Microsoft Adds New Controls for Windows 11 Optional Updates
New 'Enable optional updates' policy expands Windows 11 update management options.
Microsoft this week announced the availability of a new policy that gives IT pros more control over the delivery of monthly Windows 11 optional updates, including nonsecurity patches and new features.
This new policy for IT pros is called "Enable optional updates," and it just works with Windows 11 version 22H2 or later clients. Since November, Microsoft has delivered new features to Windows 11 in monthly updates via the Windows Update service, which is a relatively new approach. Those new OS features get released first as optional updates within a particular month. Microsoft also uses the Windows Update service to deliver security and nonsecurity patches, which also appear earlier as optional updates within a month.
Controlled Feature Rollouts
Microsoft now seems to be calling these new OS monthly feature releases for Windows 11 as "Windows configuration updates," "controlled feature rollouts" (CFR) or as "gradual feature rollouts," which are different terms for the same thing. Some press accounts claim to know that Microsoft internally refers to these Windows 11 releases as "moments" releases, although that's the one term that Microsoft seems to never use in its public announcements.
While Windows 11 and Windows 10 still get "feature updates" (which are new OS releases) once per year in the fall, Microsoft switched gears a bit with Windows 11. It's just Windows 11 that gets these CFRs, or new monthly feature releases. And while Microsoft previews these CFRs in C or D week, it actually delivers them through the Windows Update service on "update Tuesdays," the second Tuesday of each month (B week). These new features released during B week in the "latest cumulative update" (LCU) releases are deemed by Microsoft to be ready for production environments.
Microsoft refers to its monthly delivery of new features to Windows 11 as "continuous innovation." New features get released to Windows 11 whenever Microsoft deems them to be ready, with final releases occurring during B week as part of LCU releases. However, Microsoft claims that it turns off features delivered via LCUs that could be disruptive for organizations. Microsoft's term for turning off potentially disruptive features is called "commercial control." The commercial control aspect was explained by Microsoft back in February.
Optional Update Controls
The new "Enable optional updates" policy adds the following controls, per the announcement:
- Automatically receive optional updates (including CFRs). Select this option for devices to get the latest optional non-security updates, including gradual feature rollouts. There is no change to feature update offering.
- Automatically receive optional updates. Select this option for devices to only get the latest optional non-security updates. They won't automatically receive gradual feature rollouts. There is no change to feature update offering.
- Users can select what optional updates to receive. Select this option to allow users to set their own preferences with respect to optional non-security updates. There is no change to feature update offering.
The second control will block the delivery of the CFRs during the optional C week or D week preview stage, but it still allows the delivery of the optional nonsecurity patches, which get released during D week.
For an overview on Microsoft's complex monthly patch and update scheme, the most recent explanation can be found in this March Microsoft post.
A reader of Microsoft's announcement noted that the new "Enable optional updates" policy became effective with the Aug. 22 release of a Windows patch, as described in Knowledge Base article KB5029351.
Another reader suggested that IT shops should disable the ability of users to get the latest Windows 11 updates as soon as they are available precisely because of a botched preview release that was associated with the release of the KB5029351 patch. Users reported seeing an "unsupported processor" error message, which is a "known issue" with Microsoft's August patch release. The gritty details are recounted in this Born's Tech and Windows World post.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.