Should Microsoft release only one major Windows 10 software update per year instead of two?

Windows 10 Cloud Wallpaper
Windows 10 Cloud Wallpaper (Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft's twice a year update cadence for Windows 10 is an interesting one, if only because it's double that of its competitors. While Microsoft aims for two major Windows 10 updates per year, Google and Apple focus on just one major update per year for their OSes. But the question on everyone's mind is this: Are two updates a year really better than one?

I can't help but wonder why Microsoft decided to go for two updates a year over one major one. For an OS that was once updated once every three years, going from that to twice per year is a big jump. Of course, that's all thanks to Microsoft's new strategy of Windows as a Service. But Windows is still Windows, and it's still a beast to update major versions.

Microsoft has improved Windows Update dramatically since Windows 10 moved to this twice a year update cadence. No longer does Windows need to download huge 4GB updates when a new feature update is released, with the Unified Update Platform making it so Windows only downloads the new bits that it needs for an update, similar to how it works on iOS and Android.

Windows as a Service

The Redmond giant has been laying the foundations for faster Windows updates ever since Windows moved to this "as a service" model, but do the advantages of faster updates outweigh the disadvantages? Most people already hate having to install one update per year on iOS, with several of my friends who use iPhone postponing the update for as long as possible.

Windows is an entirely different beast than iOS of course, but the precedent still stands. In fact, a lot of people hate installing updates on their PCs just as much as they do on their phones, because it means their device is out of action for 15 minutes while the next version of Windows 10 is installed. It's a small amount of time, but that time adds up. Now this is happening twice a year.

The other disadvantage is that there's less time for development. The Windows team is only so large, and developing a product like Windows takes time. In the past, there were three whole years between each Windows release, which gave Windows engineers plenty of time to plan out what they wanted in a release, develop it, polish it, and release it. With the update cadence so fast in Windows 10, the time where development takes place is shorter.

This means features that are planned for an update can quite easily fall behind schedule, or get cut completely. We've seen that happen with both the Creators Update and upcoming Fall Creators Update, with features like My People and Timeline. Those two features ended up slipping to the next release because Microsoft was unable to finish the feature in time. If there were fewer updates going around, perhaps the company would be able to squeeze more into an update.

The twice a year update cadence also makes updates feel smaller and less significant. Since there's less time to develop features, each release will only have so much in it. This means that changes to Windows 10 will feel gradual, and will take place over several releases rather than one. We're seeing that right now with Microsoft's new Fluent Design System. Fluent Design is an overhaul to the Windows UI, but that change will be introduced slowly.

It also means that some updates may feel incomplete. The upcoming Fall Creators Update won't be the biggest update to ever grace Windows 10, and that's because so much of it didn't make it into the product in time. Even Microsoft's new Fluent Design System won't be fully implemented, leaving inconsistencies throughout the OS.

Fear of change

Now, on the flipside, some people prefer their updates feeling less significant. A lot of people hate change, and if an update to Windows went ahead and changed lots of things at once (see Windows 8,) there would be problems. The Windows as a Service model makes updates feel smaller, and less of a change. Only over several releases will users notice major changes.

There are several other advantages to having two updates a year. For example, if a feature planned for one release gets delayed, it's only a six-month wait before that feature is pushed out to the public. This allows Microsoft to get important features out at a faster pace, even if they are delayed at the last minute. Back when Windows was on a three-year release cycle, if a feature got delayed, it was three years before that feature would be readily available to the public.

Even with those advantages, do we really need two updates a year? I personally think one major Windows 10 update a year would be just fine. It would allow Microsoft to squeeze in more than what currently gets put into updates, without being too drastic of a change between versions.

Microsoft likely opted for two updates a year as it allows them to align updates with the back to school and holiday seasons. Both are important seasons for devices like PCs, and being able to align updates to that schedule makes a lot of sense. So maybe Microsoft could offer a tick-tock approach to its two updates a year schedule.

