10 key warnings for your Windows 10 migration

10 key warnings for your Windows 10 migrationWith Windows 7 a couple years away from its end of service date, January 14, 2020, many companies face Hobson’s choice: It’s the Win10 way or the highway. For those unwilling or unable to switch away from Windows, the path forward is clear. Barring a sudden turnaround in Microsoft’s stated intentions, or a Midas-sized bag of coins to fund a private extended support agreement, Windows 10 looms in your future.

Whether you embrace the change or abhor it, there are a handful of pesky observations and questions that you ignore at your peril. Speaking for those of us who have been slogging through (and writing about) Win10 for years, here are the Win10 migration warnings that come bubbling to the surface.

1. You’re signing up for the Windows 10 update treadmill

Unlike the versions of Windows you’re used to — where big updates happen every five years or so — Win10 is locked into a six-month update cadence. Many of those updates won’t have much that’s important for you or your customers, but you’re on the treadmill whether you like it or not.

In a nutshell, new Windows 10 versions (which have appeared sporadically in the past) will, henceforth, appear every six months, in March and September. Each version will be supported for 18 months. Although we haven’t gone through a full six-month cycle as yet, and the terminology changed as recently as last month, Microsoft seems intent on synchronizing Windows, Windows Server and Office 365 rollouts, all in lockstep.

You may have heard terms such as “Current Branch for Business” and “Windows Update for Business” but they don’t apply any more. We now have a “Semi-Annual Channel” and its variants. Organizations are expected to run pilot programs and start broad deployment of a new version based on the results of those programs (screenshot). Microsoft will no longer give a clear go-ahead signal with the “for Business” designation.

We don’t have a lot of experience with this new approach, having seen it in action just once, on July 27, 2017, when Microsoft simultaneously announced the end of the “Current Branch for Business” designation, and declared that the Win10 Fall Creators Update is “fully available to all our customers.” It isn’t clear how Microsoft will signal its blessing in the future, but it is clear that your organization will have to evaluate new versions without a definitive “this is ready” signal from Microsoft.

2. The Long Term Servicing Channel holds some respite

If the twice-a-year new version pace makes your head spin, there’s some consolation in a separate version of Win10 called the “Long Term Servicing Channel” or LTSC (formerly Long Term Servicing Branch). Microsoft has promised that machines running the LTSC version of Win10 will receive security patches for ten years, but no feature changes.

Currently there are two LTSC versions of Win10: The 2015 Enterprise LTSC version, based on the original “RTM” version of Windows 10, commonly called version 1507; and the 2016 Enterprise LTSC version, based on the Anniversary Update, version 1607. Microsoft anticipates that new LTSC versions will appear “every 2 or 3 years” with the next one expected in 2019.

LTSC versions of Win10 are available only through Software Assurance, and only for Win10 Enterprise. Some of your machines may be relegated to LTSC, but be aware of the fact that Microsoft recommends they only be used in highly static environments:

Long-term Servicing Channel is not intended for deployment on most or all the PCs in an organization; it should be used only for special-purpose devices. As a general guideline, a PC with Microsoft Office installed is a general-purpose device, typically used by an information worker, and therefore it is better suited for the Semi-Annual servicing channel.

Also note that LTSC versions of Win10 Enterprise, to date, do not have Edge or Cortana, do not offer access to the Windows Store, and include none of the standard Store apps: Mail, Calendar, OneNote, Weather, News, Sports, Money, Photos, Camera, Music and Clock.