Which way with Windows? Here are your options

Among Windows' bewildering array of versions, builds, rings, updates, branches, and editions, here's what you should consider

Which way with Windows? Here are your options

The Windows landscape has never been so complex. At this point, we have four editions of Windows 10 (Home, Pro, Enterprise, and Education) and three current versions of each (1607, 1511, RTM/1507). There are Insider Previews for beta testing wannabes, and Insider Previews for those who have to keep their domains and products working. Then there's the Current Branch, the Current Branch for Business, and the Long Term Servicing Branch, each with a different mix of versions. Not to mention Server, the struggling Windows Mobile, Xbox, HoloLens, IoT Core on Things, and uh, other things. And let's not forget Windows 7 and 8.1, both of which will be going through major changes in October.

The playing field is so vast I put together an overview on AskWoody.com.

With all of those options available, what's a normal person (or organization) to do? Here are a few points to keep in mind:

Don't be embarrassed to stick with Windows 7. It isn't going away. You can decide for yourself if the Win10 siren appeals to you. But be aware that Microsoft has designs on Win7's (and 8.1's) future. Starting in October, Win7/8.1 users need to choose between two options -- I call them Group A and Group B. The folks in Group A are willing to take any and all Microsoft patches, including the ones that care for the new Diagnostic and Telemetry tracking service and others that install poorly described telemetry points/snooping stations. Folks in Group B only want the security patches. I'll be talking more about Group A and Group B in coming months, as we get more details.

If you have Windows 10, go with the Fall Update, version 1511. The problems with the newer Anniversary Update still make me leery of installing it. If you find that you're running the Anniversary Update, version 1607 (type winver in the Cortana search box), you have 10 days to roll back. Once rolled back, there's a straightforward way to keep the Anniversary Update at bay until Microsoft fixes it.

If you run a company network or peddle products that have to run on Windows 10, devote at least one machine to the Release Preview. While there are frustrating limitations to the Release Preview (which I discuss on AskWoody), the ability to test new cumulative updates for Windows 10 before they're released is a godsend.

Only sign up for the Insider Fast or Slow rings if you want to beta test the next version of Windows. It's unfortunate that the Release Preview is called an Insider program. The Release Preview revolves around the current, shipping version of Windows, whereas the Insider Program Fast and Slow rings deal with the next version of Windows. Those are two completely different audiences. Make sure you understand the difference -- and are willing to put up with the pain of raw beta testing -- before you venture into the Fast or Slow rings.

Note that Windows 10 is not the same as Windows 10 Mobile. The Win10 Mobile beta has been rocky at best, with voluminous complaints. The overlap in version numbering between Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile has driven many a hardened industry observer to drink. When you read something about Windows 10 make sure you distinguish between the two. In spite of the marketing, they're entirely different breeds of cat.

Remember that Current Branch for Business and Long Term Servicing Branch both get (potentially bad) security patches.  Last month, MS16-098 had a bug, and those in the "stable" CBB and LTSB branches got bit the same as everyone else. Microsoft fixed the version 1607 bug in a couple of weeks, while leaving CBB and LTSB to stew for a month. That's probably not what you expect from a "stable" branch. See AskWoody.com for details.

Of course there are lots of nuances and plenty of gotchas, but by and large if you stick to those guidelines -- and heed the warnings -- you should be in good shape.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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