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If you ask someone from Microsoft, or read industry guidance, about the best strategy for managing Windows 10 updates, the overarching recommendation is to use the Semi-Annual Channel (SAC) as the default servicing channel for Windows 10 devices. With the Semi-Annual Channel, devices receive two feature updates per year, and benefit from the best performance, user experience, security, and stability.

The Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) is designed for Windows 10 devices and use cases where the key requirement is that functionality and features don’t change over time. Examples include medical systems (such as those used for MRI and CAT scans), industrial process controllers, and air traffic control devices. These devices share characteristics of embedded systems: they are typically designed for a specific purpose and are developed, tested, and certified before use. They are treated as a whole system and are, therefore, commonly “upgraded” by building and validating a new system, turning off the old device, and replacing it with the new, certified device.

We designed the LTSC with these types of use cases in mind, offering the promise that we will support each LTSC release for 10 years--and that features, and functionality will not change over the course of that 10-year lifecycle.

Differences between the Semi-Annual Channel and LTSC

As I noted above, Windows 10 devices in the Semi-Annual Channel receive twice-yearly feature updates, once in the spring and once in the fall. These updates contain new features, services, and other major changes. Security updates, optimizations, and other minor updates or patches are released every month thereafter.

To deliver on the commitment of no changes to features or functionality, a Windows 10 LTSC release does not contain any of the components of Windows 10 that may change over the life of the release. These components include Microsoft Edge (as a modern browser, it is constantly evolving to support the current modern browser web standards) as well as components/applications regularly updated via the Microsoft Store, such as Camera, Cortana, OneNote, and other modern apps that continue to advance with innovative improvements. 

Internet Explorer is included in Windows 10 LTSC releases as its feature set is not changing, even though it will continue to get security fixes for the life of a Windows 10 LTSC release.

The LTSC cadence

We create a new LTSC release approximately every three years, and each release contains all the new capabilities and support included in the Windows 10 features updates that have been released since the previous LTSC release. Unlike the year-and-month terminology employed to describe Windows 10 features updates (e.g. 1703 or 1809), LTSC releases are named with a specific year, such as Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2016 or Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2019, and they align to perpetual Office releases such as Office 2019.

Each LTSC release receives 10 years of servicing and support[i]. During the life of a LTSC release, you can upgrade your devices to the next or latest LTSC release free of charge using an in-place upgrade, or to any currently supported release of Windows 10. Because the LTSC is technically its own SKU, an upgrade is required from Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC to Windows 10 Enterprise, which supports the Semi-Annual Channel.

As with the Semi-Annual Channel, LTSC devices receive regular quality and security updates to ensure that device security stays up to date. While quality updates are available for Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC, you can choose to defer them using tools such as Windows Update for Business or System Center Configuration Manager.

Making a fully informed choice about the LTSC

Before its release and throughout the first year of Windows 10, many predicted that LTSC would be the preferred servicing channel for enterprise customers. This has turned out not to be the case, and the SAC is the predominant choice for enterprises today.

I’m currently working with a few early LTSC adopters who are now looking to unwind their LTSC deployments and shift to SAC. There are several reasons why using the LTSC can turn out to be the wrong fit for the Windows 10 devices in an organization. For example, one organization deployed LTSC to bring forward the same IT rules and image creation and management processes they had used since Windows XP, in this case to new Surface devices. You can imagine the reaction of their end users when they excitedly opened their new Surface devices, only to find that features such as Camera, Ink, and Pen did not work—and that they were missing many of the modern, touch friendly version of apps—because the devices had been “repaved” with a Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC release.

Another reason some organizations chose to adopt the LTSC centered around application compatibility. In talking with some of these organizations; however, initial concerns about application compatibility from release to release in their environment have proved to be a non-issue.

