Is Windows pushing you to upgrade? Don’t be bullied. There’s a middle path.

Many people running Win10 version 1803 — the most common version of Win10 — are seeing dire notices that they need to upgrade to 'the next version of Windows,' by which Microsoft means 1903. Hogwash. You have options. Here’s what you can do.

upgrade arrows
Gerd Altmann (CC0)

Microsoft’s in a full-court press to get folks running Win10 version 1803 to upgrade to version 1903. Ostensibly it’s because version 1803 patches will stop after Nov. 12, and the laggards still stuck on the “old” version — first declared suitable for business a scant year ago — need the enlightened, new 1903. Waiting for three or four months just won’t do. 

The reality is a bit more nuanced.

(If you aren’t sure of your Windows 10 version, click the search box next to the Start button, type About, and choose About your PC.)

Vox dei

If, like most Windows 10 users, you’re on version 1803, you may have recently started seeing announcements in Windows Update like this one:

1803 download and install now Woody Leonhard/IDG

While you’re certainly welcome to click Download and install now, you might want to think for a minute before you make the leap. There’s a reason why Microsoft itself isn’t recommending version 1903 for business deployment just yet.

Don’t get bullied into making a decision that’s good for Microsoft but may prove problematic for you.

Updateus Interruptus

The push to 1903 can be confusing. For some who clicked the wrong buttons, a nascent version of 1903 may already lie waiting. If your machine has an Alien chestburster on board, you'll see a Windows Update message that looks like this:

1903 restart now Woody Leonhard/IDG

If you get into that pickle — where Win10 1903 has been downloaded, but not yet installed — not to worry. Simply go to the folder C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution and delete all the files. Reboot Windows, and you'll be back to the devil ye ken.

You have a choice  three of them, actually

Right now, if you’re running Win10 version 1803, you have three straightforward choices (assuming you want to stay with Windows, of course):

  • Stick with 1803 

Microsoft promises to deliver its last cumulative update for Win10 1803 on Patch Tuesday, Nov. 12 (unless you have a site license and spend a bundle). In the normal course of events — barring a major bug in the update — you wouldn’t normally expect to have a new patch until Patch Tuesday, Dec. 10. So depending on how you look at it, you have three or four months left to go before the security patches dry up.

Why stick with 1803? It’s stable. At least, by Win10 standards. When you weigh the feature improvements in Win10 1809 and 1903 with 1803, many people feel the benefits aren’t worth the possible pain. Every month you can wait, the next and next-next versions of Windows get more stable. To a first approximation anyway.

So far, Microsoft’s been respectful about pushing people from 1803 to 1903, but you should expect that the pressure will heat up. Some people have reported completely unexpected upgrades — most ominously on machines that have set their internet connections to metered — but for most people, right now, that gentle nudge in the screenshot is all you have to deal with.

Heaven only knows whom Microsoft will throw under the bus as we get closer to November.

  • Move to Win10 1809

Welcome to the middle ground. I’ve moved my production machines to version 1809, and plan to keep them there for a while — long enough for the kinks to get worked out of 1903, anyway. 

After a truly horrendous launch, Win10 1809 has stabilized reasonably well. The main benefit to upgrading to Win10 1809 is that Microsoft will keep patching it until May 12, 2020. By that time, who knows? Version 1903 Service Pack 1 (a.k.a. version 19H2 and, colloquially, version 1909) may be ready for prime time. 

Microsoft is showing a sincere effort to stabilize 1903 for a longer run, instead of tossing new versions out every six months, as has been the habit. If you upgrade to 1903 in December, there’s a decent chance you’ll effectively end up with Win10 1903 Service Pack 1.2 or 1.3, and that may be a decent landing spot.

If you’re running 1803 Pro and want to move to 1809, it’s easy — in spite of Microsoft’s nudge to get you to leapfrog versions, up to 1903. PKCano has gone through voluminous details, but here’s the Cliff Notes bottom line:

Step 1. In Win10 1803 Pro, using an Admin account, click Start, Settings, Update & Security. Then click Advanced Options (it’s at the bottom). See the screenshot

1809 sac 120 15 Woody Leonhard/IDG

Step 2. The arithmetic is ridiculously convoluted, but if you perform this little pirouette in the next couple of months, choose “Semi-Annual Channel” and “120” in the top two boxes. (After November, I’m not sure how or if these settings will work: We enter uncharted territory once again with feature updates masquerading as quality updates.)

Step 3. Don’t do anything. Don’t click “Check for updates.” Just use your PC as usual, possibly turning it off then on again to awake the upgrade genie. You may have to wait a day, but sooner or later you’ll get upgraded to 1809.

As a Win10 renter, you’ll never be able to get off the upgrade karmic wheel, but at least this approach will give you a version that’s been baked for a while.

  • Gulp; install Win10 version 1903

Win10 version 1903 isn’t evil. If you’ve already upgraded to Win10 version 1903 and you aren’t having any problems, stay put. Sooner or later — hopefully with the advent of Service Pack 1 — version 1903-slash-1909 may end up being the most stable version of Win10 yet.

If you really want to move to Win10 version 1903, two recommendations from Ye Old School of Hard Knocks. 

  • First, don’t force it. If Microsoft isn’t pushing 1903 on your machine, there’s likely a reason. If you don’t see “Download and install now,” don’t sweat it. Your time will come. There’s nothing in 1903 that you absolutely need, unless a single-column Start menu rings your chimes, or you want to banish Cortana ASAP.
  • Second, when it’s time to make the change, don’t click Check for updates or Download and install now. Instead, go to the Update Assistant site and take the throttle. Better yet, if you’re adept at such things, download the ISO and install from there. 

One of the reasons why this is so stressful — we’ve never done it before. Microsoft keeps changing the rules, the definitions, the details. While it’s certainly true that most people upgrade to 1903 with no problems, it’s also true that lots and lots of people hit road bumps.

The longer you wait, the better your chances.

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