Windows 10 21H1 officially announced, testing started with Insider in Beta channel

[German]Last night Microsoft officially announced the upcoming Windows 10 21H1 and at the same time started the "beta test" with Windows Insiders in the beta channel. It will probably be a "small feature update" again, which brings the Windows 10 20H2 to the 21H1 via enablement update. Oh yes, the feature update is scheduled for general release in the first half of 2021.


The announcement was made on 2/18/2021 by Microsoft's John Cable in this blog post. Cable describes the new features and notes in terms of feature upgrade:

Based on feedback and learnings during the past year of extensive remote work, learning and play, version 21H1 will be delivered with servicing technology (like that used for the monthly update process and how 20H2 was delivered).  Windows 10, version 21H1 will have a scoped set of features improving security, remote access and quality. The features we are releasing in this update are focused on the core experiences that customers have told us they're relying on most right now. So, we optimized this release to support our customers' most pressing needs.

So the confirmation of the small feature update via enablement update, which then unlocks new features that have already shipped with other updates in older Windows 10 builds. Here's the focus of the new features:

  • Windows Hello multi-camera support to allow users to select an external camera as default when using high-end displays with built-in cameras.
  • Windows Defender Application Guard performance improvements, including optimization of times to open certain document scenarios.
  • Performance improvements in updating the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) Group Policy Service (GPSVC) to support remote work scenarios.

So Microsoft seems to recognize (from feedback) that Windows 10 users don't want to constantly have some new feature that then disappears in the next release. A stable OS environment might be a goal.

PS: The colleagues at name update KB5000736 as 'Enablement Package' here, that's distributed to Windows Insiders in beta channel.

20H2 is just a small feature update

I had already hinted at it in various blog posts: Similar to Windows 10 version 1903/1909 and Windows 10 version 2004/20H2, Windows 10 21H1 will only be rolled out as a small feature update. For this, the changes are already prepared via monthly updates. Upon release, there is then an enablement update of only a few KBytes, which then unlocks the new features in Windows 10 21H1.

  • If you have either Windows 10, version 2004 or version 20H2 installed, you will get the enablement update as soon as 21H1 is released. Then the version is installed within minutes (no need to download a huge install image).
  • On the other hand, for users coming from older Windows 10 versions before 2004, a complete feature update in gigabyte size will be downloaded and installed.

Since this Windows 10 release is targeted for the first half of 2021, all Windows 10 editions of version 21H1 will receive an 18-month maintenance contract. This is the first piece of information that's really new to me, as I wasn't expecting the new Windows 10 release until the fall.


Background: Enablement updates

For blog readers who may not be that into the subject, a few more explanations. Microsoft used to release two feature updates every year, one in the spring, one in the fall. These releases were released as "major" feature updates until version 1809 – resulting in a fat, multi-gigabyte package that had to be downloaded from Microsoft's servers and installed. In the process, Windows 10 is completely replaced.

Since 2019, however, Microsoft has been trying to roll out the fall update for Windows 10 as a 'small update'. For the first time, this was practiced with the 190x versions of Windows 10. The spring update (Windows 10 version 1903) came – in the old familiar manner – as a full-fledged feature update. But the fall update (Windows 10 version 1909) was implemented as a 'minor feature update'. The code for Windows 10 versions 1903 and 1909 is the same – they even use common updates. Instead of downloading gigabytes of code for a feature update, Windows 10 versions 1909 was deployed as a so-called 'enablement update'. A small, approximately 500 kByte update package simply switches versions.

With Windows 10 version 2004, the same thing happened when upgrading to Windows 10 20H2. And with Windows 10 21H2, which is now in beta testing, the same thing is planned. The update therefore only releases the functions already rolled out in Windows 10 version 2004 or Windows 10 20H2 via cumulative updates. It will only be more complex in the future with cumulative updates for Windows 10 2004, 20H2 and 21H2, because the patches must be developed by Microsoft for three builds and also documented. If there is a bug that was overlooked, it will affect all three builds.

Similar articles:
Windows 10 V2004: Microsoft started to add 20H2 features
Windows 10 October 2020 Update (20H2) released
Windows 10 V2004: Microsoft integriert 20H2-Funktionen
Windows 10: Is Microsoft planning yearly feature updates?
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Windows 10 V2004: Enablement-Update KB4562830 to 20H2
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