Microsoft eliminated the ability to manually defer feature upgrades from reaching unmanaged PCs running Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education, according to recently revised documentation.
The company said it made the change in Windows 10 May 2020 Update, aka 2004, "to prevent confusion" on the part of customers.
In versions prior to 2004, users were able to access deferral settings via the graphical user interface (GUI) within Settings > Windows Update > Advanced options. There, Pro, Enterprise and Education users could manually defer feature upgrades – the two issued each year in spring and fall – by as many as 365 days. What Microsoft called "quality updates," another name for the monthly Patch Tuesday security updates, could be postponed by up to 30 days.
(Users of Windows 10 Home have been allowed to pause feature upgrades up to 35 days since April 2019, when Microsoft made radical changes to upgrade timing control.)
Those options were omitted from Windows 10 2004, which Microsoft began distributing – and which some users could seek out for downloading and installing – in late May. Nonetheless, it was still possible to defer upgrades and updates.
"If you wish to continue leveraging deferrals, you can use local Group Policy," Microsoft said in a support document revised on June 23. The document recommended using the Select when Preview builds and Feature Updates are received group policy. With that, IT admins can defer feature upgrades on specific PCs – or the entire firm's devices – up to 365 days or pause updates from beginning for up to 35 days, when using Windows Update for Business (WUfB) to deliver new versions of the OS.
(More information about WUfB and group policies, including Select when Preview builds and Feature Updates are received, can be found in this support document, which includes very helpful examples and illustrations.)
Microsoft also implied that the change would make it easier for all users, not just those running Windows 10 Home and, say, unmanaged Windows 10 Pro, to lever the Download and install option, or better put, ignore the option. In the June 23-revised support document, Microsoft said the disappearance of the deferral controls was "to enable all devices to make the most" of the decision last year to cede timing control of feature upgrades to everyone, notably those running Home.
When it did that, Microsoft reserved for itself the right to intervene and forcibly upgrade a PC to a new version of Windows 10 when the current code neared its support expiration. The result for those who didn't pull the Download and install now trigger: Microsoft instituted annual upgrades. For example, in the final months of 1803's support, which ended Nov. 12, 2019, Microsoft force-fed machines still running it with the then-latest 1903.
"Last year, we changed update installation policies for Windows 10 to only target devices running a feature update version that is nearing end of service," Microsoft wrote in the June 23-revised support document. "As a result, many devices are only updating once a year."
Microsoft seemed to be saying that the manual deferrals of feature upgrades are unnecessary, that they duplicate the annual refresh practiced by the firm. There's no need to defer up to a year, Microsoft implied, when the company would not intercede until a version was within just a few months of retirement.
Susan Bradley, a computer network and security consultant, and the moderator of the PatchMangement.org mailing list, had a different take on the change.
"As I see it, the issue they are trying to address shouldn't be happening in the first place," Bradley said. "But it is."
Bradley, who also writes the "Patch Lady" column at the AskWoody.com Windows tip site, explained that the 365-day deferral could easily be misused, especially by those running Windows 10 Pro, which never gets more than 18 months of support from any version.
"I've seen folks talk about they are on X release and it's gone past that window of support," she wrote in an email reply to questions. "With the current offer-but-not-shove policy that the feature releases are doing, you could accidentally set the push-off for 365 days and then ignore the offering of the next feature release and get yourself unsupported."
By hiding the deferral options, then conducting forced upgrades, Microsoft may be able to eliminate most such mistakes.