Microsoft must be getting this close to delivering the latest Windows 10 upgrade. Last week the company began what will likely be a long-running pitch of 2004, the four-digit label, to enterprises.
Joe Lurie, a Microsoft senior product marketing manager, kicked off the drumbeat in a March 10 post to a company blog. "Here is an early peek at the great commercial features coming later this year," Lurie wrote, implying but not outright declaring that what he plumped would be contained in Windows 10 2004.
In the post, Lurie couched his list of enterprise features as currently accessible only via Windows Insider, specifically the often-overlooked Windows Insider for Business, the preview program spinoff Microsoft maintains.
Lurie touted several new commercial-grade features coming to Windows 10 in version 2004. Computerworld will focus on the ones most likely to make a difference in the enterprise. They are not in order of importance; that's a call we're currently unwilling to make.
Cloud download to reset Windows
"We've added the option to recover Windows 10 by downloading the necessary files from the cloud, resulting in increased reliability and, depending on your internet speed, a faster recovery," wrote Lurie.
Earlier versions relied on existing local files to rebuild Windows when the "Reset this PC" option was triggered. With 2004, customers can instead download the same build, version and edition currently installed. User- or management-installed apps must be reinstalled, as does user data if the maximalist "Remove everything" setting is selected.
Using "Cloud download" makes the option unattractive to those without high-speed connections; the download will weigh in at almost 3GB.
Less down time, more efficient use of the network, during feature upgrades
"With Windows 10, version 2004, offline time continues to decrease, from a median time of over 80 minutes in version 1703, to less than 20 minutes in version 2004," Lurie said.
More of the upgrade process has been shifted to the background — a Microsoft pursuit since early 2017 as it prepped and then launched Windows 10 1703. User-needed-now actions have been pared even further, and reboots, Lurie claimed, have been eliminated in some cases.
Also on the 2004 slate related to upgrading — and, for that matter, updating as well — is a toolset designed to make more efficient use of network resources while downloading installation packages.
For the overarching Delivery Optimisation service, which shares the download burden among multiple devices, users can now set absolute values for throttling, rather than as a percentage, from Settings. Currently, this throttling can be done only at the admin level via group or mobile device management policies.
Lurie also signalled that a cloud-based Delivery Optimisation service will be available — likely of interest only to larger customers — that will detect "download storms on your network," then curtail from-the-cloud downloads in favour of using local sources, including clients that have already grabbed the upgrade or update.
Also, the service would "dynamically [choose] which devices can download updates first," so that some — say, those piloting a future upgrade — are served before the masses. "Note: This client feature requires a cloud service support, which will be available in the near future, for full functionality," Lurie added.
WDAG the dog
"Application Guard helps protects users and devices from old and newly emerging threats using containers to open files received from untrusted or potentially unsafe locations," Lurie contended.
Windows Defender Application Guard (WDAG), which debuted as a protection on the original EdgeHTML version of the Edge browser, isolates IT-defined sites to protect employees from potential attack. The Chromium-based Edge has supported WDAG since August 2019 as a beta feature. The technology requires Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise.
Windows 10 2004 will allow Edge extensions to run in a WDAG container; Lurie also pointed out that when policies are enabled in 2004, WDAG gets switched on as soon as an Office 365 ProPlus client opens a document. This requires a Microsoft 365 E5 or Microsoft 365 Security E5 licence.
O 2004, where art thou?
Windows 10 2004's moniker may seem to signal an April release, but earlier this year there was no reason to assume that month was when it would debut; Microsoft added 1 to the usual four-digit yy03 label for the spring upgrade so as to ensure it wasn't confused with Windows Server 2003.
With the extraordinarily long lead time — Microsoft began pushing this upgrade to Insiders in February 2019 — Computerworld expected Windows 10 2004 to have launched by now.
So, what's a likely release date? Computerworld has no more insight than any other source outside the halls of Redmond, Wash., but if we were to bet, it would be April 14, next month's Patch Tuesday.
But there's nothing to stop Microsoft from delaying 2004 even more, pushing it, for example, into May. A postponement, in fact, might be very smart considering the COVID-19 pandemic's impact — notably the push to get employees out of crowded workplaces and into their homes, where they're working on personal or company-owned personal computers.
Maintaining those machines when they are outside the organisation's perimeter, not inside it as usual, may be difficult for IT personnel little used to refreshing remote systems.
Disruptions due to an upgrade — or even a lesser update that went south — that might have been easily solved in-house may be disastrous to the worker's ability to, well, work, when she is at home and IT not at hand. Putting off an upgrade, even if the PC is unmanaged and so under the command of a consumer, could be a brilliant move at this point.