Microsoft schedule slips with October release for next Windows 10 feature upgrade

The company has begun fudging Windows 10's version number, which is supposed to reflect the release date – a move that could annoy enterprise IT.

Microsoft's next feature upgrade to Windows 10 will be released Oct. 17, weeks later than the company had earlier pegged as the delivery schedule.

"The next update of Windows 10, the Fall Creators Update, will be available worldwide October 17," said Terry Myerson, the executive who leads the company's operating systems and devices division, in a post to a company blog.

"Fall Creators Update" is the name Microsoft gave to the feature upgrade, which also is known as version 1709, the latter displayed in the Redmond, Wash. developer's yymm format. The "09" part of the label refers to September, just as Windows 10 version 1703 designated the March upgrade. (Which was actually released April 5.)

An October launch for version 1709 means that Microsoft will not meet the revamped release schedule it announced in April, when it said it was "committing to a predictable twice-per-year" slate and "targeting September and March of each year" as the delivery dates.

At the same time, the company noted the schedule is "aligning with Office 365 ProPlus," the locally-installed applications at the core of enterprise-grade subscriptions.

Because Microsoft had previously pegged the September upgrade of Office 365 ProPlus to Sept. 12 -- and its pledge to align the two product lines -- Computerworld inferred that Windows 10 version 1709 would release on that same day.

Microsoft has begun a habit of fudging Windows 10's version number, which is supposed to reflect the release date. But the upcoming upgrade will take that to its most extreme so far. In mid-2016 and in March of this year, Microsoft issued upgrades on Aug. 1 and April 5, but dubbed them 1607 and 1703, missing the designations by one and five days, respectively. This fall's upgrade, 1709 will miss the mark by 17 days.

What happens when a Windows 10 upgrade misses its target

The fact that Microsoft missed the September release window for 1709, or Fall Creators Update, is not surprising. One analyst had assumed a slip would occur sooner or later.

"For now, I say that this is aspirational, not policy," said Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft, in a May interview. "They hope to do this [every March and September]. But if they don't, they don't."

Microsoft has been adamant about Windows 10's support lifecycle, promising that each feature upgrade -- say, 1709 -- will be supported for only 18 months. After that, Microsoft will not provide security updates. So, for 1709, support will presumably end on or around April 17, 2019. (If the support clock began ticking in September, the month of 1709's designation, it would end in March 2019, the same month another feature upgrade is slated in Microsoft's schedule.)

Assuming the 18-month pledge isn't broken, the impact of 1709's October release may not be revealed immediately. Which month will Microsoft use -- September or October -- to count the six towards the next feature upgrade? If the former, will customers have five months, not the usual six, to run 1709 before its successor appears? Or will Microsoft push 1803, its March feature upgrade, into April instead?

If Microsoft continues to miss its professed March and September targets, or - more concerning - fumbles those dates by more than a month, it has two choices. Neither will satisfy those in enterprise IT who crave consistency and predictability from their software vendors.

If Microsoft pushed back upgrade dates after a delayed release, the March-and-September scheme and synchronization with Office 365 ProPlus and Windows Server would collapse. But if Microsoft simply resumes the tempo with the next slated release, the delayed upgrade would have to have its support curtailed if Microsoft intends to keep a consistent schedule.

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