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Microsoft Releases Windows 10 and Windows Server Versions 20H2

Microsoft on Tuesday announced the "semiannual channel" release of Windows 10 version 20H2, otherwise known as the "October 2020 Update," and it also released Windows Server version 20H2.

Little was said about the Windows Server release. The server product got some reliability and performance improvements, but no new features, per this Microsoft document.

Details for IT pros about the Windows 10 version 20H2 release can be found in this Windows IT pro post by Joe Lurie, a senior product marketing manager at Microsoft. Features for end users were announced in this Windows post by Aaron Woodman, general manager of the Windows consumer business.

Also, Microsoft offered information about how to get Windows 10 version 20H2. Those nuances are described in this Windows announcement by John Cable, vice president of program management for Windows servicing and delivery.

Windows 10 Version 20H2 Availability
For IT pros wanting to get the bits, Windows 10 version 20H2 is available from the usual places, and it can be installed using typical Microsoft management tools.

This new Windows 10 feature update is available from the Volume Licensing Service Center. Tools such as Windows Server Update Services, Microsoft Endpoint Manager Configuration Manager and Windows Update for Business can deploy it. The new OS is also available for download from the Visual Studio Subscriptions page, as well as the "Software Download Center (via Update Assistant or the Media Creation Tool)," Microsoft explained.

This time around, Microsoft described a somewhat more cautious release. Cable explained that users won't necessarily get Windows 10 version 20H2 right away, especially if there's a compatibility issue:

We are throttling availability over the coming weeks to ensure a reliable download experience, so the update may not be offered to you right away. Additionally, some devices might have a compatibility issue for which a safeguard hold is in place, so we will not offer the update until we are confident that you will have a good update experience.

It's possible to get Windows 10 version 20H2 right away by seeking it through the Windows Update service. End users use the "Check for updates" command to actively seek it out and install the OS. However, the bits will only arrive if the user already has Windows 10 version 1903 installed.

When all is ready, end users will get a notice. It'll allow them to choose an OS install time.

Fall Semiannual Release
Microsoft follows a twice-per-year (spring and fall) Windows 10 feature update delivery schedule. A Windows 10 feature update is a new OS that replaces an older OS via an "in-place upgrade."

Windows 10 version 20H2 is notable for kicking off a 30-month product support timeline for users of the Enterprise or Education editions. For everyone else, though, this feature update is just supported for 18 months.

It would seem that Enterprise and Education edition users get some perks with the 30-month support lifecycle. However, if they subsequently deploy a future spring release, then that Windows 10 version is just supported for 18 months. Only the fall releases have the potential for 30 months of support.

For organizations with Windows 10 version 2004 already installed, the upgrade to version 20H2 will take about the same time as a monthly quality update, according to Lurie. Microsoft makes that possible via so-called "enablement packages," which Microsoft started adding with Windows 10 version 1903. With the enablement package, two consecutive Windows 10 OS semiannual channel releases share similar capabilities, but some capabilities stay dormant in the older version. In essence, the dormant capabilities in Windows 10 version 2004 are getting turned on with the arrival of Windows 10 version 20H2.

Microsoft is recommending that IT pros test deploying the new OS with a group of users first before broader organizational rollout. In Microsoft lingo, it is recommending carrying out "targeted deployments" of Windows 10 version 20H2.

IT Pro and Other Highlights
With the new OS release, Microsoft is now combining its Latest Cumulative Updates (LCUs, also known as the "monthly quality updates") with its monthly Servicing Stack Updates (SSUs, which are patches for the Windows Update Service). The two update types are now combined when IT pros access them from the Microsoft Catalog or Windows Server Update Services, Lurie explained. Microsoft did the same thing with Windows 7 a couple of years ago.

The Chromium-based Microsoft Edge browser is part of Windows 10 version 20H2, Lurie noted. The Chromium-based Edge browser, though, was described as possibly arriving as early as January for older Windows 10 versions via the Automatic Update service. There's one big catch with the new Edge browser, though: It won't be possible to uninstall it. Moreover, the "legacy" Microsoft EdgeHTML browser will lose support after March 9, 2021. Internet Explorer 11 will stop working optimally with Microsoft 365 services on Aug. 17, 2021. Microsoft had explained these sorts of browser end-of-support details back in August.

Also highlighted with version 20H2 was support for Microsoft Defender Application Guard protections on opening Microsoft 365 documents. The documents get opened in a "virtualized container," thereby protecting the system from malware. This capability is just for Microsoft 365 E5 plan subscribers, though. Microsoft described this feature as being at the preview stage in August. Microsoft Defender Application Guard is the new name for "Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection." Microsoft had announced a general product name rebranding shift in back in March.

Some Features Going Away
Microsoft gives Windows 10 features and it takes them away, too. A list of the removed features can be found in this document. Windows 10 version 20H2 marks the end of Windows To Go, which let end users take their corporate desktops with them on thumb drives. Windows To Go had seemed like a good idea, but Microsoft announced its product deprecation last year.

Cortana, Microsoft's personal digital assistant, is also taking a hit with Windows 10 version 20H2. Consumers who used Cortana in "connected home" scenarios or to access music are losing those capabilities with Windows 10 version 20H2. Microsoft had announced those details back in August.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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