The Windows 10 monetization picture comes into view with 'Servicing Branches'

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Microsoft journalist Mary Jo Foley has tackled the task of explaining how Windows 10 will interact with businesses. For over a year now, Microsoft has been on a conference tour parroting the notion that Windows 10 will finally clear up the mess previous versions of Windows left in their wake. The idea that a free upgrade will usher users to a single up-to-date platform catered for developers has been the golden carrot at the end of the Microsoft stick. For businesses, the idea of Windows 10 being the last major release could be a sign of relief for IT Pros struggling to migrate companies through the previous versions. A single, lasting but iterated upon version of Windows seems ideal for enterprise, IT, developers and employees.

Unfortunately, the reality is quite a bit different. It seems over the course of many months; Microsoft has been following up their simplified message with detailed ‘servicing branches’ information to businesses considering upgrades. However, thanks to a little ingenuity and some talkative friends, Mary Jo is offering a clearer understanding of what the (many) new editions of Windows 10 mean.

According to Mary Jo, “There’s a piece of the Windows 10 story that may be more important to business users than the actual editions themselves: The branches that underlie Windows as a Service.” What that means is, Microsoft was genuine in their pitch for One Windows. However, the way updates, features, patches and bug fixes are dealt with determine the “servicing branch” that version of Windows 10 is on. Her argument is that the general service branching will splits into three branches: Current Branch (CB), Current Branch for Business (CBB) and Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB). All versions of Windows 10 will typically link back to at least one of these branches.

For consumers, this jargon means very little. Windows 10 Home (or consumer version) will only have the option of Current Branch. On this branch, new features, fixes, and security updates are pushed out through the Windows Update and users will be notified of their presence. Similar to how most consumer Windows Updates get handled currently. As for users of Windows 10 Pro, a couple of options for branching opens up. Windows 10 Pro users will have the possibility of being on the Current Branch (CB), similar to the Windows 10 Home edition, or they could opt for Current Branch for Business (CBB). Just like users on Windows Home (CB), Windows Pro users will receive the full stack of updates. Windows Pro users on the CBB however, will be offered a bit more flexibility. Those users will now be able to decide how and when they receive features, fixes and security updates. Windows Pro users can choose to receive updates via Windows Update for Business or through their Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).  Windows Pro users will have a very similar level of update control like carriers have on updating Windows Phone. They are offered the flexibility of when to push updates, however all updates on this branch are eventually time sensitive; indefinite deferrals are not an option. As Microsoft looks to promote Windows 10 as a more iterative cadence of development, CB and CBB are meant to encourage users to be up-to-date and save enterprise cost.

Users of the most expensive and feature rich version of Windows 10, will be among the only two groups to have access to all three branches of servicing. Windows Enterprise and Windows 10 Education users will have access to all three service branching including the Long Term Servicing Branch. This level of access makes sense as those users work with a larger feature set and are spending the most money on Windows as a whole. Long Term Servicing Branch users will be able to defer all new features while cherry-picking only security fixes via the Windows Update for Business and WSUS.

Image Credit: Microsoft

As for how Windows 10 Mobile will be handled, Mary Jo’s guess of a similar CB approach for non-enterprise Windows Mobile makes the most logical sense for now. When offered, Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise would most likely follow suit of Windows 10 Enterprise, offering the same flexibility of its PC counterpart. Beyond condescending the expansive Windows 10 map, Mary Jo also makes the salient discovery of how Microsoft still plans to make money off of their transitioning operating system. Microsoft plans to make money off of servicing the various SKU’s particularly in enterprise where large checks are typically issued like marketplace coupons.