Microsoft starts Windows 10's 1803-to-1903 forced upgrade

The company said it's starting the process of upgrading Windows 10 PCs running last year's April update and moving those PCs to the latest version of the operating system.

Microsoft Windows 10 logo bandage data map
Microsoft / Thinkstock

Microsoft on Tuesday began upgrading Windows 10 PCs running the 14-month old 1803 with the latest refresh, the May 2019 Update, aka 1903.

"We are initiating the Windows 10 May 2019 Update for customers with devices that are at or nearing end of service and have not yet updated their device," Microsoft said on its Windows release health dashboard. "Keeping these devices both supported and receiving monthly updates is critical to device security and ecosystem health."

Windows 10 1803, which was released April 30, 2018, will drop off Microsoft's support list on Nov. 12.

In May, Microsoft announced that the forced upgrade would begin in "late June." It was unclear what delayed the 1803-to-1903 migration. (Computerworld had forecast that Microsoft would kick off upgrades on June 25, based on the firm's timeline and fact that it was the fourth Tuesday of the month and thus the final non-emergency delivery day. Oops.)

The move marks the first time Microsoft has started to upgrade Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro personal computers since the April jumble of its update process. Rather than force consumers to accept each feature upgrade on the company's terms - since 2015, Microsoft had decided when each device was told to download and install a refresh - developers added a new "Download and install now" (DaIN) option to 1903, and refitted 1803 and 1809 with it as well.

DaIN lets users choose when to migrate from one version to another. If one does not apply DaIN, the current feature upgrade is not to be automatically downloaded and installed on the PC. The result: Windows 10 Home users could, for the first time, skip a feature upgrade by simply doing nothing. With DaIN, those running 1803 would be able to bypass the troubled 1809 by not choosing the option. (Under prior rules, Windows 10 Home users would have been forced to upgrade to 1809 before later moving to 1903.)

But Microsoft won't let people run a Windows 10 version indefinitely. Citing security, it promised that when the current feature upgrade neared end of support, the company would intervene by downloading the latest and ordering the PC to install it. That intervention is what Microsoft said has now begun.

"Based on the large number of devices running the April 2018 Update, [which] will reach the end of 18 months of service on November 12, 2019, we are starting the update process now for Home and Pro editions to help ensure adequate time for a smooth update process," the health dashboard top-of-page message read.

Although Microsoft did not say how far ahead of end-of-support it planned to kick off force upgrades when it first revealed the DaIN-related changes, it has started the process almost exactly four months before 1803's retirement. That time period seems a minimum, what with the large numbers of PCs still running 1803.

According to Windows app analytics vendor AdDuplex, a majority of measured Windows 10 devices - 58% of the total - was running 1803 on June 26. AdDuplex has tracked the abnormally high percentage of Windows 10 users running 1803 for months; as early as April, Computerworld concluded that Microsoft had given up on forcibly deploying its successor, 1809, and had decided to skip that problematic upgrade to move 1803 users straight to 1903.

That's exactly what Microsoft began Tuesday.

It's impossible to know when a specific PC running Windows 10 Home 1803 or Pro 1803 will be upgraded by Microsoft, but the health dashboard lists the issues - those the company is investigating, ones it has mitigated in some fashion and those it has resolved - that potentially block 1903 from being installed.

For example, for 1903 the dashboard listed a problem with the drivers for some Bluetooth transmitters made by Realtek and Qualcomm. While the item - "Unable to discover or connect to Bluetooth devices" - was listed as "Mitigated," the explanatory text said that "devices with affected driver versions for Realtek or Qualcomm Bluetooth radios ((would be blocked)) from being offered Windows 10, version 1903 ... until the driver has been updated."

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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