deployed together to avoid any potential additional reboots.

These monthly .NET Framework cumulative updates just patch existing instances of the software. They don't perform an upgrade to a new version, the FAQ explained.

Monthly Update Cycle
Microsoft's monthly Windows patch cycle consists of releases in the second, third and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Microsoft also issues so-called "on-demand" or "out-of-band" patches that can arrive anytime, as Microsoft explained last month.

The following table shows the Windows patch schedule, although Microsoft seems to be dropping the preview descriptor for the fourth Tuesday of the month, at least for the .NET Framework patches:

Update Name Scope Publish Timing Windows Update?
Security-only update for deployment Monthly (contains security patches only) On "B week" to WSUS and the Windows Update Catalog; accessible via SCCM No
Security and quality update for deployment with no new features (a.k.a. the "monthly rollup") Cumulative (security plus non-security patches) On "B week" to WSUS and the Windows Update Catalog Yes
Preview of monthly quality update for testing, mostly for older Windows systems (a.k.a. the "preview rollup") Cumulative (non-security patches only) On "C week" to WSUS and the Windows Update Catalog Yes
Preview of monthly quality update for testing (a.k.a. the "preview rollup") Cumulative (non-security patches only) On "D week" to WSUS and the Windows Update Catalog Yes
"Out-of-band" update or "on-demand" release Monthly or whenever needed Whenever needed Probably

Table 1. Microsoft's monthly updates for supported Windows clients and servers. Cumulative updates contain past fixes previously released and new fixes. "B week" represents "update Tuesday," or releases that arrive on the second Tuesday of each month. "C week" is reserved for test releases that arrive on the third Tuesday of each month. "D week" is reserved for test releases that arrive on the fourth Tuesday of each month. WSUS, Windows Server Update Services; SCCM, System Center Configuration Manager. Sources: Microsoft Windows blog post and Enterprise blog post, as modified by comments in this Aug. 1 Microsoft Tech Community post, plus this Dec. 1, 2018 post.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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