Windows 10 Version 2004 Makes Update Deferrals Harder for IT

Starting with Windows 10 version 2004 (the "May 2020 Update"), Microsoft is routing IT pros to Group Policy settings in order to defer Windows 10 feature updates.

This is a less user-friendly change from the previous method, which allowed organizations running Windows 10 Pro or greater to defer a Windows 10 feature update for 365 days using graphical user interface-based settings in the Windows client.

The change was done to "prevent confusion," Microsoft indicated. The text indicating that intent appears as a short entry in a long "What's New" document on Windows 10 version 2004, which was noted in a Wednesday ZDNet article by veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley. She credited Maya Pal of the Windows Times blog for spotting the obscure entry.

The following description of the change can be found under the Windows Update for Business section of Microsoft's "What's New in Windows 10 Version 2004 for IT Pros" document:

Update less: Last year, we changed update installation policies for Windows 10 to only target devices running a feature update version that is nearing end of service. As a result, many devices are only updating once a year. To enable all devices to make the most of this policy change, and to prevent confusion, we have removed deferrals from the Windows Update settings Advanced Options page starting on Windows 10, version 2004. If you wish to continue leveraging deferrals, you can use local Group Policy (Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Update > Windows Update for Business > Select when Preview builds and Feature Updates are received or Select when Quality Updates are received).

Windows Update for Business is a bunch of update management capabilities for organizations using Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise/Education or Pro for Workstation OS editions. It lets them use the Windows Update service to deliver OS feature updates to client devices, and is managed via mobile device management solutions (such as Microsoft Intune) or Group Policy. It's not clear if the lack of deferral controls just applies to Windows Update for Business users.

Microsoft, in effect, is "hiding the GUI controls" from IT pros, noted Susan Bradley, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, in this AskWoody post. She confirmed that the GUI-based controls to defer updates aren't there in the Windows 10 Pro version 2004 client, although it is possible set a deferral for 365 days using Group Policy. She added that enterprises in general haven't been keeping pace with Microsoft's OS feature update releases, which arrive twice per year, and they are typically running "versions that I consider to no longer be appropriate."

Microsoft recently acknowledged that its customers typically update once per year, so it's not clear why anyone would be confused by a GUI control that defers Windows 10 feature updates for a year. Additionally, users of the Enterprise and Education editions of Windows 10 that just accept a feature update in the fall (now called "H2") are said to be supported on that version of the OS for 30 months, or 2.5 years. Windows 10 Pro edition users are supported on an OS version for 18 months, or 1.5 years.

The possibility that GUI update deferral changes made in a Windows 10 version 2004 clients might override the policy settings set by IT pros is debunked in this Microsoft document, which indicated that organizational policies will take precedent.

About the Author

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

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