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The difference between Windows 10 'feature updates' and 'quality updates'

Feature Updates Vs Quality Updates Windows
Feature Updates Vs Quality Updates Windows (Image credit: Windows Central)

Starting with Windows 10, Microsoft introduced a new servicing model known as "Windows as a Service" (WaaS), which means that instead of getting a new version around every three years, you now receive incremental updates that speed up the integration of new features and simplify the process of keeping devices secure and supported.

As a result of this new servicing model, you now have two types of updates: "feature updates" and "quality updates." Both are equally important, but each one delivers a different set of improvements at different times.

In this Windows 10 guide, we look at the most important difference between a feature and quality update to get a better understanding of the updates you install on your device.

What are Windows 10 feature updates?

On Windows 10, features updates are technically new versions of the OS, which are available twice a year, during spring and fall time frame. They are also known as "semi-annual" releases, and they're supported for 18 months. After the support cycle ends, you must upgrade to a supported version to continue getting security and non-security patches.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

As part of the development process, Microsoft uses telemetry data and feedback from internal testing and participants of the Windows Insider Program to prepare the new version. Once the update passes the testing phases and proves to be reliable, the rollout begins to consumers and then to business customers through Windows Update as an optional update, which users have to install manually. However, devices with an installation nearing the end of service will receive the feature update automatically to maintain the system secure and supported.

These updates typically include new features, visual improvements, and significant enhancements to improve the overall experience and security. But unlike the previous servicing model (such as the one for Windows Vista and Windows 7), feature updates include a smaller list of changes, which help reduce compatibility issues and minimize the learning curve for users.

Also, feature updates are bigger in size than quality updates. The download size can be close to 3GB for the 64-bit or 2GB for the 32-bit version when using Windows Update. Or close to 4.9GB for the 64-bit version, or 3.5GB for the 32-bit version when using an installation media like the Media Creation Tool or Update Assistant.

If you use Windows Update, the system can download only the files necessary for the upgrade depending on your current configuration, making the download package up to 35 percent smaller.

When installing a feature update, you're actually installing a new version. Therefore a complete reinstallation of Windows 10 is required. This also means it'll take longer to apply, and you're more likely to run into problems than when installing a quality update.

The only exception is when Microsoft releases small incremental feature updates (such as the November 2019 Update) that rollout as cumulative updates that don't require complete reinstallation. (You can think of these updates like service packs for the previous version of Windows 10.)

Although it's not required, it's always recommended to create a full backup or at least a backup of your files before installing a feature update.

Feature updates for Windows 10 are optional, and they shouldn't install automatically as long as the version on your device is still supported. However, if you're running the professional version of Windows 10, you can defer feature updates up to 12 months after their original release date.

What are Windows 10 quality updates?

Quality updates (also are referred to as "cumulative updates" or "cumulative quality updates") are the mandatory updates that your computer downloads and installs automatically every month through Windows Update. Usually, every second Tuesday of every month ("Patch Tuesday").

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

In Windows Update, quality updates can also appear as "Cumulative update," "Security update," or "Update for Windows 10." You can always view the updates installed on your device in Settings > Windows Update, and by then clicking the View update history option.

Unlike feature updates, these types of updates do not include new features, visual changes, or significant improvements. Instead, they are maintenance updates meant to fix bugs, errors, patch security vulnerabilities, and improve reliability with the current version of Windows 10.

On Windows 10, there are four types of quality updates, including "B," "C," "D," and "out-of-band."

The "B" rollout happens on schedule every Patch Tuesday, and it contains the most important patches that devices need during a specific month. Also, this is the only regular release that Microsoft uses to ship fixes to patch security vulnerabilities.

The "C" release happens the third week of the month, and the "D" release outs during the fourth week of the month. Unlike the "B" rollout, the "C" and "D" updates contain a preview of the maintenance bits that the company plans to ship the following month during Patch Tuesday, and they don't include security updates.

Then there are the "out-of-band" updates, which can include one or multiple vulnerability fixes that can't wait until the next officially monthly release schedule.

Typically, quality updates increase in size each month, as their nature of being cumulative means that each update includes the changes available in the previous updates. As a result, this cumulative approach reduces the number of problems and updates that you need to download on your device.

Quality updates download and install faster than feature updates because they're smaller packages, and they don't require a complete reinstallation, which also means that it's not necessary to create a backup before installing them. However, it's always a good idea to have a current backup of your data as errors and hardware failure can happen at any time.

Whether you're running Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Home, you can delay quality updates up to 35 days. The only caveat is that you can only pause these updates once, and when updates resume, your computer must install the latest quality update before you can use the option again.

Wrapping things up

Using the "Windows as a Service" model with feature and quality updates is the Microsoft approach to ensure that devices stay secure and current with the latest features and security updates while maintaining consistency and reliability.

