What's next for Windows 10?

The rest of the year is likely to be busy for Microsoft, which plans to retire four different versions of Windows 10, re-release a fifth this fall and put the finishing touches on next year's big refresh.

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Now that Microsoft has released Windows 10 May 2020 Update, aka 2004, what's next?

The upcoming seven months will be busy for the Redmond, Wash. developer, just as much so for the company's customers. Between now and year's end, Microsoft will retire four different versions of Windows 10, almost certainly re-release a fifth in a format little different from the original and probably put the finishing touches on 2021's most important refresh.

With so much to manage, it's important that businesses large and small keep these near-future milestones in mind.

Retirement No. 1, Oct. 13

Microsoft will strike Windows 10 Enterprise 1709 and Windows 10 Education 1709 from its support list on October's Patch Tuesday.

These two SKUs (stock-keeping units), released in October 2017, were to expire April 14, 2020. But Microsoft issued a support reprieve in March by extending their retirement dates by six months. At that time, the firm cited the "public health situation" – meaning the coronavirus pandemic and associated impact – for the delay in 1709's expiration.

Businesses will most likely migrate PCs running these SKUs to either Windows 10 1809 or 1909, as those versions come with 30 months of support. All things being equal, 1909 would be the smarter choice, since it won't need to be replaced until May 2022, a year after 1809's demise.

Retirement No. 2 and No. 3, Nov. 10

Microsoft will push Windows 10 Enterprise 1803 and Windows 10 Education 1803 off the support list, and add Windows 10 Home 1809 and Windows 10 Pro 1809 for good measure.

The Windows 10 1803 SKUs were set to exit support on this date when a September 2018 announcement lengthened support from 18 to 30 months for Enterprise and Education. Although the move was limited to fall upgrades going forward – those marked yy09 in Microsoft's four-digit format – Redmond grandfathered in several past updates, including 1607, 1703, 1709 and 1803.

Customers running one of these 1803 SKUs will have the same choices that faced businesses last month when 1709 came to an end: Windows 10 1809 or 1909, with the latter having the edge because of its May 2022 retirement.

An alternative for the agile, however, would be to go for Windows 10 2004, which Microsoft released only days ago. With six months between that date and 1803's expiration, there might just be time enough to pilot, validate and deploy 2004. Although 2004 has a fatal flaw for enterprises – support ends after 18 months – the expected "minor" upgrade in the fall (Windows 10 2009, more about this version later) will be virtually identical to 2004 and come with 30 months of support, enough to carry a company to April or May 2023.

Also on this date, Microsoft will end support for Windows 10 Home 1809 and Windows 10 Pro 1809. Like the Enterprise/Education SKUs of Windows 10 1709, the Home/Pro 1809 were originally destined to be out of support by now. Microsoft extended support for Windows 10 Home 1809 and Windows 10 Pro 1809 by six months, from the initial May 12 to Nov. 10. Microsoft again said the extension was due to the "public health situation" at the time it made the announcement on April 14.

Users of these SKUs – employees whose Windows 10 Pro 1809-powered PCs are managed by company admins excepted – will probably opt in to an upgrade to Windows 10 Home/Pro 2004 as Microsoft offers it to them. Those who have deigned to stick with 1809 will be forcibly upgraded – again, probably to 2004 but perhaps to 1909, depending on Microsoft's decisions – between June, when that process will restart, and November.

Retirement No. 4, Dec. 8

Microsoft will remove Windows 10 1903, aka Windows 10 May 2019 Update, from support on the year's final Patch Tuesday.

All SKUs of 1903 – Home, Pro, Enterprise, Education – exit support on this date. (Microsoft supports a spring refresh, one marked as yy03, for 18 months maximum. But because Enterprise and Education SKUs receive 30 months for a fall update (yy09), it's unlikely they'd be running 1903.)

Most Windows 10 Home users, as well as those on Pro PCs not managed by IT, will end up on Windows 10 2004, the spring upgrade with its numeric increased by 1 to avoid confusion with Windows Server 2003. Microsoft hasn't begun to forcibly upgrade these systems to 2004 – it'll be busy with dealing with 1809 (see above) first –  but expect that it will start auto-migrating such machines starting in August.

The daring may instead hold out for Windows 10 2009, the presumed moniker for the fall minor refresh, to replace 1909 although the timing might be tight, so tight as to make it tough. (Last year, for instance, Microsoft started the release of 1909 in the second week of November; if it does the same again this year, users would have just a few weeks to get 2009 onto their PCs.)

New refresh, October-November

Computerworld has staked out its position on whether Microsoft a) should and b) will repeat 2019's "major-minor" cadence by releasing a spring upgrade containing new features and a fall refresh lacking new functionality. Instead, the fall update – call it 2009 for now – will be a retread of 2004, containing the same code and thus able to upgrade the latter with less fuss.

The same-same of 2004 and 2009 means that enterprises could do their testing and validation during the time between 2004's May 27 release and the debut of 2009, then deploy the nearly identical 2009 once it appears.

Microsoft's minor update would probably appear in October or November, the two months the company's used to release its fall refresh. Wager on November. It's been the release window the last two years and with 2004 showing as late as it did, a six-month interval means, yes, November.

Wrap up 2103, December

If Microsoft does do major-minor this year, it will be working the remainder of 2020 on the spring upgrade for 2021, fleshing out the features it plans to unveil in April or May of next year.

When it did the same in 2019, Microsoft had effectively finished Windows 10 2004 (although the firm still referred to it then as 20H1) by December. Although engineers continued to tweak the release and fix bugs, and some Insiders continued to test it during the following five-and-change months, the feature set had been locked down before 2020 began.

There's no reason to doubt that the same won't happen this cycle, particularly because Microsoft began previewing features that might make it into 2103 as early as mid-December 2019, about two months earlier on the calendar than the first Insider build of what became 2004.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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