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Windows 10 and Windows Server To Get Smaller Updates

The next major releases of Windows 10 and Windows Server will feature smaller monthly quality updates, Microsoft said this month.

So far, Microsoft hasn't specified what these new monthly quality updates will be called. In terms of their timing, however, Microsoft is referring to when the fall 2018 release of Windows 10 arrives, along with the next semiannual channel release of Windows Server. Both of those products, which follow the "Windows as a Service" update model, get major feature updates twice per year, in the spring and fall.

A traditional monthly quality update doesn't deliver new operating system features. They just provide updates to existing OS components. Monthly quality updates are "cumulative," meaning that they contain all previously released OS updates. As a consequence, they grow in size each month. This aspect of Microsoft's "Windows as a service" approach has been problematic for some organizations in terms of network bandwidth demands. It may also plague some consumer users when their system processes get used and limited storage space gets filled to accommodate the increasingly larger monthly payloads.

The monthly update types that the new quality updates will supplant include:

  • Full Updates: equivalent to the "latest cumulative update" (LCU)
  • Express Updates: defined as "differential downloads for every component in the full update" and
  • Delta Updates: described as "only the components that changed in the most recent quality update," which is an approach that will get deprecated early next year

The new quality updates possibly will be 40 percent less burdensome on device memory compared with Express Updates, Microsoft's announcement suggested. A comparison chart included in the announcement just showed relative size differences between the update types, without showing the units of measurement.

A year ago, Microsoft was promising that Express Updates would be the technology to reduce the size of monthly quality updates. However, in this announcement, Microsoft referred to a new and different "compact update package for easier and faster deployment." These new monthly quality updates will arrive via the Windows Update content delivery service, and they'll also be downloadable for use in management solutions via the Microsoft Update Catalog. Here's Microsoft's description to that effect:

Quality updates packaged using this new design will be distributed over Windows Update (WU) and WSUS in a cabinet (.cab) file and available as downloadable Update Standalone Installer (.msu) files from the Microsoft Update Catalog. Devices managed by Microsoft Intune, and third-party mobile device management (MDM) solutions, as well as on-premises management solutions that get updates from WSUS or the Microsoft Update Catalog, will all have access to this new quality update design.

Microsoft is also promising that the new quality updates will be "redistributable" across networks in the same small size. They will provide organizations with an "enormous savings in network bandwidth and cache size on their distribution points or update servers," Microsoft's announcement suggested.

The new monthly quality updates will be the main approach going forward for Windows 10 and Windows Server users. Only "down-level supported versions of Windows 10," will continue to have access to Express Updates and Full Updates. The monthly Delta Update approach is getting deprecated. Delta Updates will stop arriving on Feb. 12, 2019, Microsoft explained last month.

Microsoft's announcement seems like a placeholder with important details left out. It's possibly designed to perk up frustrated IT pros before next month's Microsoft Ignite event, where the new model likely will get explained.

While Microsoft has explained its Windows 10 update process many times over the years, the notion that it distributes both Full Updates (LCUs) and Express Updates each month, as Microsoft suggested in its announcement, seems to be new. It's not really clear why Windows 10 users would get both, but that approach will get scrapped with the next Windows 10 version.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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