Not yet running Windows 10 21H1? It’s time

If you are still running Windows 10 2004 or 20H2, it’s time to move to 21H1. Here's how to do that and what to keep in mind as we roll toward the release of Windows 11.

A hand reaches to activate controls marked with gear icons [ process / update / fix / automate ]
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Mid-summer is that time of the year when it’s too hot to go outside and garden so I’m inside checking on the status of various computers and reviewing what needs to be done to keep them in a happy, healthy state. The first thing I do is check to see what feature release version I’m on. If you are still running Windows 10 2004 or 20H2, it’s time to move to 21H1. (If you have a fast computer and an SSD drive the process should be quick; it took me about 20 minutes from start to finish to install the feature release.)

I remain a fan of using the targetreleaseversion (TRV for short), where you use either a registry key (with Windows 10 Home) or a group policy setting (with Windows 10 Pro) to select the feature release version you want. An easy way to use the registry key method is with links on the Askwoody site. If you’ve used the registry key method in the past to stay on 2004 or 20H2 you can now download the 21H1 registry key and install it.

Remember this registry key adds the following values:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate]

“TargetReleaseVersion”=dword:00000001

“TargetReleaseVersionInfo”=”21H1”

Note: if you use configuration manager or Intune, you need to use a CSP policy to set the feature release — then let the computer check Windows Update and install the feature release. You may not see the new version right away; be patient and wait for it to be offered up.

If you run Windows 10 Professional (with access to the local group policy editor,) there’s another way to upgrade to 21H1. Click on the search box and type in edit group policy. Launch the console and browse to Computer Configuration>Administrative Templates>Windows Components>Windows Update, and finally get to Windows Update for Business. At the bottom, you should see “Select the target Feature Update version.” Click to enable and enter in 21H1.

And now you wait for it to be offered up.

Waiting patiently has never been my strong point, so I often hop over to the Windows 10 ISO download site. The “Update now” link lets you download a small program that triggers the installation of 21H1. In the early years of feature releases, I routinely had to deal with side effects such as losing Display port drivers and other odds and ends. Vendors are now used to the twice-a-year cadence and I no longer have to worry as much about feature release side effects. I also keep an eye out for vendor driver updates. Major vendors often have driver monitoring software that will alert you when driver updates are available. I do not recommend using third-party driver tools, however. They often are malware delivery mechanisms. Stick to Acer, Lenovo, Dell, HP, or other vendor sites for overall computer drivers and to Nvidia and Intel for specific video, chip or network drivers. If you are already running Windows 10 2004, the upgrade to 21H1 should be quick and painless; all of your vendors should be fully supporting it at this point.

When you click that “Upgrade now” link, you’ll be offered a Windows10Upgrade9252.exe file. Click to launch the application; it will check to see whether your computer has enough space and memory to run the upgrade. If you’re good to go, it will then begin the upgrade. Remember if you have any issues, you can roll back to the prior version within 10 days by clicking on Update and security, then on Recovery and choose “Go back to previous version of Windows 10”.

You can also extend this 10-day window to 30 days by clicking in the search box, typing in cmd, and right-mouse clicking on “run as administrator.” Click yes to approve the User Account Control prompt. At the command prompt, type in DISM /Online /Set-OSUninstallWindow /Value:30

One oddity I’ve seen: the Windows update process sometimes doesn’t show in the update history — even when the feature update has occurred. This inconsistency is sort of an abnormal normal; if you see it, I suggest you upvote this feedback item and let Microsoft know. Your system is fine, you really are on Windows 10 21H1, but the windows update history isn’t always as accurate as it could be.

One pet peeve about the feature release process is that the vast majority of users have probably already upgraded to 21H1 and didn’t realize it. (What you may have noticed was that one of the “Patch Tuesdays” updates took a lot longer than a normal to install.) This blurring of the patching process is giving everyone patch fatigue and it means that if feature updates trigger side effects users avoid updates in general. Feature releases have given Windows updates the undeserved reputation that they  change settings, introduce new icons, and in general disrupt systems. It’s not security patches causing problems, it’s the feature release process. Let’s be real: changes we aren’t told about are disruptive in technology.

When it comes to Windows 11, there don’t appear to be huge changes to updates. Yes, it is moving feature releases to once a year. Yes, it’s allowing Home and consumer users to have a 24-month support window for each feature release — a big win for Home users.

But for professional users (and IT admins) the main change will be moving around the group policy settings. Though Windows 11 is currently in beta testing, I always keep an eye on what the future policy settings will be. In Windows 11, Microsoft is moving the Windows updating group policies and introducing a category called “Legacy settings.” If you happen to be playing around with the Windows 11 beta, click on the search box, type in “edit group policy” and navigate to Local Computer Policy>Computer Configuration>Administrative Templates>Windows Components and finally to Windows Update.

legacy settings, Windows 11 Microsoft

Legacy settings in Windows 11

The first section lists Legacy policies, which range from “Do not display ‘Install Updates and Shut Down’ option in Shut Down Windows dialog box” to “Configure auto-restart warning notifications schedule for updates.”

The next Windows 11 group policy category is called “Manage end user experience.” Here you can “Turn off auto-restart for updates during active hours” and set “Display options for update notifications.” (These settings are not new, just reorganized.) Another group policy section merely reorganizes the “Windows Server Update Service settings,” which includes settings we’ve seen before, including “specify intranet Microsoft update service location” and set frequencies accordingly.

The final category is to “Manage updates offered from Windows Update.” This is where you can select when to defer preview builds and feature updates. You can set a group policy to “Disable safeguards for Feature Updates” in case you can’t get a certain feature update installed. This is also the category where you can specifically set the “Select the target Feature Update version.”

While these group policy settings are reorganized to make more sense, I don’t see any major changes. I view Windows 11 as yet another feature release, one that I will choose and manage just as I do Windows 10. The only difference is that this time I might not be able to roll it out to all of my machines due to hardware mandates.

For now, I’m rolling out the 21H1 to all of my Windows 10 machines and keeping an eye on any  announcements this week from Microsoft’s Inspire partner conference.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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