As it currently stands, there's no real formula towards which of the two updates are big or small. As far as I can tell, it depends on whether Microsoft can develop features fast enough for a release. What Microsoft could do is make one of those updates the dedicated "big" update for the year, and have the other update be a smaller update with smaller features and general OS changes. That's similar the 10.x releases Apple does with iOS.

Regardless, we love updates here at Windows Central, and no matter how often they show up, we're going to be excited about them. What are your thoughts on Microsoft's update cadence for Windows 10? Let us know in the comments.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

127 Comments
  • I dont care. Im using mobile
  • You should care. It's all we got left. Two a year is good
  • One per year is plenty.  With only one, maybe they can release something more refined and ready with less bugs.  Still way ahead of a new "version" that used to arrive every three years...
  • @oldmill Agreed!  I've been saying this along.  Once a year is plenty.  Take the entire year to release a polished product with few potential fixes.  Twice a year seems redundant.
  • Every new version will have some kinks to it initially... It's a good balance of a few new features without being overwhelming. And it keeps them in people's mind, giving them something to talk about
  • Yeah and if there is a bug? You'll have to wait a year instead of 6 months to get it fixed.
  • What do you use for a PC? I know a lot of people don't use them at all anymore except for in work, so maybe that's the group you fall into? If W10M worked with Windows the way iOS works with Mac OS it would be great. MS are relying on non-MS devs to support the cross device experience via Rome, it's a bit of a risk as they may not convince them to. I'm still fine with W10M myself, Android and iOS will never have the kind of integration with PC that iOS has with Mac so if I had to switch to an iPhone in the future I'll probably start using Mac for personal use and Windows for development and Office apps still.
  • That's exactly what is going to happen to Microsoft. They F up W10m and force us to switch, but if we do its bye bye windows 10 for good. Go to hell Satya for what you did to W10m and its users.
  • Amen Weng Weng, I feel exactly the same way. The bastards do not card about the customer.
  • or maybe... the consumers, or at least the majority of them, didn't care about windows mobile! Maybe YOU are not the victim but MS is the victim here. The victim of consumer stupidity all along!! And you and me and the other 3 wm fans are just collateral damage... Don't blame a business for doing business...
  • Windows Phone was doing fine when Nadella arrived, reaching 10% market share in some European countries.  Ballmer was doing good with Windows Phone then Nadella scrapped the whole thing... hate that guy...
  • Windows phone was not "doing fine". 10% is not fine for an OS that existed a lot longer than android and iOS. Although it was a reboot, Windows mobile and pocket pc were around a long time. There was almost no support from developers because 10% is nothing. Nadella did not from one day to the other throw everything around at Microsoft. Microsoft made a lot of "mistakes" with mobile but most of them were made in the Ballmer era
  • It's funny that Microsoft is going the tick-tock route for updates, while Intel and AMD are leaving that because it's hard to release updates so often :)
  • They need to iterate quickly right now. I expect as w10 matures they will update yearly at some point, but lots of work needs to be done to make w10 developer friendly and visually consistent.
  • One release a year would be better if they give everything they announce.  UNLIKE NOW....they announce really cool features,  and then pull them back because they are "not ready".   **** or get off the pot MS.  your losing consumers FAST.   I don't want to be another.  One update a year with all features announced included...much better than what you have now.
  • Project Rome isn't even remotely close to iCloud sync. With iCloud sync you can sync everything, all data and apps can communicate. Project Rome allows nothing to be synced, just for the device to communicate and sync their states, but not data. And without data sync there isn't much of use in that. And the developer that resolves data syncing can probably do most of the stuff Project Rome does himself.
  • Rome is great for immediate discovery and interaction with another device. For sync of data you would use OneDrive ideally, but I will admit that is still more complicated than it needs to be. Saving to OneDrive should be one line to request permission and one line to save/read a file as if it was local, along with an option to specify the file is always kept in sync in the background, right now OneDrive requires slightly more work than it should
