This content is part of the Essential Guide: How to solve Windows 10 updates problems

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Get to know your Windows 10 update options

Windows as a service changes the way updates work in Windows 10 from past versions of the OS. Each of the three servicing channels handles updates in its own way.

In William Shakespeare's timeless classic Romeo and Juliet, Juliet famously laments, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other word would smell as sweet." She is saying that society will not let her be with Romeo because their families are rivals; if he had any other name, they could be together.

With Microsoft changing the Windows update branches to servicing channels, Windows 10 administrators might be echoing Juliet, wondering if the name changes anything or if the update model still works the same.

For starters, with the introduction of Windows 10, Microsoft decided to call the entire update process Windows as a service, choosing to continually update the existing OS rather than release a new OS every few years like the company has done in the past.

Microsoft's original four update branches in Windows 10 -- Insider Preview, Current Branch, Current Branch for Business and the Long Term Servicing Branch -- changed as of July 2017. They are now part of three servicing channels -- Insider Preview, Semi-Annual Channel and Long-Term Servicing Channel.

Get acquainted with the Windows 10 update options and how they differ from the branches that came before them, as well as some key servicing tools.

Feature updates vs. quality updates

Before diving into the different Windows 10 update options, it's important to understand the distinction between feature updates and quality updates.

Feature updates come out twice a year, roughly scheduled for March and September, and they add new features to Windows 10.

Quality updates come out once a month and patch bugs and make security improvements. The quality updates are cumulative, so each update builds on the last one. As a result, when IT applies a quality update, it includes all the quality updates that came before it. A feature update receives quality updates for 18 months.

Weed through the Windows 10 update options

IT can choose between the servicing channels to determine the cadence at which users receive Windows 10 updates.

Windows Insider Program. Members of Insider Program get access to the latest Windows updates while Microsoft is still working on them. They can test the updates with their systems to make sure everything works.

If Insider Program members notice problems, they can communicate directly with Microsoft to address them. Microsoft works on the update for roughly four months depending on the feedback the company receives from Insider Program members.

Semi-Annual Channel. This option consists of two subsections. The first subsection is called Targeted, which is most similar to the former Current Branch update model, which delivered automatic updates as soon as they were available. IT should test the Targeted updates on the most advanced devices in the organization because, if they run into compatibility issues, then older devices will likely have problems as well.

If the updates perform well, IT can move the updates into the second subsection -- known as Broad -- and release the updates throughout the organization. If IT has Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), it can delay the updates for up to one year.

Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC). The LTSC is for specialized devices, such as ATMs, that cannot afford any downtime or security hiccups. It blocks feature updates, but continues to accept quality updates.

To use the LTSC, a device must run Windows 10 Enterprise Long-Term Servicing Branch edition. With the LTSC, updates come roughly every three years, and the updates maintain five years of standard support and five years of extended support from Microsoft. When IT pros are ready, they can implement the updates using an in-place upgrade.

Windows servicing tools

There are four tools IT can use when dealing with Windows 10 update options. For starters, Windows Update can give IT minimal control over feature updates. If devices are in the Semi-Annual Channel, IT can specify which devices will defer updates through the settings section of the Start menu.

IT pros can use Windows Update for Business to centrally manage the update process with Group Policies. In conjunction with the Semi-Annual Channel, they can specify which devices defer updates and designate those deferments to last up to one year. IT can also use Microsoft Intune with Windows Update for Business.

IT can use WSUS to approve updates for specific devices or groups of devices.

WSUS is a part of Windows Server and grants IT more granular control over Windows updates than the previous two tools. In addition to deferring updates, IT can use WSUS to approve updates for specific devices or groups of devices.

With System Center Configuration Manager, IT pros can not only defer updates and target specific devices, but they can also control how much bandwidth the updates consume and designate specific times for the updates to run.

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