Q. What are some of the new features added with new branches of Windows 10?

A. The Windows as a Service concept where approximately every 6 months Microsoft releases a new branch of Windows 10 can be confusing to many organizations as initially it appears as more work (even though that is not the case) so understanding the value is important.

“The last version of Windows” was the announcement with Windows 10 but what does that mean and why? Does this mean no more new features to Windows? Is Windows 10 really so good that no more features are needed? These are all common questions customers have around Windows 10 and after presenting a number of Windows as a Service workshops there are common themes around customer thinking related to Windows as a Service (WaaS) and I wanted to share a little of that here.

Firstly, what does it actually mean? It’s the opposite of no new features but rather a vehicle to enable customers to receive new features at a faster cadence then the “every few years” they are used to. Approximately twice a year a new branch of Windows 10 is released as the Current Branch (CB) which has new features. Not just small features but major functionality such as Windows Information protection to help prevent data leakage, new mechanisms to protect credentials both locally and remotely, better usage of resources to improve performance, and in the upcoming branch next year there are a host of creativity features including 3D capabilities.

This released branch has been tested internally at Microsoft and by the millions of people that are part of the Insiders program that receive regular builds of Windows 10 to help in the testing and feedback for what Windows 10 really needs. Even after all this testing many organizations prefer to wait a while before deploying new versions of software. So there is also Current Branch for Business (CBB). The CBB is released around 4 months after the CB and is exactly the same version as the CB except it includes any fixes that have been released since the CB was published. This provides organizations additional testing time before rolling out the CBB to the population. And while they wait application testing can be performed using the CB (as it’s the same code that will be the CBB). This is important as machines need to stay current on the latest CBB to assure support which means having the right management solution is critical (System Center Configuration Manager ideally!)

The CB/CBB approach solves another problem organizations have long struggled with related to client OS deployments and that is simply they are too hard, take too long and need too many resources. This is why organizations tend to skip client releases and therefore miss out on functionality meaning they only get new client features every 5-6 years. Historically, client upgrade projects were very resource intensive as extensive discovery, application testing, image preparation, user training and rollout were required. This is because the change between client versions was extensive and required a clean installation each time which meant a process to backup then restore user configuration and data. With Windows as a Service the increments are more frequent but also smaller. In-place upgrades are now the preferred deployment approach (even from Windows 7/8.1) which means far simpler deployments, minimal testing and overall less work. It is also a less jarring change for the user since the changes are in smaller increments meaning less end-user testing and less pain for the helpdesk.

Windows as a Service is the result of feedback from customers and enables Windows to better deliver functionality that is needed based on changes to hardware available, changes to attack patterns from bad actors, changes to business requirements and trends and anything else that may occur. Far from meaning the last version of Windows, Windows as a Service means a version of Windows that will constantly improve and provide customers with a platform that will enable them to achieve whatever is next on their roadmap and beyond. And don’t worry. For those mission-critical machines such as medical equipment, ATMs there is still a version of Windows 10 Enterprise that follows the standard 5+5 year support model, the Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) which does not follow the WaaS model but rather is designed to live with a piece of equipment for its lifetime without feature changes, but let’s focus on CBB for the majority of customers who will benefit greatly from the innovation.

I mentioned a few of the features but I wanted to put together a more detailed list of what we have seen and what is some of what is coming:

Fall Update (1511)

  • Edge improvements (sync of items like Favorites, Reading, tab previews, media cast)
  • Cortana improvements
  • Nested virtualization
  • Memory compression changes
  • GUI improvements (context menu consistency, color schemes, no background pic on logon etc)

Anniversary Edition (1607)

  • Remote Credential Guard
  • Windows Hello for Business
  • Windows Information Protection
  • Windows Defender Offline
  • Windows Defender ATP
  • Expanded MDM
  • App-V, UE-V
  • Improved WICD
  • Shared PC Mode

Creators Update (????)

  • 3D support and 3D applications
  • Braille support
  • Azure AD account support for Cortana
  • Improved OneDrive interface
  • Improved voice commands and Cortana capabilities
  • Full screen idle view for Cortana
  • Enterprise cloud printing
  • Improved Windows Game Bar
  • Improved update experience