  • Every serious app can't rely on the file syncing but needs some sort of data syncing (usually database syncing). That's why I say that project Rome doesn't solve some real problems - if you don't have a database syncing it doesn't help, if you have it then you likely don't need it at all for most use cases (continuing user experience from one device to another).
  • I have to admit that I do not care either, although I am no longer using their Mobile platform. (Bluetooth stack is not what it used to be.)
  • If they really cared about their customers, then a simple pop-up message on older supported Windows 8 phones would all that be needed. A pop-up once indicating that they get a free upgrade to W10M will be all that's needed to keep people happy. Instead they did nothing and gutted their existing userbase.
  • Anyone who cared knows how to update. Anyone else is probably better on WP8.
  • More is better.
  • Specially when talking beer 🍺 and pizza 🍕!
  • the more they offload to the Apps, the less important actual OS updates become. EDGE is a pretty big reason why they would have to release OS updates at a more frequent pace. If they remove that dependency, they would have more breathing room to schedule.
  • They definitely need to keep two updates until Edge is unshackled from the OS itself
  • The big reason why they probably don't want to separate Edge updates from big OS updates is because people will start pressuring MSFT to release this "Edge app" for Android, iOS, and Blackberry10.
    .
    How it is right now is good so that they (MSFT) can say that Edge is Windows 10 exclusive.
  • Why? Because Edge is driving people to Win 10? Seems the majority only use Edge long enough to access Google and download Chrome. Whether Ege is integrated into the OS or seperate isn't the issue there. It needs to support the things that are keeping people away from it, and do that sooner than later. De-coupling it would support that.  I use Edge, BTW. Don't even have Chrome loaded, but do have to resort to IE periodically when Edge won't work right. I gather I'm a minority though. 
  • I actually use Opera most of the time. I haven't checked in quite awhile, but my pc is older and Edge could only take 5 new tabs opened before the system became unresponsive, compared to Opera where I can open 20 new tabs without having problems. So I'm not sure people would ask for Edge on other platforms if MS separates it from the OS updates. It's more like they would demand more development via app updates
  • No you are not. I use IE for stability, Edge to test the new features, Chrome for Googly stuff, and Opera Neon for its uniqueness.
  • lol what? EDGE being exclusive is NOT a good thing for the browser btw.
  • "How it is right now is good so that they (MSFT) can say that Edge is Windows 10 exclusive" Yes, exclusively run the most hated web browser on the market. That's a great marketing strategy. While Edge has improved leaps and bounds since it was released, it's still in last place on the Windows platform in terms of user preference. Chances are the EU will force Edge to be uncoupled from Windows (the US will never have the courage to challege Microsoft, especially now that they've got a chief executive who's a classic robber baron).  Technologically, it's bad security practice for Edge to be so itegrated into the OS, which, amusingly and paradoxically, runs counter to Microsoft's excuse for excluding all other browsers from the Windows Store. Don't get me wrong. I want Microsoft to succeed. But, they're trying to succceed with anti-competitive strategies that will harm us end users. When Microsoft gains an upper hand they abuse their power terribly. When they gained the upper hand over Apple in the mid 90's they produce terribly mediocre operating systems. When they gained the upper hand over Netscape in the late 90's early 2000's they produced terribly mediocre browsers. The key difference is that in the 2000's Apple was able to respond by producing a better OS and in the late 2000's Google could respond with a better browser which users could use instead of Explorer. Microsoft is yet again going the monopoly route. They still have an effective monopoly on the desktop (90%+ penetration) so by excluding all other browsers Microsoft is making sure that no one can choose to use an alternative browser to Edge, ever.  
  • What's the advantage of keeping Edge exclusive to Windows 10?
  • The only time I use Edge is on my Lumia 950xl.  On the desktop, once every couple months I open it to see if they finally included the feature I want and it is still no... (automatic switch to new tab when doing right-click-->Open in new tab). Without this feature, a browser is totally useless to me (I don't use Chrome as well for the exact same reason).
