Microsoft dismantles its update naming scheme again, leaves unanswered questions

With the announcement Thursday that Microsoft will no longer use the “Semi-Annual Channel Targeted” mumbo-jumbo, we’re left with dozens of key questions, terminology be damned. Just when are we supposed to believe a new version of Win10 is safe?

hand at keyboard with Windows logo
Thinkstock/Microsoft

Late Thursday, John Wilcox – who’s become something of a lightning rod for unpopular Microsoft pronouncements – laid to waste the fiction of “Current Branch for Business,” which is now called “Semi-Annual Channel.” In his Windows IT Pro blog called Windows Update for Business and the retirement of SAC-T, he says:

In my post last May on Windows 10 and the “disappearing” SAC-T, I explained how we simplified and aligned our Windows servicing terminology with Office, reflecting that there are two Semi-Annual Channel (SAC) releases each year. I also explained that with Windows, there was never actually a Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted), or SAC-T, release; rather, SAC-T merely reflected a milestone for the semi-annual release…

Beginning with Windows 10, version 1903 (the next feature update for Windows 10), the Windows 10 release information page will no longer list SAC-T information for version 1903 and future feature updates. Instead, you will find a single entry for each new SAC release…

There will now only be one feature update published to WSUS [the update server], and this will occur at the time of release.

The first part I get – the SAC-T emperor never had any clothes, and it took Microsoft three years to admit it. Fair enough. The last part, though, has me scratching my head. What it says, to a first approximation, is that Microsoft will dump its new versions of Windows 10 without a clear “it’s ready now” announcement.

Or, if you like, the first appearance of a new version is all the announcement you're gonna get – take it or leave it.

This is the same Microsoft, mind you, that released Win10 version 1809, which proceeded to permanently delete data, freeze machines, and cause so much mayhem it was withdrawn and re-worked for six months – and which, to this day, is not yet declared “Semi-Annual Channel,” i.e., fit for installation on business computers.

If new versions of Win10 rolled off the twice-a-year assembly line in anything close to usable condition, the elimination of the SAC-T step would be met with yawns and snores. As it stands, though, everybody – Home users, Pro, Enterprise, Education –  everybody gets tossed into the beta testing cauldron.

As @b put it on AskWoody:

Later this year all business users will be unpaid beta testers too.

If you’re running Win10 Pro you can still defer upgrades. In the past, though, the upgrade deferral setting related to the branch you set. By starting at the Current Branch for Business (later Semi-Annual Channel) level, you could tell Windows Update to keep its mitts off for a pre-determined number of days. In the future, you don’t have that baseline: The countdown starts when Microsoft pushes the new version, not when it declares that the new version is fit for businesses.

Even the Windows Update advanced options settings are changed. According to Wilcox, starting with version 1903, the settings will look like this:

1903 windows update advanced options Microsoft

A look at how the Windows Update advanced options settings are changed.

That particular screen came as quite a surprise. In my copy of the latest beta version of Win10 Pro build 18834.1, the advanced options settings don’t look anything like those in the screenshot. Wilcox says: “Devices enrolled in the Windows Insider Program; however, can already see these changes.” It ain’t true on my test machine.

Lots of questions immediately present themselves, and they can’t be resolved by simply changing the obfuscatory nomenclature once again. The big question is, simply, “How will we know when it’s safe to install a new version?”

Simple question. I don’t see any answer.

Susan Bradley put it succinctly when, replying to Wilcox’s post, she said:

While the naming of the CBB/SacT was confusing, the fact [remains] that all businesses still want a date when we can deem that we're past the beta testing phase of these releases… We still need a time in the sand [when] we can all trust your releases… Work on that… And may I say this just makes it more confusing, not less.

As is usual with Windows 10 naming changes, we have no idea what’s going on – and one has to wonder if anyone else does.

Help us compare notes on the AskWoody Lounge.

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