Microsoft uses WSUS and Config Manager to lure more testers to Windows 10 betas

The company is offering up new ways for enterprises to test upcoming versions of Windows 10 before those updates go live.

hand at keyboard with Windows logo

Microsoft this week gave enterprise administrators a new way to obtain previews of upcoming feature upgrades for testing and preparation before those updates go live.

The Redmond, Wash. company cited customer feedback - essentially saying that this is something enterprises demanded - for the change. But Microsoft could also be trying to boost the number of business users testing pre-release code because its until-now-only-outlet - Windows Insider for Business, or WIfB - was insufficient.

Microsoft heavily relies on customers for testing of Windows 10, including the Insider volunteers and Windows 10 Home and Pro users, who traditionally have adopted feature upgrades before large organizations deploy them.

"In response to your feedback, we will begin making pre-release Windows 10 feature updates available to IT administrators using Windows Server Update Service (WSUS)," wrote Aria Carley, a Microsoft program manager, in a post to a company blog. "This is the next step in our efforts to provide your organization with the ability to validate line-of-business (LOB) applications, business-critical functionality, and policies, as well as evaluate new business features, prior to an update's official release."

Although Microsoft seemed to trumpet WSUS - one of the prime platforms businesses use to distribute updates to their end points - this new path to Windows 10 previews also requires Configuration Manager, also known as the System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). Organizations must have Configuration Manager, version 1810 or newer, to deploy previews through WSUS. That version of Configuration Manager launched a year ago.

The move got the attention of IT administrators.

"You have to have Config Manager, though, [so] it's not just for just users of WSUS," wrote Susan Bradley in a comment appended to Carley's blog post, taking issue with the all-you-need-is-WSUS impression left by the post's headline and opening paragraphs. Bradley, a computer network and security consultant, also moderates the mailing list and contributes to, the Windows tip site.

Admins can select the preview of the next feature upgrade in Configuration Manager, then deploy that version as they would any Windows upgrade, Microsoft said. From Microsoft's description, administrators will not have to register with Windows Insider for Business, as they do now, to obtain betas.

Enrolling multiple devices in the WIfB program has required IT staffers to manually register each PC, or use Intune, SCCM or group policies to add devices en masse. (For information on using Intune, SCCM and group policies, steer to this support document.)

Betas delivered through WSUS will start immediately with version 1909, the yet-unreleased "service pack" spun off from May's Windows 10 1903. Carley said her employer hoped to deliver 1909's previews on a monthly cadence but then switch to a pace synchronized with Insider's Slow Ring releases. Currently, the Slow Ring is populated with betas of Windows 10 20H1 (the upgrade slated to launch in the first half of 2020).

Carley said Microsoft's goal is to "help you accelerate your organization's deployment of a Windows 10 feature update and, ultimately, give your devices more time on any given release."

But the Insider program is also critical to Microsoft's development process. Since Windows 10's debut four years ago, the firm has outsourced large portions of its testing regimen and software debugging. Microsoft launched WIfB to bring more enterprise users - the company's real customers, or at least its most important customers - than it had been able to entice into joining the enthusiast-dominated Insider.

While there are good reasons for enterprises to participate in beta testing of Windows 10 - IT needs as much time as it can get to evaluate an upgrade's impact on mission-critical apps and workflows - and Microsoft's efforts to streamline the process are to be encouraged, the firm again described its rationale as entirely to customers' advantage.

That's simply not the whole truth.

Configuration Manager Microsoft

Configuration Manager, version 1810 and later, and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) can be used in combination to select and deliver previews of Windows 10 1909 to the organization's devices. As of the next feature upgrade – the one Microsoft labels 20H1 – the betas will be refreshed on the same schedule as updates to Windows Insider's Slow Ring.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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