  • "What's the advantage of keeping Edge exclusive to Windows 10?" We're entering the twilight zone when there's an advantage to keeping a heavily, and fairly maligned piece of software as a "feature" of a particular operating system. If Microsoft wants Windows 10 S to be taken seriously they can't be giving the press a great lever with which to drive headlines. "Mediocrity for Windows 10 S. Still only runs the mediocre Edge browser." "Windows 10 S falling off the Edge of the cliff. Edge browser still most ignored browser on the planet." And, on it goes. Edge is not well thought out. The only thing of note in that browser is the "read later" feature, but, even that is not exclusive to it. It also has a lame interface. It's designed exclusively for touch but it doesn't do touch particularly well. I gave the browser a chance. I used it for nearly a month as exclusively as possible (there are a lot of websites that do not behave properly in it... most notably Microsoft's own websites) and tried it as the dominant browser for nearly two months. I've now pretty much reverted back to Chrome. It's smoother, faster and has a better overall interface. The only thing that Chrome could improve on is that it doesn't play particularly well with higher resolution screens with interface elements that do not scale. Not that Edge does that well either, for that matter since it has interface elements that scale too much (they're too big).
  • Two updates are better.
  • Two is good, as long as they improve the stability. There are a lot of small issues that have been around for long periods that are just not getting addressed...
  • This is what irks me with W10 compared to Win8/8.1. Even though those versions weren't as extensible, what they did worked more reliably than W10. They need to focus more on gfx optimizations, acrylic is a power suck in a way that Aero Glass wasn't back on Win7.
  • Agreed...
  • yeah although the optimizations will probably come after they finish with the Fluent Design Language in 2019.
  • Aero was hardcore on Vista back in 2006 and 2007 if you didn't have the latest generation of GPUs. Of course Aero in W7 seemed "light" in resources given the GPUs from 2009 to 2012. Fluent Design isn't that intensive really. Performance is only not 100% smooth and perfect with Intel HD 620 class GPUs at resolutions higher than 1080p. Everything else powers through Fluent Design easily
  • And then it became negligible with modern hardware. Why is this effect so much more processor intensive? Why are XAML menus drawing with more hiccups than they did back on Win8, read: Start Menu, whether full screen or not. W10 is very poorly optimized when it comes to UI actions and rending.
  • Two is good.  But we need more bug fixes.  Edge in FCU is less crashy than in CU.  We need it backported NOW!
  • It's normal Edge gets faster and more stable with each new build. But Edge isn't even at v16 in current RS3 builds. So you may want to wait.
  • I just want the bug fixes.  Sometimes it fails to restore the tabs and looses them.  Highly annoying and should be fixed immediatly.
  • As a Windows Mobile user, one significant update a year instead of two totally insignificant 'updates' a year would be most welcome. Heck, one significant update every two years would be a massive improvement.
  • That is about what you got WM6->WP7->WP8->W10M->? Is about a two year cycle.
  • [Erased - broken post due to posting on the train.]
  • WP does not equal WM. They are different operating systems. Even if you think otherwise, WP8 was certainly not a two year cycle and WM10 was a downgrade which, whilst significant, is not quite what I meant.
  • One significant update every two years would be a massive improvement? I'd say RS2+ vs TH2 is a massive improvement in design, features, stability, performance and the fewer number of bugs.
  • I'd say WM10 still hasn't got back all the features that WP8 has. We still haven't got back to where we were. Certainly, since WM 10 came out as a release version on the L930 I have seen almost no new features at all. Just trying to fix the mess (sort of...). I grabbed an L950XL so I could go back to WP8 on the L930 and get all the features (Dolby Surround, 5.1 audio recording etc.). I still haven't seen any significant update for WM10. WP8, now that got proper updates, with actual new things. Never seen much evidence of that kind of update on WM10 unfortunately.
  • True. I'm also missing just the stability of Windows 8 Mobile, SMS relative maturity. Microsoft had developers a game viable competitor but they were too late to compete and make a profit doing it.
  • Even if the updates were annual, there would still be things planned for an update that fall behind schedule or get cut completely.  With updates twice a year, when things that get cut, at least they would then hopefully be included in the next update 6 months later.  With annual updates, we would have to wait 12 months.
  • Two updates, most definitely. They have a lot of work to do to bring consistency to Windows' UI and UX and evolve UWP to have feature parity with Win32 and Android/iOS's apps, they most definitely can't wait until 2019/2020 before all this finally reach their users.
