Microsoft has been vaguely promising to improve the ways in which it delivers updates to Windows 10. But this week, it’s getting a lot more specific. The technology is called the Unified Update Platform (UUP). And it promises to dramatically reduce the size of the updates—major or minor—that Microsoft delivers to Windows 10 going forward.
The issue here is two-fold.
First is a complaint I’ve made many times in the past: Major Windows 10 upgrades, like the Fall Update, the Anniversary Update, and the coming Creators Update, are delivered like major Windows OS upgrades. And that means they’re both humongous—resulting in lengthy downloads and installs—and potentially dangerous, because even with Windows 10 an in-place upgrade can be unreliable.
But the second issue is one I’ve not really discussed much. And that concerns the cumulative updates that appear between each major Windows 10 upgrades. Cumulative updates are good because they are cumulative. That is, if you get a new Windows 10 PC between whatever major releases, you only need to install the most recent updates. But they’re problematic, too, and for the same reason: Each cumulative update gets bigger and bigger, since they include everything that came before as well.
With the Unified Update Platform, Microsoft is hoping to solve both of these problems, or at least minimize them as much as possible. That is, both major OS upgrades and relatively minor cumulative updates will now be differential downloads, meaning that they will be tailored for your PC and will only include the bits that have changed, instead of delivering an entire monolithic download.
Differential downloads are not new. I recall Microsoft talking this technology up for its Branch Cache feature in Windows Server 2003, where expensive, low-quality and low-speed WAN connections between a home office and branch offices made delivering updates a nightmare for many businesses. Why this technology hasn’t shown up in the Windows client before now is a mystery. But at least it’s finally happening.
The question is how much of an impact this will have on download sizes. Microsoft claims that the download size of major upgrades—remember, things like the Fall Update, the Anniversary Update, and the coming Creators Update that are really major new Windows versions—will see a download reduction of about 35 percent. So perhaps a change from 4 GB to 3 GB (ish), which is significant.
It’s not clear how this will impact cumulative updates, however. But Microsoft says that a related change to how PCs check for updates will help, too: It is reducing the amount of data it sends about updates to PCs, and the amount of processing that the PC has to do before the download commences. This change is happening with Windows 10 Mobile as well, and with other Windows 10 variants, and will have an even bigger impact on non-PC devices.
On that note, the Unified Update Platform will be rolled out in stages, starting with today’s Insider build of Windows 10 Mobile. UUP will come to Windows Insider builds for PCs before the end of the year, and then will move to IoT and HoloLens as well.
This is a welcome and overdue change. But I’m curious to see how it works in the real world.