Microsoft Previews Organizational Controls over New Windows Features
Microsoft on Thursday described a new approach that will be applying the brakes a bit on its "continuous innovation" delivery of new Windows features to organizations.
A new approach will hold back new Windows features that could be disruptive to organizations. Specifically, this approach applies to new Windows features that can arrive monthly via the "latest cumulative update," or LCU, using the Windows Update service. Microsoft plans to turn those features off by default for organizations.
"Features that may be disruptive to organizations will be off by default for all Windows update managed devices until the device enables the policy or takes the next annual feature update," explained Aria Carley, a program manager on the Windows updates team.
If IT pros want to get these turned-off Windows features, though, they can set a policy that will enable them.
How New Features Arrive in Windows
New features used to arrive when Microsoft released so-called Windows "feature updates." However, Microsoft made changes to that approach last year.
In Microsoft lingo, a "feature update" is a new Windows operating system release. Under an older release model, new features only came to Windows via feature update releases. Windows 10 and Windows 11 feature update releases now happen just once per year, in the fall. Microsoft cut back the release frequency for those OSes, which used to follow a twice-per-year model.
Microsoft switched tactics from its older release model in November for Windows 11 version 22H2 users, delivering new OS features when they were deemed ready via its monthly LCU update releases. Although Microsoft had indicated back then that organizations using the Windows 11 Enterprise and Educations editions would have delivery of these new OS features turned off by default, that off-by-default policy only took effect subsequent to the November release, according to an article by veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley.
Typically, Microsoft now opts to deliver new features for Windows clients whenever it wants, which happens via its monthly LCU releases. An LCU release consists of quality updates plus security patches, and now they can also include new Windows features.
New Approach for Organizations
With the new default approach described by Carley for organizations, Microsoft will hold back in activating new Windows features that arrive via monthly LCUs if those features have the following effects:
- Add new experiences or user interfaces to Windows, especially for any primary control surfaces (such as the taskbar and start menu)
- Are new in-box applications
- Remove existing capabilities
- Override previously configured settings (set by either IT or the end user)
This new "commercial control" approach presumably applies to both Windows 11 and Windows 10 clients managed by organizations. Carley didn't specify the particular Windows versions and editions involved. The new control only applies to organizations that use Windows Update-managed devices.
"Windows-Update-managed devices are those that determine which Windows updates are offered by leveraging Windows Update for Business or Windows Server Update Services (WSUS)," Carley explained.
Presumably, unmanaged Windows devices aren't getting this commercial control setting. Consumer Windows users using unmanaged devices typically can't set policies to block new features.
Microsoft is leveraging its "enablement package" technology as part of this control scheme, Carley explained. An enablement package consists of OS bits that have been downloaded, but not activated, for a particular Windows OS release.
The new Windows commercial control for organizations can be tested today via the "Windows Insider Program Dev Channel" using "Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 25295," Carley indicated. Microsoft also plans to release it as preview for Windows 11 version 22H2 with the "February 2023 optional, cumulative, non-security preview release."
The exact commercial release date of the new control for organizations wasn't described.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.