Windows 10 Service Branches determine when and how your computer gets updated
Anyone who uses Microsoft Windows on a regular basis has noticed that there are periodic updates and patches that Windows installs to keep itself up to date, fix security issues and install new features. If not then you must have at least noticed how Windows wants to reboot itself at least once a month or does it on its own!
With Windows 10 supposedly being the last desktop version of Windows, Microsoft has changed the way that updates are applied to computers and the version of Windows 10 that you are running will determine what updates your computer receives. There are 3 main versions of Windows 10 used on computers and they are Windows 10 Home, Pro and Enterprise and each one has their own purpose and unique features. Of course there are other less commonly used versions like Mobile and Education.
With these unique versions of Windows 10 comes a unique version of determining which versions get which patches and upgrades and these are called Service Branches. There are currently 3 levels of Service Branches and they are the Current Branch (CB), Current Branch for Business (CBB) and Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB). Technically you may be able to count the Windows Insider Program as a fourth but for our discussion we will leave that out. So far it appears that Windows Server 2016 will only have Current Branch for Business (CBB) and Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) options.
These Service Branches determine what kind of updates your computer will receive and also the frequency of these updates. It also determines how much control you will have over the update process and how long you can delay installing updates.
The Current Branch (or CB) is what most of us are used to already on our home computers and personal devices where you get your patches and updates from “Patch Tuesday” for things like security fixes, .NET updates, driver updates and so on. These updates come out as soon as they are published by Microsoft and allow your devices to get these updates as soon as possible. It also includes updates for things like Windows Defender and other software that are more suited for continuous updates. Then you have your larger “build”type updates that happen about every 4 months. An example of one of these updates you may have heard of is the Creators Update. Current Branch updates can apply to Windows 10 Home, Pro, Education and Enterprise depending on how you are using them.
Next we have the Current Branch for Business (or CBB) which is an enterprise deployment option for Windows 10 and is something you would use in a corporate setting. Any new features will be released to Windows Insiders for testing before being applied to CBB computers and other devices. You are given several months to test out these updates and features so you can plan your deployment once you know everything will work out. Then you have the choice of rolling out these updates using Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) or the standard Windows Update method. And updates can be postponed up to a year with 4 months being the default. It also offers you more control over maintenance windows and deciding what devices get what updates. Current Branch for Business updates can apply to Windows 10 Home, Pro, Education and Enterprise just like they do for CB.
Finally we have the Long-Term Servicing Branch (or LTSB) which offers much more flexibility for corporations to decide on what updates and patches get installed when. LSTB allows you to use WSUS to deploy your updates and leaves you in control of the process. It’s used for systems that are mission critical where you don’t want to have regular updates and patches applied automatically or at all. It will install security patches but not feature updates because when using this method you are looking for long term stability rather than getting the newest version of Windows ink for example. It should only be used in rare cases on systems that might be sensitive to changes. One downside is that users in this branch won’t be able to use the Microsoft Edge browser, Windows Store, Cortana and other apps because they require updating on a regular basis. With LSTB you can move users between CB, CBB and LSTB branches if needed but is the most expensive option. LSTB is only available with the Enterprise Edition of Window 10 and must be installed from the LTSB installation media and Microsoft will release a new LSTB version ever 2-3 years and you must upgrade from the new LSTB media.