Microsoft plots changes to Windows 10's release lingo

Microsoft plots changes to Windows 10's release lingo

Microsoft will change the nomenclature of its Windows 10 release model in September, dropping terms used since the operating system's debut and substituting names that sync with Office 365.

In an online Q&A Thursday about "Windows as a service," Microsoft's concept of an ever-evolving, ever-updating OS, Michael Niehaus, a director of product marketing on the Windows 10 team, answered a question about the new terminology.

"New Windows 10 releases in the Semi-Annual Channel are initially to be used for pilot deployments," Niehaus wrote [emphasis added]. "After about four months, we'll declare that the release is ready for broad deployment."

The new names will be: Semi-Annual Channel (Pilot) and Semi-Annual Channel (Broad).

"That's quite a mouthful," Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said in an interview. Cherry was one of several people who asked questions during the Q&A.

Currently, the initial release of a feature upgrade -- the recently-promised twice-annual refreshes that bring new tools and technology, and changes to the user interface -- is called "Current Branch," or CB for short. Windows 10 1703, the upgrade released last month, is now in the CB, a channel primarily for consumers.

Once a build has been tested by consumers for about four months -- and Microsoft has presumably fixed the reported bugs -- the company promotes it to "Current Branch for Business," or CBB. Microsoft then considers the upgrade stable and reliable enough for wide deployment. Most enterprise PCs running Windows 10 are on the CBB.

Windows 10 1607, the sole upgrade issued last year, was moved to the CBB at the end of November 2016. Under the CB-to-CBB regime, 1703 should shift to the latter in the first half of August.

But the CB and CBB labels, which entered the Windows 10 lexicon months before its mid-2015 launch, are now old hat.

Replacing Current Branch will be "Semi-Annual Channel (Pilot)" -- to denote that businesses should be using it only in pilot, or small scale, programs -- and in place of Current Branch for Business, Microsoft will instead use "Semi-Annual Channel (Broad)," referring to its suitability for wide deployment.

Inevitably, the two will be shortened by users to "Pilot" and "Broad."

The nomenclature comes straight from Office 365 ProPlus, the applications portion of an Office 365 subscription, such as Word and Outlook, that are installed on users' PCs. Last month, Microsoft changed the release naming for ProPlus and outlined a cadence, as well as each version's support lifetime, to match Windows 10's.

Previously, ProPlus release tracks held names reminiscent of Windows': Current Channel, First Release for Deferred Channel, and Deferred Channel.

Microsoft laid out the new terms for ProPlus releases in a lengthy support document, but failed to do the same for Windows 10. Instead, it simply announced changes to the OS's release schedule in a short blog post.

"What I think they're trying to do [with the new names] is to get synchronized," said Cherry, referring to the two big platforms of Windows and Office 365.

Microsoft will change the terminology of Office 365 ProPlus in September, when it rolls out another refresh for the productivity suite. Although Microsoft did not define a Windows timetable yesterday, Cherry assumed that Windows would be modified at the same time. "I think the next thing that will come out will be 1709 [the September upgrade], which will come out in September 2017, and be named 'Pilot,'" Cherry said.

"Names do matter," Cherry continued. "We need consistency in what we name things."

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