Risks and Considerations for Win10 LTSC over Win10 Current Channel

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It’s no secret that with the introduction of Windows 10 that Microsoft has moved into the direction of releasing new feature updates twice per year, which is commonly referred to as Windows as a Service.  An organization could be faced with challenges around the frequency, size, and the new administrative cadence of feature updates to Windows (even though Microsoft has done and is doing great work to address these challenges).

In light of these challenges, it can be tempting for an organization to try to “standardize” on version of Windows 10 that is supported for 10 years.  This version is called the Long Term Servicing Branch Channel, or LTSC for short, and is designed for “Specialized systems—such as PCs that control medical equipment, point-of-sale systems, and ATMs—often require a longer servicing option because of their purpose. These devices typically perform a single important task and don’t need feature updates as frequently as other devices in the organization.”  (Side note that the nomenclature usage of the word “Branch” was recently dropped

While it may sound great that there is a version of Windows 10 which is supported for 10 years, there are many considerations and risks with trying to use it across the board.  This posting is an attempt to pull together and consolidate disparate references to help highlight, educate, and inform on Win10 LTSC for general production use.  Even Gartner says Rethink Windows 10 LTSB Deployment Based on Microsoft’s Updated Guidance.

Consideration #1

General guidelines state that devices that fulfill the following criteria are considered general-purpose devices and should be paired with Windows 10 using the Current Channel servicing option:

  • Devices that run productivity software such as Microsoft Office
  • Devices that use Windows Store applications
  • Devices that are used for general Internet browsing
    (for example, research or access to social media)

Reference: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/deployment/update/waas-overview#long-term-servicing-channel

Consideration #2

Support for the latest processor / chipsets:

  • LTSC will support the currently released silicon at the time of release of the LTSC version
  • As future silicon is released, support will be created through future LTSC releases that customers can deploy for those systems
  • This enables Microsoft to focus on deep integration between Windows and the silicon, while maintaining maximum reliability and compatibility with previous generations of platform and silicon

Implications:

  • Multiple LTSC versions would be required to be used and managed within the organization for the life of the hardware
  • Hope you’re ready to buy hundreds or thousands of computers with supported chipsets to just keep on hand

Consideration #3

LTSC, being that it’s code base and features are set “in stone” for 10 years and will not be modified, then it will be unable to keep up with current security capabilities and needs.  Case in point, the LTSB 2015 and 2016 releases do not have support for the following, only the current channels of Win10.  This would further widen the security gap of an organization until they are added into a future LTSC release (which is only every few years).

Consideration #4

Windows Analytics provides data-driven insights that reduce the cost of deploying, servicing, and supporting Windows 10.  It gives an organization actionable information to help gain deep insights into operational efficiency and the health of Windows 10 devices in the environment. But Windows 10 LTSC is not supported for Upgrade Readiness.  The three tools include:

  • Upgrade Readiness provides powerful insights and recommendations about the computers, applications, and drivers in your organization, at no extra cost and without additional infrastructure requirements.
  • Update Compliance provides a unified view of Windows Update and Windows Defender Antivirus compliance for Windows 10 devices, regardless of the management solution being used. It allows organizations to keep their devices secure and up-to-date, track protection and threat status, and monitor update deployments and troubleshoot issues as they arise.
  • Device Health provides proactive insights to help detect and remediate end-user impacting issues. This new service uses telemetry data to provide such insights without additional infrastructure requirements. Proactively remediating end-user issues enables you to reduce support costs and improve efficiency.

Consideration #5

Examples of functionality missing that was included in the Windows 10 Creators Update (1703) in April 2017 include the following.  For each and every release of Windows 10, this list would grow.

Consideration #6

Various other limitations

  1. Fewer non-security and reliability fixes
  2. Visual Studio is not supported on LTSC
  3. Office ProPlus (traditional MSI) is highly recommended, and not using Office 365 ProPlus (aka click-to-run) on LTSC
  4. In-place upgrade of Win7 to LTSC is not supported – a full reimage, backup/restore of data and applications, just like the old days
  5. Depending upon IHV and ISV, there may be support and limitations on LTSC
  6. Doesn’t contain in-box apps, such as Store, Calculator, Photos, Camera, Music, Clock, and Edge – and yes, Edge is also a more secure browser

Consideration #7

Core Surface device experiences are impacted.

