Starting with Windows 10, Microsoft introduced a new servicing model known as "Windows as a Service" (WaaS), which simply means that instead of getting a new version every three years, you get incremental updates that speed up the integration of new features and simplify the process of keeping devices current in a fast-paced digital world.

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

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

What are Windows 10 feature updates?

Feature updates are technically new versions of Windows 10, which become available twice a year (roughly every six months) during spring and fall. These are also known as "semi-annual" releases.

During the development of a new major update, Microsoft uses telemetry data and feedback from internal testing as well as from participants of the Windows Insider Program to prepare the new version. Once the update has proven to be reliable, the rollout begins to consumers and then to business customers through Windows Update or as a manual install.

Typically, these updates include new features, visual improvements, and significant changes to improve the overall experience and security. However, unlike the previous servicing model (for example, Windows Vista and Windows 7), feature updates include a smaller list of changes, which help to reduce app-compatibility issues and reduce the learning curve for users.

In addition, 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. Or even close to 4GB for the 64-bit version or 3GB for the 32-bit version when using an installation media.

However, starting with the Fall Creators Update, Windows 10 uses a new update mechanism that only downloads the files that have changed, making the download package around 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.

Although it's not required, we recommend creating a full backup or at least making a backup of your files before installing a feature update.

If you're running the professional version of Windows 10, you can defer feature updates up to 18 months after their original release date, or up to 30 months, starting with the October 2018 Update, if you're using Windows 10 Enterprise or Education editions.

While you can prevent your computer from installing these updates, at the end of the support cycle, you must upgrade to a supported version to continue getting security and non-security patches.

What are Windows 10 quality updates?

Quality updates (also called "cumulative updates" or "cumulative quality updates") are the mandatory updates that your device downloads and installs automatically every month through Windows Update, usually every second Tuesday of every month (also known as "Patch Tuesday"). However, from time to time, you'll see quality updates released outside of the monthly schedule.

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

Unlike feature updates, these type 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.

They also 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 the number of 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 of the OS, which also means that it's not necessary to create a backup before installing them. Though, 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. However, you can only pause these updates once, and when updates resume, your computer must install the latest quality update before you can use this feature again.

Wrapping things up

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

That's in theory, at least, as we have already seen that Microsoft has been struggling to keep up with code quality control. For example, after releasing the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, the company was forced to pull the feature update odue to data-loss and other issues. Also, recently the company had to issue an fix for a quality update that was causing Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) errors on certain HP devices.

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

More Windows 10 resources

For more helpful articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10, visit the following resources:

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