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  • Where we stand with Windows versions, builds, rings, updates, branches and editions

    Posted on September 9th, 2016 at 06:05 Comment on the AskWoody Lounge

    If you aren’t confused, you aren’t trying.

    Microsoft jettisoned its old system of Windows SKUs and Service Packs more than five years ago, with the release of Win7 SP1. In its place we now have a system of versions and versioning that will leave your brain tied in knots.  Here, in response to many cries for help, is my attempt to geeksplain it all.

    Have no doubt that Windows is still important. According to Netmarketshare, about 88% of desktop PCs run Windows, MacOS runs around 8%, with Linux and other/undetermined at 2% each. Here’s the tangled web we weave.

    Windows 10

    Let’s start with the PC version of Windows 10 – the version of Windows that most likely concerns you, the one that drives roughly 20% of all desktop PCs. Right now, in addition to all the editions (Home, Pro, Enterprise and Education), there are three current versions of Windows 10. (To see your build number, type winver in the Cortana search box.)

    Win10 Anniversary Update – version 1607

    Released on Aug. 2, version 1607 (shorthand for “July 2016”), codenamed Redstone 1, has had four major patches in the past five weeks. The latest build number is 14393.105 – I call it Win 10.2.6 because it’s had six cumulative updates since the 14393 version appeared. There’s a handful of significant known bugs in the Anniversary Update, which likely explains why Microsoft hasn’t rolled it out faster. As of Aug. 24, AdDuplex reports that version 1607 was on just 16% of all Windows 10 machines (that’s 16% of 20% of all desktop operating systems). I continue to recommend that you avoid it.

    Win10 Fall Update – version 1511

    Released on Nov. 12, 2015, version 1511 (“November 2015” – which is Fall in south Georgia, I think), codenamed Threshold 2, has had fifteen major updates since its release. Latest version is 10586.545, which I call 10.1.15, and it has several known but unplugged bugs. By far the largest percentage of machines running Windows 10 are on 10586.545, with AdDuplex pegging it at 77% of all Win10 use.

    Win10 original, which doesn’t have a version number

    Many people call the original Win10 “RTM,” or “version 1507” (for “July, 2015” coinciding with its general release on July 29, 2015), codenamed Threshold 1. Latest version is 10240.17071. I call it Win 10.0 – and I’ve lost count of all the patches. Very few people use it, with AdDuplex pegging RTM usage at 6% of all Win10 use.

    Release Preview for Win10 Anniversary Update

    Microsoft has an important “sneak peek” channel for those of you who want to test new builds of Win10 Anniversary Update before they go out to the hoi polloi. It’s particularly important for admins and devs who need to make sure that their wares work with the next release. If you need to look into the future just a little bit, make sure you sign up for the Win10 Insider Release Preview ring.

    Unfortunately, there’s no Release Preview available for the Win10 Fall Update, version 1511, which is the Win10 version most people are using. The closest we have right now is a weird preview in the Windows Update Catalog called KB 3186988. Apparently whoever thought up the Insider Preview approach – it’s a great idea! – didn’t think there’d ever be a time when two different Win10 versions would need a sneak peek. Unfortunately, while we’re still recovering from the double-print bug introduced by last month’s security patch MS16-098, we really need a Release Preview for 1511 – and it wouldn’t hurt to have one for 1507, too.

    Win 8.1 Update, Win 7 SP1 and Vista SP2

    While Windows 10 continues to grab the headlines and marketing mindshare, most Windows users are on Win7 SP1 (47% of all Windows usage, per Netmarketshare), Win 8.1 Update 1 (a lowly 8%), or Vista (1%). Among unsupported versions, WinXP still takes the cake (at 8% and falling slowly), followed by Windows 8 (at 2%).

    The big news in this rapidly-aging demographic: Microsoft’s going to change Win7 and 8.1 to a Win10-like cumulative patching system in October, with separate updating channels for those who want security patches only, and those who want everything Microsoft deigns to push. Details are sketchy at the moment, but it looks like the old KB-number-driven patching system will only apply to Vista, starting in October; support for Vista SP2 runs out on April 11, 2017.

    Windows 10 beta builds

    The Windows Insider Program has drawn plenty of raves and jeers. Looking much like a crowdsourced extension of the old marketing betas, anybody can sign up to receive copies of the latest beta test version of Windows, codenamed Redstone 2. The latest Win10 beta build is 14915.rs_prerelease.160828-1902 (signifying that it was compiled on Aug. 28, 2016). Like it or scoff at it, there’s no question the Insider Program represents a giant step forward from the shrouded Win 8 days. You can join the “Fast Ring” or “Slow Ring” or move between the rings at certain sync points. More information on the official Insider Program site.

    Yes, the Release Preview is also called an “Insider Program.” Chalk another one up to Microsoft branding. Other than sharing some of the same locations in the Win10 user interface, they have nothing in common.

    Current Branch, Branch for Business, Long-Term Servicing Branch

    Most Win10 users will never have to deal with these terms, but admins will. The basic idea is easy enough: Branch for Business holds off on the latest versions of Win10; Long-Term Servicing Branch holds back for two versions. Right now, the Current Branch includes versions 1507, 1511 and 1607.  Branch for Business only includes versions 1507 and 1511. LTSB is version 1507 only. Note that the versions are still subject to cumulative updates – so a bug in security patch MS16-098, for example, shows up in the Current Branch, as well as CBB and LTSB. That’s probably not what you expected.

    Microsoft has published reams of information about the branch concepts and some about the implementation. There are two settings that help delay version updates in Win10 Pro (in 1511, gpedit.msc, click Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Update > Defer Upgrades and Updates). By and large, Win10 machines connected to a domain get pushed to new versions based on the admin’s decision, Win10 Pro machines can be jury-rigged through Group Policy, and Win10 Home machines get whatever’s doled out.

    Windows Mobile, Xbox, Server, Hololens, Things and other things

    Confusing the bewilickers out of everyone, Microsoft is using the same version/build number sequences for Windows Server, Mobile (formerly Phone), the Xbox, Hololens, Internet of Things and, presumably, other things. Considering there are maybe a dozen people interested in Win10 Mobile (aside from Microsoft employees and bloggers) – two dozen if you include Europe – you need to make sure you know the build number frame of reference. For example, on Aug. 25, Windows Insider honcho @donasarkar tweeted:

    We released CU 14393.103 to Slow and RP rings just now. No new build for Fast Ring today.

    It took quite a while for me to figure out that she was saying 14393.103 had been released to Win10 Mobile Release Preview, and to the slow ring of Windows 10 Mobile. In fact, what we saw was correctly documented on Sep. 8 by Rich Woods in a Neowin article:

    The Production ring build for Windows 10 Mobile is still 14393.67, which wasn’t even ever released to PCs, and there is no record of it in the Windows 10 Update history. On the other hand, 14393.82, which was released for PCs, contains notes that include Windows 10 Mobile, even though the Production ring never saw it.

    Presumably “Production ring” is shorthand for “version of Windows 10 Mobile released to real people who aren’t in the Insider beta program.”

    Shortly after posting that explanation, Woods updated his article with this:

    Despite being called 14393.103 when downloading and preparing to install, today’s update brings the build number to 14393.105. This brings the build number on par with the Windows 10 for PCs build in the Production ring.

    I submit that if Woods is confused, there’s no way in hell’s half acre you or I can make sense of it.

    Why do I get the feeling that Microsoft is making this up as they go along?