Considerations

All too often, I have seen strategic decisions about Windows 10 servicing options and the use of the Long-Term Servicing Channel driven by the wrong criteria; for example, IT professional familiarity prevailing over end user value and impact. The LTSC is designed for devices and use cases where features and functionality will not change. It provides 10 years of security servicing to a static Windows 10 feature set. If you are considering the LTSC for devices in your organization, please consider the following:

  • Silicon support: Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC will support the currently released processors and chipsets at the time of release of the LTSC. When choosing to utilize the LTSC, you must factor hardware into your decision, making sure you have a long-term supply of devices and service components for the life of your expected usage of the device. If the hardware your device is using needs to be replaced in five years, do you have a replacement supply to support the version you are running? You also want to be sure you have a hardware solution that will provide you with extended driver/firmware support to match your expected lifecycle use of the LTSC for that device. (See the Lifecycle FAQ to learn more about the Windows Silicon Support Policy.)
  • New peripheral support: Because the API and driver support models are not changing, the LTSC release you deploy may not support new hardware or peripherals that you need to use in your organization.
  • Application support: With each Semi-Annual Channel release following an LTSC release, there is a growing gap in APIs and functionality between the current Windows API in use by most all devices, and previous LTSC releases. Many ISVs do not support LTSC editions for their applications, as they want their applications to use the latest innovation and capabilities to give users the best experience. This is the case with Office ProPlus, which does not support Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC releases as it relies on Windows 10 feature updates and the Semi-Annual Channel to deliver the best user experience with the latest capabilities. (If you were using Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2019, you would, therefore, need to use Office 2019.)
  • Best security: Windows 10, with the latest feature update installed, is always the most secure release of Windows 10, offering the latest security capabilities and functionality.
  • Best stability: Windows 10, with the latest feature update installed, has the latest performance and stability improvements.
  • Greatest hardware choice: New devices target and ship with the latest Windows 10 release to light up new hardware capabilities and improvements.

Summary

The Long-Term Servicing Channel a tool designed for a specific job. When used for the right job, it’s a great solution, but when misaligned, it can be like trying to drive a screw with a hammer. It’s, at best, unsatisfying, and likely problematic at some point.

If you understand the considerations listed above, have secured hardware and support to align with the intended duration of usage, and have secured support for your applications, the LTSC can provide your organization with years of secure, static operation, with full servicing and support for its 10-year lifespan. For most use cases; however, I recommend the Semi-Annual Channel as the better option for security, stability, and hardware/application capabilities, and the overall experience of your end users.

To learn more, check out our on demand session from Microsoft Ignite on The pros and cons of LTSC in the enterprise.


[i] Ten years of support includes a minimum of five years Mainstream Support (during which both security and non-security updates are provided) and a minimum of five years Extended Support (during which only security updates are provided). Please see the Fixed Lifecycle Policy for Microsoft Business, Developer and Desktop Operating Systems for more detail.

17 Comments
Super Contributor

You tell that preferred choice is changing in the industry? Any approximate numbers? Say a year ago 30% of enterprises preferred LTSC and today 25%?

 

I would love to stay on SAC, but with limited IT human resources, budget and time (like in most SMBs) it is too burdening to keep up. And what about "stability" flop of 1809? I doubt any serious org has started even testing and i feel 1903 will be released just after most update to the latest version. 2 updates per year is too often (i know i can skip, but what is the point then to use SAC anyway). We don't have money for Intune, SCCM, Enterprise versions. Dealing with feature updates via WSUS is PITA. Btw, is there x64 only feature update for 1809 in WSUS finally? A few weeks ago there was none. Why advertise new cool feature like 2 times smaller update size by splitting update into x86 and x64 and only providing packages for older versions?

 

I think LTSC believers won't disappear soon, as many may prefer stability (real stability) over theoretical improvements and possible problems. If anything, they numbers may grow after the 1809 blunder.

Microsoft

Hi Oleg,

 

Thanks for your discussion kickoff.  First to your question.

