How to ensure you're running a stable Windows 10 version

If you don’t want to be one of Microsoft's unpaid beta testers, it's easy to wait until new versions are ready for prime time

Back in the not-so-good old days, many Windows cognoscenti followed a general rule of thumb for new Windows versions: "Wait for Service Pack 1." That was good advice for more than a decade. There aren't any Service Packs any more but based on two rounds of experience, it now looks like prudent Win10 users should "Wait for the Current Branch for Business."

That may sound like a voodoo-techie white coat admonition, but it's actually pretty simple, even for those who take care of their own updating. 

When Win10 launched, Microsoft predicted that it would have two or three "feature updates" per year. But now it appears as if we're settling into a pace of two new versions per year -- and 2016 only got one.

Here are the versions of Windows 10 to date:

  • 1507 -- the original version of Windows 10, codenamed Threshold 1, OS build 10240
  • 1511 -- the "Fall Update" later renamed "November Update," codenamed Threshold 2, OS build 10586
  • 1607 -- the "Anniversary Update," codenamed Redstone 1, OS build 14393

And the widely expected (and already named, internally):

  • 1703 -- the "Creators Update," codenamed Redstone 2, OS build not yet determined

Some folks at Microsoft have talked about another new version in 2017, presumably in October or so, but it's entirely vaporware at this point.

We don't have Service Packs anymore in Win10, but we do have something that's analogous. It's called the Current Branch for Business. You can read the official definition on TechNet, but for individual patching purposes you only need to realize that Microsoft releases new versions for general consumption, and waits until the major problems are ironed out before it declares a particular version is fit for businesses -- which is to say, ready for the Current Branch for Business.

If you're hooked up to a corporate server that controls updates to your Win10 machine, chances are good that your admin holds off on updating your machine to a new version until it's anointed "Current Branch for Business."

If you're in charge of your own updates, it would behoove you to wait for the "Current Branch for Business" designation until you upgrade your system. Cynics say that Microsoft is using individual Win10 users (both Home and Pro) to test upgrades on millions of machines before certifying them fresh for businesses. I would have a hard time arguing with that characterization.

We've seen the cycle twice to date, in the transition from 1507 to 1511, and in the move from 1511 to 1607. Here's how the dates have gone:

  • Version 1507, released July 29, 2015, was immediately declared Current Branch for Business, as the first of its kind.
  • Version 1511 released Nov. 12, 2015, was promoted to CBB on April 8, 2016. It spent 148 days in consumer-level testing.
  • Version 1607 released Aug. 2, 2016, promoted to CBB on Nov. 29, 2016. It took 119 days before reaching the higher level.

Gregg Keizer in his Computerworld column points out how quickly companies have to upgrade before the Current Branch for Business disappears -- goes end-of-life. Folks who take care of their own upgrades should heed the lesson. Microsoft maintains two versions at Current Branch for Business levels. When a third version appears on the Volume Licensing Service Center and Windows Server Update Services servers (typically, two months after it's declared CBB), all users have just 60 days to move to one of the newer CBB versions.

Right now we have three versions in CBB: 1507, 1511 and 1607.

In this case, version 1607 hit CBB on Nov. 29, 2016. It's supposed to be available on the Windows Update servers in January. That means sometime in March, 2017, version 1507 drops off the radar. If you're doing your own upgrades, you'll need to move to 1511 or 1607, because 1507 won't get any more security patches. (Unless there's a reprieve for the Win10 Long Term Servicing Branch, which is a different kettle of worms. You should only rely on 1507 getting more security patches until March 2017.)

It seems like a good procedure to wait for the unpaid beta testers to complete their jobs before upgrading to the next version of Windows 10. Fortunately, it's relatively easy to hold off on upgrading.

Win10 Pro users on 1607 can "Defer feature updates" like so: Start > Settings > Update & security > under Update settings click the link to Advanced options. Check the box marked Defer feature updates. (Yes, Microsoft confuses the terms "upgrade" and "update" fairly frequently.) So far -- and Microsoft may change the definition -- checking the "Defer feature updates" box ensures that you won't be offered a version upgrade until it's been approved at the Current Branch for Business level. It's not clear how long Win10 waits until after the CBB imprimatur has been granted.

Win10 Home users who are on Wi-Fi internet connections can simply set the connection to "metered," wait for the upgrade to appear in Windows Update, then use wushowhide to block the upgrade, as I explained last August. The next time we have an upgrade, I'll run similar, specific instructions in Woody on Windows.

Win10 Home users who are on wired internet connections don't have it so easy. There are several ways to block an upgrade, but they involve stopping the Windows Update service, and that's more than most Home users would like to take on. Chances are good that the easiest way to wait for Current Branch for Business status is to simply let the upgrade install, then uninstall it and use wushowhide to keep it from re-installing. Again, I'll run specific instructions in Woody on Windows.

Keep watching Woody on Windows for notification when new versions become available and, crucially, when they hit the Current Branch for Business level. The gray hair you save may be your own.

A blog within a blog, Woody's Win10Tips focus on useful techniques and tools. They're in the usual "Woody" style -- to the point, no bull, no marketing fluff. They (intentionally!) aren't long enough to discuss all of the nuances, but they point in the right direction. There's a full list of tips on the site. Looking for a tip or tool? Have a tip about a tip? Email me: Like what you see? Pick up a copy of my 986-page "Windows 10 All-in-One for Dummies 2nd Edition" at Amazon US or Powell's Bookstore.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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