With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft introduced the concept of servicing branches, which include Current Branch (CB), Current Branch for Business (CBB) and Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB). Each branch has a place in an overall Windows management strategy. While Microsoft offers guidance for where each branch fits, the reasoning behind the guidance is minimal at best. This post:

  • Defines the Servicing Branches
  • Describes Microsoft’s recommendations regarding the various branches
  • Answers the question, “Should we follow that recommendation and why?”

What are Windows Servicing Branches?

There are three primary Windows Servicing Branches, each with a different primary deployment scenario.

Windows 10 Current Branch is the fastest moving of the main servicing branches. New features will be available immediately upon release, and this branch is expected to be updated three times per year. This branch is what all home users will experience. It has full access to Windows Store apps as well as traditional Windows applications.

The Current Branch for Business (CBB) is available in the Pro, Education and Enterprise editions of Windows 10. This branch allows for the deferral of feature upgrades for approximately four months. The branch has a minimum servicing lifetime of eight months. Like Current Branch, CBB also has full access to Windows Store apps and traditional Windows applications.

The Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) is only available in the Enterprise edition of Windows 10. LTSB has a minimum servicing lifetime of ten years. The initial release of Windows 10 included an LTSB. Microsoft has stated that they expect to designate one more build of Windows 10 for LTSB support in the first year. After that, LTSB builds are expected to be released once every two to three years. LTSB will only receive security and critical updates between build releases. LTSB does not include the Windows Store or other built in Windows Store apps. It has a very stripped down feel to it and will look very stark compared to other branches.

There is an additional branch worth mentioning. Microsoft offers a Windows Insider Program which provides access to pre-release (beta) builds of Windows 10. These builds operate outside of the standard release process for the three main branches. This program is primarily used by IT professionals who need to be aware of the potential direction Microsoft is heading with operating system builds or by those who desire to offer feedback on potential changes to Windows.

Microsoft’s Recommendations:

Microsoft’s general expectation is that most companies will deploy a combination of the three Windows branches. In general, the expectations and recommendations are:

  • A very small percentage of developers or power users will use the Windows Insider build.
  • Another small percentage will likely utilize Current Branch. Those will likely be early adopters—known enthusiasts or executives desiring the “latest and greatest” features.
  • The bulk of Windows workstations will use Current Branch for Business.
  • The Long Term Servicing Branch would be reserved for systems in mission critical scenarios such as factory floor machines, Point of Sale systems, hospital floor systems, etc. In almost no scenario will LTSB used for a majority of systems.

As mentioned earlier, I was bothered by the lack of “why” in those recommendations. In particular, multiple customers have asked, “Why should I go with CBB instead of just putting all of my systems on the Long Term Servicing Branch?” Just telling them, “This is what Microsoft recommends” was not going to fly. They rightfully expect solid reasoning before choosing to implement a completely new operating system management process.

I spent time giving these recommendations a “reality check.” Do those recommendations line up with what I can honestly say is a better long term solution for one of my customers, and if so, why?

Why Should We Follow Microsoft’s Recommendation?

As I thought through that “why” question, I kept coming back to the foundational changes that are part of Windows 10. Microsoft has described Windows 10 as “Windows as a Service.” Quite simply, there won’t likely be a Windows 11. This is the last major OS migration, which will turn the traditional concept of OS imaging on its head. New features and functionality will be delivered multiple times per year via a “servicing” update instead of once every two to three years via a major OS release (such as Windows 7 or Windows 8).

This really can’t be stressed enough. New functionality will only come via these servicing updates. When you look at the frequency of these updates for CBB and LTSB, you have to ask yourself how long you are willing to wait for the new functionality. With CBB, a company can choose to implement this within four months or to delay a bit longer. If all systems are on LTSB, then the wait will be dramatically longer. Based on Microsoft’s stated expectation for LTSB, this will end up being once every two to three years.

Using LTSB on most workstations will leave them with a dated operating system that is missing functionality within a year or so of its initial implementation. Granted, some of these feature changes will be minor, but others will be similar to what you would expect from a major OS version including security features, productivity enhancements, and possibly support for new hardware. Given that many users will be using the Current Branch edition on home computers, this is likely to generate help desk calls as they look for the missing features.

Current Branch for Business allows a company to standardize on the latest build that has been approved by the business. It strikes the balance of enabling new feature roll out in a timely manner while allowing a company to control the timing of these operating system updates. Current Branch for Business enables operating system updates to be treated much like a company handles the monthly patching process. It will be an ongoing, but controlled, process.

In a nutshell, the CBB servicing model allows businesses to stay up to date from an OS feature standpoint without a major OS migration effort. Using CBB will require significant changes to the operating system management processes, but overall these changes will result in an easier long term management experience than the alternative of a major OS migration every few years.

Check the CDW Media Library for all things software and as always, feel free to send comments or follow me on Twitter at @VerbalProcessor.