 

You over estimated LTSC usage.  Let me use a 3rd party source, so we remove any concern I'm trying to cook the books :)

 

https://meterpreter.org/data-shows-that-windows-10-april-update-market-share-soared-to-90/?cn-reload...

 

According to InfoTech's reporting, LTSC is at MOST 2% of all devices.  Other then servers and special purpose devices, it really is the exception today, and for desktop productivity usage,  movement is from it, to SAC.  

 

What is the LTSC end user missing?

He is a small subset, organized by release, of the featurs and functionality added in subsequent SAC releases.

SAC.JPG

I'm glad you are finding  LTSC great and stable for you,  I agree it is. I would submit for your consideration ( based on real data telemetry, and actual innovation we have added ) that I know the subsequent SAC builds are even more stable, better performant, and more secure. We will continue to work to address your servicing concerns and challenges, and hope that in the near future, we can make it work for you.

 

John 

New Contributor

Hi John.

I give You another example.

In our industry ( kind of Software development) we are using hundreds of different "bot" machines. Automated testing, compiling, building, etc systems. Most of those are still running older versions of Windows. Because people responsible for those processes doesnt have  absolute certainity, that those routines  work fine after every SAC upgrade. For those systems most of end-user features and functionalities introduced with new W10 release are pointless. So, for IT is very hard to sell them idea-  to screw twice per year all their systems. They have much important jobs to perform than test compatibility with next W10 release.  We are trying to keep our user stations on more recent versions - it cost us lot (time resources) and end-users dont understand why it is needed. they dont see benefit, or it is tiny compared to introduced problems.  

Super Contributor

Yes, most changes on paper sound cool for IT enthusiasts, but not so interesting for end users, who maybe just work with a few spreadsheets and docs and not so into technology. They don't care about timeline, or doing screenshots with new app or connecting their phones to PC, etc. Main reason for IT to install it is to keep up to date, to have monthly cumulative updates weight less and to get IT updates like better Autopilot support and new policies, etc.

Occasional Visitor
Visitor

@John Wilcox The statistics provided in your earlier comment are extremely misleading in that they are based on Windows Store ads which would not include LTSB/LTSC releases at all. They would also not include organizations where the Windows Store is disabled via GPO. This is specifically mentioned in the article. All that is proved here is that Microsoft Update is extremely aggressive in Windows 10.

 

As for LTSC vs SAC: I would much rather spend the time to build a new image every year (or so) as new LTSC versions are released when the alternative is to have the user experience across the organization be turned upside down every six months as workflows change in Windows. That's before considering the major stability issues that seem to be plaguing the SAC branch on a regular basis.

 

In our organization, the most unstable machines by far are among the three that run SAC vs the many hundreds running LTSB at the time of writing.

Occasional Visitor

These types of posts really upset me. You want consumers and IT Admins to stop resorting to an OS you say is intended for medical devices and kiosks? Then stop consistently putting out versions of Windows 10 that break NICs, lose data, reboot sans warning, and come pre-loaded with adware like candy Crush, xbox apps, start menu ads, lock screen ads, and 2 browsers. Can I ask why even Microsoft hasn't been able to untangle IE from their own "latest and greatest" rendition of Windows 10? "WaaS" is very new terminology and has yet to prove sustainable as a model. Lest we forget that a large portion of the Win10 market share came from Microsoft imaging entire organizations overnight with clandestine Windows 7 updates sometime around early 2017. People need usable images for VDI environments with video/network throughput limitations. People have older hardware that needs to be able to run mission critical, legacy software. Cortana and the App Store have no place on the majority of many workshop machines. Stop blaming your users for adopting something that actually works as a viable solution with STABLE updates. Stop using paying customers as beta testers. Can I ask what exactly happened to Patch Tuesday? Because for the last year, at least, updates have gone through no QA team and come down the channel seemingly at random. Occasional out of band patches are fine. Building the plane as it's taking off and then yelling at your passengers for deploying their parachutes when you hit turbulence is a good way to have an entire organization shift away from your airline.

