Windows as a service: Future feature updates only every 3 years?

Windows[German]The semi-annual feature updates cycle (I call them feature upgrades) introduced by Microsoft in 2015 for Windows 10 is proving to be a (foreseeable) "mess". It caused a lot of problems, the criticism from companies does not stop, and last year they have switched to annual feature updates. Now there is a rumor that Microsoft will only release a new main Windows version as an upgrade every three years.


Windows as a Service, a night mare

Microsoft  had propagated the so-called "Windows as a service" with Windows 10: Every six months there should be a so-called function update (an upgrade), which raises the operating system to a new main version. The idea behind it: This way, we at Microsoft can always put new features in front of people that update this Windows 10. There will be only one "Windows 10" as the last Windows, which will then consist of sub-versions like 1507, 1511, 1607, etc.

And these build should bei "out of support" after 18 (consumer) and 30 months for Enterprise editions (LTSC variants excluded, which are currently already reduced from 10 to 5 years of support). Originally, it was even only 24 months support for enterprise versions that came out in the fall of a year (see Windows 10 Support extended to 30 months (sometimes)). Basically, a huge mess, which posed quite a challenge to users and administrators – and Microsoft had to partially extend support (Windows 10 Version 1803: Support extended for 6 Months until May 2021).

This was a paradigm shift, since before Windows 10, there was support with security updates for 10 years and a new Windows version every few years. This turn was characterized by the fact that Microsoft somehow wanted to counter the mobile operating systems of Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) and probably also macOS.

I did a search on my blog, and it's pretty easy to see why I thought this approach by Microsoft was pretty much hokum. Here is a quote from the German blog post Windows 10 soll die "letzte" Haupt-Windows-Version sein, dealing with the Microsoft announcement, that "Windows 10 will be the last Windows" back in October 2015:

So much for the facts, which sound pretty cool at first glance. How it looks in practice when Google, Apple and other manufacturers regularly release new OS X, iOS or Android versions? Let's go to 2020, when Microsoft still offers Windows 10 build xyz, but Apple scores with OS X 20, iOS 15 and Google with Android 10. It is hard to imagine that Microsoft's marketing department will keep its feet under the table and sell Windows 10. So we'll have to wait and see what the future has in store for us.

In the meantime, we know that Windows 10 will be phased out in 2025 and that a successor with the name Windows 11 exists. There, Microsoft throws "previous certainties" overboard with nice regularity. The half-yearly feature updates, propagated by Microsoft as the "Egg of Columbus", have been slaughtered.


  • Since Windows 1903/1909, Microsoft has moved away from the "big" feature updates, which required an upgrade (of a complete image) twice a year, and has been working with "small" feature updates, which were rolled out via Windows Update and then released via Enablement Updates (see e.g. Windows 10 V2004: Enablement-Update KB4562830 to 20H2). This was due to the fact that Microsoft ran into veritable issue with previous feature upgrades and had to stop rollout several times. 
  • With the introduction of Windows 11, the annual upgrade cycle in the fall of a year was introduced and also propagated for Windows 10. I had already hinted at this in the article Windows 10: Is Microsoft planning yearly feature updates?.

The expansion to annual feature updates was probably due to the massive dissatisfaction of business users who were just panting after these cycles. I had picked up on the sentiment in Windows (10) Update Survey and an open letter to Microsoft. But Microsoft didn't want to change anything so ad hoc. Only with the departure of Myerson is there slowly movement in the matter.

Only 3 yearly feature upgrades?

Now comes the next rumor – and so far many of previous rumors have later turned out to be truth – is that Microsoft wants to provide a feature update for Windows 11 only every three years. It was reported from Zack Bowden in the Windows Central article Microsoft moves to new Windows development cycle with major release every three years, feature drops in between.

Bowden wrote, that he have heard, that Microsoft is switching to a new development plan for Windows that will see the company return to a more traditional three-year release cycle for major versions of the Windows client. The 2023 upgrade for Windows 11 is to be cancelled, and a new version of Windows is to be released in the fall of 2024 (3 years after the release of Windows 11 in 2021). At the same time, new versions for existing Windows builds are to be rolled out as "feature drops" via Windows Update. Bowden wrote about that:

Starting with Windows 11 version 22H2 (Sun Valley 2), Microsoft is kicking off a new "Moments" engineering effort which is designed to allow the company to rollout new features and experiences at key points throughout the year, outside of major OS releases. I hear the company intends to ship new features to the in-market version of Windows every few months, up to four times a year, starting in 2023.

Features like search highlighting have already been played out on people's systems this way. It all sounds "like a threat" to me, because search highlighting is just "pretty fun" for people because of the collateral damage that comes with it. What's good, at least, is that administrators in companies can partially turn off these features via group policies..

It's all rumor though, there's no official confirmation from Microsoft. But I assume that there is something to it – unfortunately, it took a while (8 years, from 2014 to 2022) until they gave up the idea of "semi-annual feature upgrades", because it's unmanageable. Will the developer tendency to shot out unpleasant and buggy feature after feature at Microsoft subside now? I am skeptical, for my feeling the company has lost the sense for what people really need as operating system features after Windows 7. Windows 8 and 8.1 were a disaster, and Windows 10 and Windows 11 aren't the greatest either in my eyes.

It will also be very exciting for me to see whether Microsoft has not gambled heavily with the Windows 11 hardware requirements. If we slip into a multi-year recession because of the Russia-Ukraine conflict as well as the energy price hike, people – and companies – will be anything but eager to get new Windows machines just to get the new Windows. But I may be wrong.

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