At least, that's true in theory, as we have already seen the software company struggling to keep up with code quality control multiple times. For example, after the Windows 10 October 2018 Update had to be pulled out due to data-loss.

Although the May 2020 Update initially launched at the end of May, only a small number of devices were able to get it. The reason being that the feature update released with more than a dozen issues that forced Microsoft to place temporary compatibility blocks on many software and hardware configurations, including its Surface devices, such as Surface Pro 7 and Surface Laptop 3.

Also, we see problems with quality updates quite often, such as the update KB4556799, which shortly after the release users started reporting issues like file deletion bug seen in previous updates, audio problems, and Blue Screen of Death.

If you want to learn more technical details about updates, you can check this Microsoft support article.

Mauro Huculak is technical writer for WindowsCentral.com. His primary focus is to write comprehensive how-tos to help users get the most out of Windows 10 and its many related technologies. He has an IT background with professional certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA, and he's a recognized member of the Microsoft MVP community.

10 Comments
  • Couldn't Microsoft spend a year or two on quality? We have more than enough features, many of which I have zero use for. I have had very few issues with Windows 10, the few I have had were very minor. But with so much integration of features Microsoft seems to be screwing up the plumbing, which is causing quality problems. With 1809 they seemed to have reached a breaking point.
  • But you also want them to innovate and develop WCOS, right :)?
    I think the issue is that all the legacy parts of Windows is rearing its ugly head as MS works on 'the plumbing' as you call it. The result of that is all this instability. The good thing though is that this can be patched within 2-3 months on the live ring. Personally I also find it annoying, but I think its the price we have to pay, if we want Windows to be more relevant in the future - and I imagine that once WCOS is out - Everything will be so much better. I believe it will be faster to debug, patch and innovate on, because everything is build in layers, blocks or other structured sense, that does not entangle like wet hair across all the features as is currently the case with this iteration of Windows 10. So while yes, MS could go back and just focus on a 2-3 years release cycle, that would render them dead in the eyes of the tech world - So that is what *I* think the reason behind all this :) I also highly disagree on that we have enough features. Timeline and Cloud clipboard are two features I would not have wanted to wait another year for O_o! They really up the productivity on a device :)
    But the beauty of Windows is that you can upgrade to Pro and change your personal release cycle to 6 month I believe, that way you would get a more stable Windows and still get the benefit of changes without paying in stability :)
  • That is very good explanation. :)
    But I also agree with W Pontius. Windows 10 is used as a productivity tool by millions and should not be buggy or unstable. A product like this needs to be well made and not making users angry. :)
  • Thank you :) Yeah, I see what you mean and I think Microsoft understands that and is trying to execute on that principle with the release of 19H1. Or maybe they'll disappoint and be just as buggy as ever on a new release. Still, for most devices it is patched within 2-3 months to the point where no one complains of being ignored, I think 🙂
    But I would argue that if you use it to be productive, the trend is that you have Pro for that, which allows you that focus on stability because you can defer feature updates :) I imagine that once WCOS is out, Windows 10 will increasingly go into maintenance mode and be tailored for Enterprise use-cases and the pro user, because WCOS will handle the consumer side of things. Anyway, that's my guess. We'll see how it plays out 😄
  • That's exactly what 19H1 update is.
    Just because you don't have a use for it now doesn't mean you won't later.
    Lots of great things I added that slip under The radar Cloud clipboard for one.
  • People love to bring up 1809 Microsoft took ownership of the mistake that were made and corrected it.
    With 1903 feature updates do not have to be installed until the current version you're on reaches end of life.
    Which gives users flexibility wait 3 months 6 months no longer to install the next version.
  • All well and good except for the time all of the updates take to download. The obvious question to ask is when Nadella will change it or drop it completely, just as he has with almost everything not Azure.
  • As y'alls Dan has pointed out on several occasions: Nadella has yet to cancel something from his era of being a CEO, decisions and products *he* greenlit have not been canceled. Oh and... If you're a Microsoft-user, everything is Azure these days, whether you know it or not 😌
  • How long it takes to download is really depend on you Internet speed.
    Downloading and preparing takes about an hour for me.
    Then about another 30 minutes for the install on my HDD 🤓
  • I just hope, if we all remember the time when an OS during installation used to give option - what feature and app you want to install and what to not. That was time of bliss. No useless software (nowadays APPS..), no unwanted files in OS. Lesser size, quick installation and no sir - no updates for all the things which I will never use. Where the concept of customized installation got lost? Who knows? Now, all is installed as they want and trust me I can't even be sure when that tile declares "Uninstalled" - is it really gone? Because something like One Drive will show everywhere even if its uninstalled. Sad!