 

I will point other readers to: https://www.howtogeek.com/395121/windows-isnt-a-service-its-an-operating-system/

Senior Member

One key element that haven't been touched in this article is the capability of the features in Windows 10 from 1511 to 1809, John posted a nice Picture of all the new features that has been added to Windows 10, and some ppl mock those and say that their users does'nt need to connect their phone or whatever. But they miss a vital Point and that's the capability of the said feature, for example Delivery Optimization "DO" the functionality of that so important feature has vastly imoproved since launch, and that's not the only feature that has been improved. If your on LTSC for the 10 year support, god knows what all background functionality you will miss out on. Being on LTSC for a longer time will also get you further behind the real World so when the day comes to upgrade to say LTSC 2025 you might find yourself in a situation where your dev team has been quietly developing with VS 2008 and all of a sudden you have a migration Project on the scale of Windows XP to Windows 7. Ofcource there are systems that are best being left alone from the fast paced outside World, but they are few and far apart.

 

Sure the quality in Microsoft releases have gone down since they fired thier whole QA team, so please MS rethink! but using that as an excuse to go for LTSC, nah.

Occasional Visitor

A whole lot of the problem with people deploying LTSB/LTSC to do the desktop (us included BTWbtwould be solved if the Enterprise and Education versions of Windows were exactly that & not just re-badged versions of Home with a few enterprise features turned on. Lose Cortana, Windows Store, Candy Crush, Xbox, Music, etc. and you'd be half-way there.

 

Add in some decent modern tools to customise and control the deployment of images (SCCM is way overkill for anyone with less than thousands of seats (we tried - we needed more resources to run SC than the rest of the organisation), WDS seems stuck in the Windows 7 era) and the whole LTSB/LTSC on the Desktop issue would go away.

Super Contributor

Actually, that's exactly what i meant in my comment, that users don't care for user features, so the only incentive for IT admins to install updates every 6 months is to stay secure and to get those hidden to the eye improvements (DO, Autopilot, etc.). The problem is that you can't "sell" these updates to users/execs. They need something useful they can get their hands on. As they don't get it, they are just annoyed with often updates that take long to install and don't see point in that. You want me to explain spreadsheet users how great recent DO improvements were? Of course, you can have an argument that it can save internet traffic cost and make less impact on network (in DO case). But on my previous job updates were handled via WSUS and we had unlimited broadband internet, so DO wouldn't do much for us. Anyway, IT admins are now tasked to do big updates twice a year, users don't see value in this. Background improvements are neat, if you have real use for them, but in the end, companies need a stable and secure OS to do work (by secure i mean just monthly security updates). This can be reduced to 1 update per year.

Super Contributor

MS is touting Autopilot (and Intune) to be that next "image" deployment tool (not really an image in the regular sense, just a set of settings that will prepare Windows for work). But i can't see this being used in public sector where you don't know who will win new PC shipment tender. Could be some smallish local retailer who never heard about Autopilot.

Visitor

Dear John,


i've recently read your interesting post about WIN 10 LTSC.

At the moment i am working on a project for a company to roll out WIN 10 and planning to use LTSC.

I have one question about the following sentences in your text:

"Each LTSC release receives 10 years of servicing and support[i]. During the life of a LTSC release, you can upgrade your devices to the next or latest LTSC release free of charge using an in-place upgrade, or to any currently supported release of Windows 10. Because the LTSC is technically its own SKU, an upgrade is required from Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC to Windows 10 Enterprise, which supports the Semi-Annual Channel."


Is the meaning right, that i will get each LTSC upgrade within ten years for free??? That will be a great feature.

Like in 5 years when there is for example version 2105, I will get that for free?

Can I ask you where you've got that information?


