Oh, the Clarity of Windows 10 Versioning

Oh, the Clarity of Windows 10 Versioning

I’m trying to be supportive as I watch Microsoft stumble into its self-prescribed, rapid-release future. But is there really a strategy here? Or is this just Microsoft making it up as it goes along?

There’s a lot to complain about, but for now let’s just focus on version numbers. If you’ve been following along over the years, you know this has never been Microsoft’s strong point—Windows 3.1 was a major release, Windows 95 replaced Windows 4.0, and we’re all still trying to forget Windows Vista, to name just a few examples—but with Windows 10, Microsoft has really raised the absurdity to a new level.

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Windows 10, we’re told, is the end of the road. So we’re not going to see a Windows 11, apparently, nor a Windows Yogurt, or whatever stupidity that year might otherwise call for. Windows 10 is it.

Except that Windows 10 is not it. Windows 10, will of course, be updated. Again and again, Microsoft says, and so far that has proven to be the case. By my count, Windows 10 has received about 1171 updates since July, and some of them haven’t even caused Blue Screens. So they’re doing something right.

Well, they’re doing something. “Right” is in the eye of the beholder.

The initial shipping version of Windows 10—and, please remember, it never RTMed, so what else could we call it?—was version 10.0. Which is hilarious, since the version number of its predecessor, Windows 8.1 (also a major release) was of course 6.3.

This initial shipping version of Windows 10 can also be identified by a build number, 10240. Where the 10 stands for 10 and the 240 stands for absolutely nothing. Actually, the 10 doesn’t stand for 10 either: That’s just the 10,240th time Microsoft has built Windows. Except, of course, that it isn’t. So let’s not look too deeply into that side topic, please.

Anyway. Windows 10 ships in July in a very uneven and incomplete state, and Microsoft starts updating it. Of course, Microsoft being Microsoft, it can’t just update Windows 10. It has to do so along several disconnected paths, or forks … or flights. Whatever. There are the updates that are applied to the initial shipping version of Windows 10. There are new builds of Windows 10, which are sometimes given to Windows Insiders, unless of course you’re on the Slow ring, in which case you get nothing, at least until months later. And then there are the app updates, which are provided to Insider builds first, and then the initial shipping version of Windows 10 later. Sometimes. But not always.

Eventually, those Insider builds coalesce into Microsoft’s vision for … something. It’s more likely that a certain amount of time went by and some stuff was baked enough to be called finished, and some wasn’t, and the stuff that wasn’t was pulled for some future release. Which could be Redstone. Or maybe just some interim thing. Who knows? We’re playing this by ear.

This finished stuff becomes … The Fall Update. No, sorry, the November Update, because that’s the terrible way Microsoft has named other updates, without any sense of the year in which the update occurred. Perhaps they are banking on some future year not including a November, so it will seem more concise.

The November Update, when combined with the initial shipping version of Windows 10, becomes … well, Windows 10. It is the new baseline. But Microsoft must of course call it something, even though it will continue to insist that it is nothing, it is just Windows 10, just like that version of Windows 10 that did not RTM and is not in fact a “version,” was just Windows 10.

So Microsoft introduces a new versioning scheme, seemingly on the fly. Windows 10 with the November (2015, I can’t stand being that imprecise) update will be hereafter known as Version 1511. Where 15 stands for “2015” and 11 stands for “November.” There are two things I like about this versioning scheme: One, Microsoft is using the preferred European date naming scheme, which places the year first. And two, Microsoft has just agreed with me that November is not precise enough and that this is indeed the November 2015 update. Told you so.

Actually there are three things I like about this scheme. Where the RTM version of Windows 10 (yes, I just wrote RTM, deal with it) was version 10, the most recent version of Windows 10 is 1511. So they just went from version 10 to version 1511. Which is consistent with going from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95, and going from Windows XP to Windows Vista. See? It all makes sense.

And if you think these major version numbers are obtuse, let’s silently pray for the drunken build numbering Microsoft is now using as well.

You may recall that the initial shipping—nee “RTM”–version of Windows 10 was build 10240. Well, Windows 10 version 1511 is build 10586, which suggests that Microsoft delivered 346 full builds of Windows 10 between July 29 and whatever date in November version 1511 was really completed. This is actually impossible, since there are only 365 days in a year, and Microsoft only builds Windows once a day. But let’s not get stuck on that little formality, because the fun is only just beginning.

As it turns out, Microsoft has found a way to slice a build number into sub-versions, meaning that in addition to magically building Windows 10 more than once daily for the past quarter, the firm has also found the means—and, more confusingly, the time—to build Windows 10 without incrementing the (major) build number. So we get such releases as build 10586.04, 10586.11, and now 10586.14.


F@#k you, that’s why.

But seriously … why? Why was a build a day or more good for three full months, but when we hit version 1511 they had to start slicing up the same build number? Why not just keep incrementing the build numbers?

Why ask why, say. Instead, I’ll just be thankful—it is Thanksgiving, after all—that Microsoft is so disorganized, so utterly incapable of making sense, that I have made a decent living trying to explain this company to others. Because heaven knows, it can’t do so itself.

Happy Thanksgiving, Microsoft.

PS: All joking aside. Would you just call it Windows for crying out loud? If you’re not going to update the branding again, the 10 doesn’t make any sense. Actually, not making sense is consistent. Never mind.

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