In its continued efforts to encourage corporate customers to make the switch to Windows 10, Microsoft is shaking up its support and life cycle plans again. Support for some Windows 10 releases is being extended, and the company is offering new services to help detect and address compatibility issues should they arise.
The new policy builds on and extends the commitments made in February this year. Microsoft has settled on two annual feature updates (the “Semi-Annual Channel,” SAC) to Windows 10, one finalized in March (and delivered in April) and the other finalized in September (and delivered in October). Initially, the company promised 18 months of support for each feature update, a policy that would allow customers to defer deployment of feature updates or even skip some updates entirely. Going forward, the September releases are going to see even longer support periods; for Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education, each September release will receive 30 months of servicing. In principle, an organization that stuck to the September releases could go two years between feature updates.
Customers of Windows 10 Home, Pro, and Pro for Workstations will continue to receive only 18 months of updates for both March and September releases.
This 30-month window is also being retroactively applied to the Enterprise and Education editions of all prior Windows 10 feature releases that are currently supported: 1607, 1703, 1709, and 1803.
As ever, for customers wanting even longer service periods, the Long Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) releases will be made approximately every three years; these releases will receive the traditional five years of mainstream support (during which security, reliability, and compatibility fixes are released) and five years of extended support (during which only security fixes are published).
Microsoft is also working to ease compatibility concerns with Windows 10. The Windows Analytics service, which provides an overview of device health, compatibility issues, update compliance, and upgrade readiness, is being expanded to a new Desktop Analytics service. This move will expand compatibility assessments to include applications, also helping to create pilot groups for update testing that span the entire range of application and hardware configurations that an organization supports.
If an application compatibility problem is found, Redmond is offering a new service called Desktop App Assure. Customers will be able to file support tickets for application compatibility issues, and Microsoft will provide engineering support to work with those customers until the issue is resolved.
Microsoft wants organizations to be using Windows 10 with its steady stream of updates, and compatibility issues remain a significant customer concern standing in the way of this. By offering tools to help organizations better identify compatibility concerns themselves and providing stronger support guarantees when problems arise, the company is hoping to salve those concerns and remove them as a reason to stick with Windows 7 or 8.1.
Microsoft is also extending Office 365 support in the opposite direction. In its announcement earlier this year, the company said that Office 365 ProPlus (the version that’s on the same regular update track as Windows 10) would only be supported on Windows 10 SAC editions. That’s being extended to also cover Windows 8.1, up until January 2023, and Windows Server 2016, up until October 2025. These extensions align with the extended support for those operating systems.
A similar alignment is taking place with Office 2016. Previously, the plan was that from October 2020, Office 365’s online services would require the use of either ProPlus or Office 2019. Under the new policy, Office 2016 will also be supported until October 2023.
These changes essentially represent a correction: Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2016, and Office 2016 all remain supported for a number of years, creating a reasonable expectation that they’d remain compatible (with Office ProPlus and the online services) for their full supported lifetimes. That will now be the case.
Windows 7 lumbers on
And for those customers still on Windows 7 and planning to stay that way beyond the January 2020 end of extended support, Microsoft has a new scheme for receiving paid updates. Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESU) will offer an additional three years of security fixes, through January 2023. Paid security fixes aren’t a new thing for Microsoft, but what’s different here is that this extended support will be offered uniformly to all volume license customers of Windows 7 Professional and Enterprise. It’ll be offered on a per-device basis, with the cost increasing each year. The extended Office 365 support described above will also cover Windows 7 ESU machines, in addition to Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2016.