Microsoft has released the spring feature upgrade for Windows 10, dubbed Windows 10 May 2020 Update, aka 2004, and likely the only real refresh of the year.
"We are starting to make the May 2020 Update available," said John Cable, director of program management in the Windows delivery and servicing team, in a May 27 post to a company blog.
Beginning Thursday, some customers with unmanaged PCs – those not maintained by an IT administrator or staff – could opt in by manually checking for updates and then clicking the "Download and install" link.
Windows 10 May 2020 won't immediately show for everyone because Microsoft is taking its usual gradual approach to rolling out the upgrade, offering 2004 in stages to an increasing number of users beginning with those whose devices Microsoft believes are the most likely to successfully install the refresh.
The launch of Windows 10 2004 also kicked off the version's 18-month support lifecycle. All editions, including Enterprise and Education, will be supported on Windows 10 May 2020 until 14 December 2021.
Seek and ye shall upgrade ... perchance
In a normal world, Windows 10 2004 might have been released a month or more ago. Its four-digit label was altered from the usual yy03 format not because of its intended debut date but because Microsoft worried that the traditional marker (2003) might be confused with the obsolete Windows Server 2003.
After all, this upgrade had been finished, more or less, as long ago as December 2019. Although Microsoft said nothing about 2004's timing – it rarely acknowledges delays or their reasons – the Covid-19 pandemic may have convinced it to hold on to the refresh for a little longer.
Other than those who explicitly demand the upgrade – called "seekers" by many – and those whom Microsoft deems as owning the likeliest PCs to take the upgrade without issues, the other group that may see 2004 sooner rather than later are people now running Windows 10 1809.
That upgrade, released 13 November 2018, was to exit support this month, on 12 May for owners of Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro.
However, because of the chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic, last month Microsoft extended the support deadline to 10 November. That makes it the next version to meet its maker, beating 1903 by less than a month (1903's end comes 8 December).
On Tuesday, Microsoft said that it would restart the forced upgrades of 1909 in June. Remember: Last year when it ceded control to Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro users about when those devices would upgrade, Microsoft reserved the right to forcibly migrate machines which were nearing the end of their support.
"In June we will slowly restart initiating feature updates for devices running Windows 10, version 1809 (the October 2018 Update) Home and Pro editions, in advance of the delayed 10 November 2020, end of service date," Microsoft said here, "to provide adequate time for a closely monitored and smooth update process, to keep those devices supported."
It's unclear what Microsoft will use to upgrade those still running Windows 10 1809. Prior to the April decision to extend 1809's support and the accompanying pause in forced updates, the company was using Windows 10 1909 on the 1809 laggards.
Windows 10 1909's support for Home and Pro runs until 11 May 2021. In June, though, Microsoft will have a choice: either 1909 or the new 2004.
Microsoft could restart the forced 1809 upgrades with 1909, of course, and then switch at some point to 2004. Or simply serve 2004 to the PCs that met the reliability and stability criteria it's already set for surfacing that version to systems when seekers look for it.
Microsoft's perfunctory green light for business
Commercial customers may immediately deploy Windows 10 2004 using Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) or Windows Update for Business (WUfB), or from the Volume Licensing Service Centre (VLSC) with Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager (a blend of System Centre Configuration Manager and Intune) or another patch management platform.
Microsoft, as is its habit, recommended that businesses and other organisations begin what it calls "targeted deployments," or small-scale roll-outs for testing.
But because Windows 10 2004 operates under a limited support span – fall upgrades, identified as yy09, for Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education come with 30 months of security and bug fixes – most larger organisations will do little more than test this version. Few will bother deploying it simply because of its shorter lifespan.
It was interesting that Cable – and Microsoft generally – continued to use the word "targeted" when talking to commercial customers about 2004.
"Today's release ... marks the start of the 18-months servicing support lifecycle," Cable wrote. "If you're an IT administrator, we recommend that you begin targeted deployments to validate that the apps, devices and infrastructure used by your organisation work as expected with the new release and features (emphasis added)."
In the first half of 2019, Microsoft retired the "Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted)" (SAC-T) name for the opening months of each feature upgrade. IT admins had marked the shift from SAC-T to the shorter "Semi-Annual Channel" (SAC) as Microsoft's stamp that the upgrade had been thoroughly tested by millions of consumers and small businesses.
Continued use of the "targeted" label evokes that discarded moniker, reminding at least some customers of what Microsoft stopped providing.
After eliminating Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) – it was too confusing, Microsoft contended – the Redmond, Wash. developer simply made an announcement in lieu of an explicit turn from SAC-T to SAC. It did so for Windows 10 1903 in late September 2019, almost exactly four months after the upgrade's debut.
Microsoft didn't replicate that timing for Windows 10 1909, the refresh released in November 2019 and as the year's only upgrade slated for 30 months of support, the obvious favourite of organisations. Instead, the company waited until Tuesday to mark 1909 as ready for business.
"We recommend commercial customers running earlier versions of Windows 10 nearing end of support begin broad deployments of Windows 10, version 1909 in their organisations," Microsoft stated in a May 27 message posted to a support document for the upgrade.
Thus, the span between 1909's release and Microsoft's call for "broad deployment" was a record six-and-a-half months, two months more than the previous longest.
The timing of the announcement – concurrent with the release of a new version of the OS – made it seem an unenthusiastic nod to habit, as if the company had simply forgotten to give corporate customers the green light that they had once expected.
Microsoft has been inconsistent in its messaging on this – implying in February 2019 that no cues would be given but a month later saying it would "continue to communicate for future releases the transition from targeted to broad deployment status."
Microsoft may have decided that most commercial customers no longer needed the hand-holding its notifications represented and so de-emphasised the milestone to the point of being meaningless by telling users to only trust the previous version once a successor arrives.
That's not guidance, that's simply a schedule.
Windows 10 2004 is also available from this page, which walks users through obtaining and using the media creation tool; from here, where disk images in .iso format can be downloaded; and from the Volume License Servicing Centre (VLSC).