Holding Windows 10 2004 would be a great excuse to scale back to one upgrade a year
Yet another reason 2004 should be postponed has nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic. But Microsoft could take advantage of circumstances to do what many users want from the company: a single upgrade annually.
Microsoft, in fact, showed its hand last year when it downgraded the second upgrade to little more than a repeat of the first, a minor upgrade that included so few new features it was dubbed a "service pack." During 2019, there was really just the one feature upgrade worthy of the name, even though Microsoft went through the distribution process twice.
Earlier changes by Redmond, including the lengthening of support for Windows 10 Enterprise and Education customers, then Microsoft's abdication of control of when upgrades occur, put most customers on a once-a-year cadence. Microsoft would be smart to simplify Windows 10's maintenance by reducing the number of upgrades issued to the number customers are typically installing.
Which is one per year.
If Microsoft were looking for an opportunity to downshift to one feature upgrade annually, this is it. Even those who still hewed to the Windows-as-a-service concept and saw value in multiple upgrades each year would likely accept the news that 2020 would offer just a single feature upgrade. (Microsoft, as it has done in the past, could couch the move as temporary but make it permanent after the crisis subsides.)
Giving the decision positive spin, a sacrifice for the greater good, should be a snap for Microsoft's PR, enough perhaps to make many forget that Microsoft set great stock in a faster release tempo and explained the multiple yearly upgrades as necessary to keep pace with technology's changes.
Microsoft should think of it as a win-win.
But, but...what about support and deadlines?
True, Microsoft would have to massage the schedule if it postpones the launch of Windows 10 2004, no matter the reason for the delay.
Fortunately, that's as easily done as making an announcement, like the one last month when Microsoft added six months of support to the I-didn't-know-you-could-still-run-that version, Windows 10 1709.
Windows 10 1903, which according to analytics company AdDuplex accounted for 51% of all Windows 10 versions as of March 25, would be one Microsoft would have to modify. Normally, Microsoft would begin to replace 1903 on PCs running Windows 10 Home or unmanaged systems running Windows 10 Pro, with 2004 around the end of July or start of August. (Windows 10 1903 is currently scheduled to end support Dec. 8.) A 2004 launch set for anything beyond late June or early July would make that difficult or impossible. Instead, Microsoft would likely extend 1903's end-of-support, maybe by the same six months as 1709. (That would make 1903's support run until June 8, 2021, a month later than 1909's retirement of May 11. 2021. In this scenario, both 1903 and 1909 would be upgraded to 2004 by Microsoft early next year.)
On the other hand, if Microsoft took advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to scale back to an annual cadence, it would need to do more.
First, it should rename the feature upgrade to a more accurate four-digit number, like 2009, if it waits until September or October. By Microsoft's rules, 2009 (née 2004) would receive 30 months of support on Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education. Assuming an October launch, the version would exit support in April 2023. That would be a problem, seeing as how there wouldn't be an upgrade released in the spring of 2023.
If Microsoft issues one upgrade annually, it would make sense to extend support to 36 months. As the following figure shows, enterprises would have to be fairly agile to run an every-two-years upgrade tempo when support ends at 30 months. Stretch support an additional six months, however, and companies would be able to upgrade on a two-year cycle and still take 12 months to test, pilot and deploy each version.
Microsoft could stay stingy on Home and Pro, retaining the 18-month support span for those SKUs (stock-selling units), forcibly upgrading devices as the previous version neared retirement. Those systems would continue to be upgraded approximately every 12 months.
Next, Microsoft should spell out the new tempo and any associated changes necessary to make the every-12-month rhythm workable.