  • One. Maybe then they wouldl have the resources to cleanup their code and fix stuff like cut and paste.
  • Two seems spot on to me
  • The thing is, for many PCs it is not "out of service for 15 minutes".  It can be a much longer outage on slower PCs.  And by slower, that can be CPU as well as not having a HDD.  The combination of both on an older PC can mean a 90 minute outage.  Very frustrating.  Hopefully Microsoft monitor the telemetry of such times and can improve this through less upgrades or refined upgrade process.
  • I'm an Insider on the fast ring on a slow computer, so I know all about those long waits (often weekly). I don't think asking users to do it twice a year is a big deal.
  • Indeed, we insiders are used to many updates, but two major updates a year is not too much. Just make sure that users get enough new features. The most important things right now are the new design language for visual part and the CShell for the new mobile devices. You could add AR/MR for consumers because otherwise Apple will grab that market as well
  • They improved the upgrade process dramatically though. What more do you want?
  • It's really sad that people can't live without a computer for 90 minutes. Why can't people just leave the computer on and go to bed? You know wake up in the morning and the update is done?
  • The one point about people hating change is a good one. By rolling out features more gradually, it's easier for those people to accept them. The only six month wait (in most cases) for delayed features is another good reason to stay on the current schedule.
  • Agreed 100%
  • The one thing I don't like of the way MS is doing things is that they release buggy features and fix them later.  I wouldn't mind less features but fully functional ones and very stable.
  • One. Let the polish it till the ends.
  • I'm fine with it got to get windows fluent design out faster
  • Two a year is great. This 27 year old problem of change is bad (Only for Windows) needs to change. The very same people have no problems with any other OS OR the updates after a new PC purchase so they need to get with the times..
  • Two updates would be better, assuming they were really meaningful and not just fluff.  They need to release some important features and updates.  If they wait a year, a large number will be obsolete before even being released.
  • Two a year is just perfect.
  • I switched back to Android because windows 10 mobile is dead now
  • It's not dead yet. RS2 is working just fine and RS2+ seems to be a bug fix update. Which in all honesty it needs it.
  • This article has nothing to do with Windows 10 Mobile.
  • I'd prefer two a year. It's the last version of Windows. I wish they would release Windows 11 or 12 or 10.1 or whatever other inconsistent name they come up with. In 2025, Windows will die and nobody knows what will happen in the future.
  • Yes, I agree but I am in the 2-3 range if needed. Because of the variance of hardware from the many OEMs it's just not equatable. Every six months is good and keeps things fresh. The downside is however Microsoft like's to cut features and basic functions that make a whole lot of sense like placeholders though it's suppose to reappear in the next update but why cut it in the first place and I want drag and drop added back to the photos app I mean why take such a handy function out. Two updates is very good and is needed with the addition of AR/VR, Cortana, AI, the new addition coming is Windows on Arms so there is far more happening than in the past and at lease two updates a year is appropriate to keep things moving forward.
  • This is always such a stupid argument to me... Why do people even care? EVERYBODY sleeps. Press install, go to bed... Or go eat... Or, dare I say, go play outside. If you can't be bothered from your device for 15 minutes, your priorities in life are skewed.
  • You think this is a problem/concern? I don't think this is largely about the time it takes to install updates, though MS could still do a better job of respecting people's schedules.  I think this is about two things. 1) does MS have the resources to do two 'major' releases a year and do them well, and 2) are people OK with 'major' changes twice a year.  On the first point, I'm not sure they have the resources. If one release per year was substantial, and the second were targetted more at polishing the capabilities, we might see less bugs, and fewer feature delays. Still going to be monthly minor updates of course, but those would be for things that are broken.  On the second point, I love new stuff, but enterprises don't love training people on new stuff. Stuff like Files-on-Demand in OneDrive can be very disruptive in a business environment where normal people need hand holding to not be confused by the new way. That costs time and money. Note we are talking about the OS here. The apps, even the in-built ones, are a different discussion. How often should Groove, Mail, File Explorer,  get updates? That should at least be de-coupled from the OS, unless of course, OS changes are required to support new funtionality in the apps.  But then those new app features should wait untill the OS updates occur on a natural schedule.
