Microsoft Begins Testing Windows Feature Experience Packs

Posted on December 1, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 12 Comments

Because of the great success it’s had delivering two Windows 10 feature updates each year, Microsoft is testing a way to deliver even more new features.

OK, I’m kidding. But this new plan may actually address the very real and constant problems that Microsoft has had delivering even just one Windows 10 feature update each year: It is separating new features out into a recycled idea called Windows Experience Packs that can be delivered outside of the Windows 10 release cycle. (Many probably forget that Microsoft briefly offered Feature Packs in addition to Service Packs a couple of decades ago.)

“We are testing a new process for delivering new feature improvements to our customers outside of major Windows 10 feature updates,” a Microsoft blog post explains. “Through the Windows Feature Experience Pack, we can improve certain features and experiences that are now developed independently of the OS.”

With this change, Microsoft will now have four major ways in which it delivers updates to your computer: There are feature updates, which are really major version upgrades. Quality updates, which are cumulative updates consisting of bug and security fixes. App updates through the Microsoft Store. And now Windows Experience Packs, which bring the updating advantages of Store-based apps to features that would normally be delivered as part of Windows 10.

Microsoft says that “only a limited number of features are being developed this way” right now, though that could change if this system is reliable and effective. And, as you should expect, Windows Feature Experience Pack updates will be released for the currently shipping version of Windows 10 when finalized and be delivered through Windows Update, just like feature and quality updates.

As interesting, the firm is testing the first Windows Feature Experience Pack in the Windows Insider Program’s Beta channel, which used to be called the Slow ring and used to be aimed at the next major release of Windows. But lots has changed this past year: The Dev channel (formerly Fast ring) no longer targets any specific Windows version, and with Microsoft apparently plotting yet another new Windows 10 release schedule next year, it looks like the Beta channel is changing too. And that rumors about there not being a major 21H1 release are most likely true.

Microsoft’s not admitting to any of that; the Windows team doesn’t know how to be transparent anymore. But it does not that the first prerelease Windows Feature Experience Pack provides two new features, an improvement to the Screen Snip experience and support for a split virtual keyboard when the PC is used in portrait mode. And that this Feature Experience Pack will specifically target Windows 10 version 20H2, of course.

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Comments (16)

16 responses to “Microsoft Begins Testing Windows Feature Experience Packs”

  1. bart

    Paul, it is not entirely clear to me from the article how you come to the 'conclusion' of no major 21H1 update after referencing the Experience Pack in the Beta channel. Or is this unrelated?

  2. benisaacs

    This sort of sounds like Google Play Services where Google moved more and more bits (or simply added to it) of Android bypassing the carriers and the required updates. It seems to have worked well for Google so maybe Microsoft are thinking it'll work well for them!

  3. glenn8878

    Their experience packs are barely there. Perhaps one or two must have features with a bunch of filler underdeveloped features. What windows needs is a new file explorer, not another wallpaper and screen saver. Update the backup and restore programs. The network in settings needs an overhaul. I can barely figure out how to configure my network on Windows. Printers needs an update. Nothing works easily.

  4. behindmyscreen

    Sounds like they are hoping to create a way to update windows for IT (the standard stuff) without affecting them by any "cool" things they are working on.

  5. bluvg

    Control. On the business side, unless this can be managed simply and easily through tools (Endpoint Manager/SCCM/etc.), no sale.

    On the consumer side (and business side really), clear messaging is also key, but I think this could still cause confusion, unless people can easily just opt-out of Feature Updates (seems like opt-out rather than opt-in would be better for most).

  6. datameister

    Whatever happened to tabbed app instances?

  7. winner

    "...Windows team doesn’t know how to be transparent anymore."

    Were they ever transparent?

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yes. Terry Myerson initially brought a welcome transparency to the Windows team in response to the Sinofsky years. That went away over time, and more so now that he's gone.
  8. jgraebner

    They should have called them Windows 10 Ultimate Extras. :)

  9. dftf

    I do wish they'd just settle on something!

    If you take web-browsers as an example, there are four main releases:

    (1) Stable/current/release branch: the one most home-users/SMB-users should be on

    (2) LTS (long-term support) branch: the one Enterprises may like to consider using

    (3) Beta/unstable branch: for people who test websites, or users advised to update to due to a bug in the stable version

    (4) Alpha/nightly/daily/live: for people who test websites, or assist in the development of the browser itself

    Surely it can't be too-difficult to do something similar for the mainstream (i.e. non-LTSC) editions of Windows 10?

    (1) Stable: the current supported versions of Windows 10 (20H2/2004/1909/1903), updated to the current patch-Tuesday; plus retain the ability to install next months updates in-advance via the "Preview of" system, for testing

    (2) Beta: users run 21H1 builds

    (3) Alpha: users run 21H2 builds

    (4) LTS: Enterprise users run the LTSC editions

    • Paul Thurrott

      My needs/wants are even simpler: I wish Microsoft would simply communicate what it's doing rather than randomly releasing a build to whatever channel that is something different with zero context as to why.
  10. winner

    Another year is approaching, so it is time to reinvent update approaches and names once more.

  11. txag

    So if this is a way of sparing business users the problem of dealing with features they don’t need or want, I circle back to a notion I had a long time ago: Business Windows and Personal (or choose your own word) Windows.

    Business Windows could have stayed with the Windows 7 interface, and it would get maintenance (and perhaps business-friendly additions, if there are any). It would be expensive but predictable and stable. It would be expensive but easy to manage.

    Personal Windows would get all the new 3-D Paint upgrades and new icons, etc. It would get all the features that might be of interest to consumers.

    Maybe the risk is that nobody would want Personal Windows. Which might be useful information for Microsoft.

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