  • Windows Feature Updates, including enhancements such as:
    • Improvements to Direct Ink and palm rejection provided in Windows 10 1607
    • Improved support for high DPI applications provided in Windows 10 1703
  • Pressure sensitivity settings provided by the Surface app
  • The Windows Ink Workspace
  • Key touch-optimized in-box applications including Microsoft Edge, OneNote, Calendar, and Camera
  • Driver and firmware updates are not explicitly tested against releases of Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC
  • If you encounter problems, Microsoft Support will provide troubleshooting assistance. However, due to the servicing nature of the Windows LTSC, issue resolution may require that devices be upgraded to a more recent version of Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC, or to Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise with the Current Channel servicing option.

Summary

In summary, in this blog post I have tried to outline evidence to support you in your decision making process for choosing Windows 10 Current Channel over LTSC.  I hope that it leads to the proper choice for you!  Points covered were

  1. Guidelines of what is a general use device vs. a specialized device
  2. Support for the latest processor / chipsets
  3. Security features that are not present in LTSC
  4. Windows Analytics for data-driven insights, is not supported
  5. Example of missing functionality that was delivered in Windows 10 Creators Update (1703)
  6. Various other limitations and their potential impact
  7. Core Surface device experiences are impacted

Updated 3/21/18 to account for changes in support for the Windows Analytics tools.

 

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7 thoughts on “Risks and Considerations for Win10 LTSC over Win10 Current Channel

    Caleb said:
    January 9, 2018 at 3:22 am

    I am using Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB on my desktop PC and i will keep using it despite what Microsoft claims. Why? Because i hate UWP store apps, Current Channel editions of Windows 10 are full of them, i am only interested in Win32/Win64 API apps, not interested in UWP garbage. With heavy tweaking i made Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB look and feel pretty much like Windows 7 Ultimate.
    I don’t know why do you trust Microsoft so much that you treat their “guidelines” like sacred bible, every poweruser knows that Microsoft’s “advices” are useless.

      N. Moseley responded:
      January 9, 2018 at 8:14 am

      Thanks Caleb for the response, you have an interesting viewpoint, which is different from the circles that I run in. The information I post is for IT professionals who in a place of doing research to make decisions for their business. This article specifically is just a summary of facts outlined by Microsoft…so in that regard it is “truth”. I’m sorry that UWP apps are such a dire problem for you and that you feel forced to use LTSB as such. Since LTSB is not designed for consumer use or general-purpose use, if you run into any complications and/or need technical support, be aware that you may be asked to install the “normal” Windows 10.

        Likeitornot said:
        February 2, 2018 at 6:25 am

        With all due respect,”Since LTSB is not designed for consumer use or general-purpose use” is total BS, this is just MS propaganda trying to keep people away from it. Aside from those crappy uwp bloatware installed by MS and all those useless and stupid feature update, ltsb is no different from normal windows version and is perfect for daily use.

    Henri Koskinen said:
    January 15, 2018 at 1:45 am

    I am running ICT on a big organisation and for us it just impossible to update/upgrade Windows 10 twice a year. We have thousands of computers and hundreds of applications. Every time we make an upgrade, we need to test all those applications. Our network and support would die if we were to install 3,5 GB to all those 4000+ PCs. LTSC is really the only option to run Windows for us and keep the XP/7 kind of stability and status quo available. Business don’t need Edge or Microsoft Store. It just needs a stable platform where Win32 apps can be launched from. Changing the environment constantly (as Msoft is now doing), is not what business wants.

    Patrick said:
    May 16, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    Browsing Spiceworks, followed a link to your LTSC vs Current Branch and then subscribed. Why? Very informative and very detailed!

    Just took a peek at the news summary post and holy news bits!! I have so much info to cover and read up but awesome it is compiled nicely.

      N. Moseley responded:
      May 16, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      Thank you! I really appreciate your comments and the usefulness this info is for you!

    C Leitzinger said:
    June 5, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    The UWPs can be uninstalled. Maybe some businesses do not need Edge, but there are testing platforms we use at our school that run best on IE and Edge. Suggesting not to use Office 365 on LTSC could hurt in the future. The security considerations are important as well. Maybe current branch does not work for all businesses, but it should be a consideration and not just written off immediately. You are not required to install 2 feature updates a year, maybe only install one, or skip 2 and do it on an 18 month rotation. \
    Thanks for the well written article. Good points to ponder.

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