  • I don't have a super strong feeling one way or the other on this. If it's two a year, if it's one a year, I think I'm okay either way. There have been some really logical, practical, compelling reasons why going to once a year might be a much smarter idea for MS. And so, again, if they do that, I'm fine with it. However, I personally get excited around update time, as the new update makes the device feel like a new device for a little while. It's almost like a mini party for me, a micro-holiday :-) So for that completely personal and selfish reason, I think I like the twice a year cycle better. The only real "practical" benefit I can see in the twice a year scheme is that it sets MS apart from the crowd. Apple and Google gets updated in the fall. Well, MS will too, but they might also get updated in the spring. And this might be even more potentially disruptive if they do the big/little tick tock the article mentions, but make their big one be in the spring! But again, I can live pretty happily with either one. Cheers!
  • It can be argued that the two we are currently getting are not "major" updates. I like the two update schedule. It's new to them and it will take some time for them to get a "better" grip on what can actually be included vs not. I've been in the software industry for a long time. It's normal for features to get pushed out of a release due to things that some up during the cycle, mostly schedule. The things that's mostly new is how must the public gets to be involved in and witness to those things along the way.
  • Two minimum. I'm glad that they're not following the competition.
  • I couldn't really name a major change to windows 10 since it launched from any of the previous updates. I have a feeling the upcoming update will be much the same. At one point I think they moved some settings around & there was a 3D paint app that launched... I'm sure there are plenty of under the hood fixes & improvements, but in daily use of the OS it's still the same functionality and experience to me.
  • Updates should be as and when required, if that means 2 or more in a year it doesn't matter.
  • Frankly, I'd prefer they finish modularizing Windows 10 completely and then just update one module at a time as they're finished instead of doing a bunch at once.    This month, new start menu updates. Next month, All new settings interface and options. After that, Edge Extensions are drastically improved. etc etc.    
  • Presently mobile need 3 update in year
  • Two is better than one becasue it forces a more rapid cycle time. This may be inefficient at first as they get used to it and change their processes, but if you work with anyone doing good Agile development or following Scrum (I actually don't think MS uses Scrum), they'll tell you that things like this make the sprints more focused and the teams faster. Also, the release becomes just a bottling of the current state of the code, with new feature development being a constant. Good for MS for going to a 2/year cadence.
  • Microsoft defininitely does Agile and has scrums, and have documented it. They also have an entire platform that they use built on the process: Team Foundation Server (TFS). Release cycles are independent of an iteration cycle.
  • @wpguy, thanks for the info! Note that having "scrums" as part of Agile is different from being a Scrum organization, where management is handled through Scrum of Scrums. By Microsoft's presentations, they don't appear to work this way, at least not across the whole company (maybe some teams do). In Scrum, releases are not tied to the iteration cycle, but they are related -- a release will be based on the current state of the code at the time of release (which itself may have been forked slightly for polish for release). The release cycle must be greater than or equal to the sprint duration. This is because the code base is only updated once per sprint, so in an extreme case with a 2-year sprint (not uncommon for hardware companies just starting on Scrum), then the release cycle can only be once every two years at best. In software, Sprints of 1 week are pretty common, so hopefully that's what MS is doing. But still a good thing to have dual annual releases to maintain a focus on rapid updates. Unless there is general customer anger over the release schedule (which is possible, and that would be a valid reason to space them more), I don't think it's even debatable -- 2 releases per year are better than 1 for feature development and OS stability. Faster is better.