Quick guide to Windows as a service

Applies to

  • Windows 10
  • Windows 11

Here is a quick guide to the most important concepts in Windows as a service. For more information, see the extensive set of documentation.

Definitions

Some new terms have been introduced as part of Windows as a service, so you should know what these terms mean.

  • Feature updates are released twice per year, around March and September. As the name suggests, these updates add new features, delivered in bite-sized chunks compared to the previous practice of Windows releases every 3-5 years.
  • Quality updates deliver both security and non-security fixes. They are typically released on the second Tuesday of each month, though they can be released at any time. Quality updates include security updates, critical updates, servicing stack updates, and driver updates. Quality updates are cumulative, so installing the latest quality update is sufficient to get all the available fixes for a specific Windows 10 feature update. The "servicing stack" is the code that installs other updates, so they are important to keep current. For more information, see Servicing stack updates.
  • Insider Preview builds are made available during the development of the features that will be shipped in the next feature update, enabling organizations to validate new features and confirm compatibility with existing apps and infrastructure, providing feedback to Microsoft on any issues encountered.
  • Servicing channels allow organizations to choose when to deploy new features.
    • The General Availability Channel receives feature updates as they become available.
    • The Long-Term Servicing Channel, which meant only for specialized devices (which typically don't run Office) such as those that control medical equipment or ATM machines, receives new feature releases every two to three years.
  • Deployment rings are groups of devices used to initially pilot, and then to broadly deploy, each feature update in an organization.

See Overview of Windows as a service for more information.

For some interesting in-depth information about how cumulative updates work, see Windows Updates using forward and reverse differentials.

Key concepts

With each release in the General Availability Channel, we recommend beginning deployment right away to devices selected for early adoption (targeted validation) and ramp up to full deployment at your discretion.

Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC are separate Long-Term Servicing Channel versions. Each release is supported for a total of 10 years (five years standard support, five years extended support). New releases are expected about every three years.

For more information, see Assign devices to servicing channels for Windows client updates.

Staying up to date

To stay up to date, deploy feature updates at an appropriate time after their release. You can use various management and update tools such as Windows Update, Windows Update for Business, Windows Server Update Services, Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager, and non-Microsoft products) to help with this process. Upgrade Readiness, a free tool to streamline Windows upgrade projects, is another important tool to help.

Extensive advanced testing isn’t required. Instead, only business-critical apps need to be tested, with the remaining apps validated through a series of pilot deployment rings. Once these pilot deployments have validated most apps, broad deployment can begin.

This process repeats with each new feature update as they become available. These are small deployment projects, compared to the large projects that were necessary with the old three-to-five-year Windows release cycles.

Other technologies such as BranchCache and Delivery Optimization, both peer-to-peer distribution tools, can help with the distribution of the feature update installation files.