Thanks in advance and kind regards,

Marco

 
 
Occasional Visitor
Maybe there wouldn't be so much interest in LTSC if your core offerings weren't so full of bloat. No IT professional asked for your data spigot aka telemetry. You can try and cram Edge down our throats all you want but we don't want it. We didn't ask for nor do we want all the consumer apps suggestions, chibi graphics and gamification. The problem is that you (Microsoft) have an agenda that does not align with the stated needs of IT professionals and advanced users. Rather than deliver the products that we want, you'd rather try to gaslight us into thinking that we're crazy for wanting an unbloated OS. An Xbox app in Windows 10 Enterprise? Really dude? Really?
Super Contributor

It is even included in the Server SKU :D I have asked about Xbox app on another thread about Server security hardening and only got an answer that some role/feature might need Xbox to do something, like VDI or RDS (remote workers wanting to play some games?:)).

Occasional Visitor

John, very nice overview. I work with OEM's that build appliances and I provide guidance primarily for OEM's rather than corporate america.  For those that are interested in more details around how to license via the OEM channel please have a look at my blog on Windows LTSB/LTSC here: http://ocs.arrow.com/msembedded/blog/to-update-that-is-the-question/

I would also mention that you did state it is a free upgrade between LTSC editions and that is not the case in the OEM channel. In fact in-place upgrades are prevented with the LTSC edition and it does require the purchase of a full new upgrade license.  

Occasional Visitor

@WindowsChamp beat me to it. Again! :smileyhappy:

Visitor

Ok, I guess I want to throw my 2 cents into LTSC piggy bank :-). So, we have big Enterprise organization. Yep, one of those big ones that everyone knows. EVERYONE! And of course just like everyone else on this planet scared of staying on W7 because soon will be not supported, and as result non-compliance, audit, regulators and big, big fines! Does not sound good! So started moving with SAC. 1709. Well, because it was 1 year ago. 1803 was skipped - thanks to MS for announcing new strategy of supporting fall releases for 30 months instead of originally planned 18 months! Now got 1809. Yes, it was mess! In fact it was disaster. You were saying 09 means September? Yeah right! How about November? October was bug-fixes time ha-ha-ha! Halloween of bugs. But as you know, November is the time when things slow down. Why? Well, many reasons. First it is new fiscal year. First month is always slow. Besides everybody is in the Christmas mood. Santa coming to town in case you did not know. Then it is January, best time to go Dominican, Mexico or Cuba - prices doing down! Who does not like cheap vacation all-inclusive? Then February things start picking-up slowly. But hey, now business got scary, they want to test their Applications, but they don't have time. And you know, all those 3rd party agents? Security agents? Have you heard about them? They also may not work in 1809. So if we push 1809 we may break all machines. Risk is real, and everybody scary. But things not getting any better. Soon it will be 1909 and it only will be worse. So this is a road to perdition. What you suggest? Stay on 1709 or jump to 1809? What if something happens? It will be the END. And nobody want the END. Everybody want to live. Everyone want to retire happy ha-ha-ha! Now let's see why SAC is better (as per you list): 1. Edge is missing. Sure. But Edge is disaster. There are problems with SSO via ADFS because MS did not allow any browser to access ADFS, each Agent string must be explicitly written into ADFS configuration. You saying add this to ADFS? Sure. But do you remember we were talking about large enterprise? 5-second command to execute in PROD environment takes easily 6 months. Why? Don't ask. Just believe! So for any changes we are looking months and months to implement. 2. Cortana. We disabled it in SAC anyway, so why bother? Nobody use Cortana, except MS people who present something on Ignite! 3. App Store. Most enterprise block it - otherwise this is a Pandora box! If users start installing what they want this will be the end! 4. Same thing for many other things. So what really business need? They need their Applications. And they want them to work stable today, tomorrow and in 5 years, day after day. And if changes occurs so often and could break things, this is not good. Did I almost convinced you why large enterprises should go with LTSC? Ha-ha-ha! Your turn!