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Microsoft Explains the Confusion over Windows 10 Update Deferrals

Microsoft recently explained why it stopped allowing IT pros to defer Windows 10 feature updates via the client graphical user interface (GUI).

The change specifically affects Windows 10 version 2004. Last month, Microsoft removed the GUI-based control within the client operating system for setting feature update deferral time periods (for up to 365 days), which used to be found under Advanced Options in Windows 10 systems. The change was made to "prevent confusion," Microsoft had indicated, though it was unclear what might be confusing about that GUI-based control.

It turns out that people using that control to defer a feature update (a new OS that replaces the existing OS) by 365 days weren't getting a once-per-year Windows 10 update experience. Instead, they got OS feature updates twice per year. Microsoft had made an earlier change to the feature update system that doesn't replace the existing OS' bits unless it is about to fall out of support. However, with that change, somehow using the GUI to set deferrals doesn't work as expected.

If that sounds crazy, here's how Microsoft's described the point:

The ability to remain on your current version until you choose to download and install the latest feature update or until approaching end of service is only possible when deferrals are not set for the device. To date, some of you have leveraged, and continue to leverage, deferrals to delay feature updates. While deferrals can be a great way to roll out updates in waves to a set of devices across an organization, setting deferrals as an end user might now have some unintended consequences. Deferrals work by allowing you to specify how many days after an update is released before it is offered to your device. For example, if you configure a feature update deferral of 365 days, you will be offered every feature update 365 days after it has been released. However, given that we release Windows10 feature updates semi-annually, if you configure a feature update deferral of 365 days, your device will install a new feature update every six months, twice as often as an end user who has not configured any settings.

That sort of behavior certainly is confusing, but apparently it's not considered to be a bug that'll get fixed by Microsoft.

The effect seems similar, at the consumer level, to the infamous dual-scan behavior that caused much teeth gnashing of IT pros a few years back. With dual-scan turned on by Microsoft (as a feature, not a bug), certain Windows 10 feature update deferral settings made in Windows Server Update Services and System Center Configuration Manager actually triggered the semiannual feature updates to arrive. (Microsoft releases Windows 10 feature updates twice per year, calling them "semiannual" feature updates.) Apparently, IT pros were using Windows Update for Business deferral settings, which default to twice-per-year feature update deliveries, and that was the nature of the problem, or so it was explained back then.

Even though the GUI control for feature update deferrals is now removed in all Windows 10 systems, starting with version 2004, organizations can still use local client Group Policy in the Windows 10 client to set the deferral time periods for feature updates. Microsoft's announcement included a description on how to use Group Policy for that purpose, but it's less straightforward than using the GUI.

About the Author

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

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