Microsoft Begins to Implement Update Delivery Changes in Windows 10 Builds for Insiders

Posted on November 3, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows Phones, Windows 10 with 17 Comments

Microsoft Begins to Implement Update Delivery Changes in Windows 10 Builds for Insiders

Image credit: Dona Sarkar

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.


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Comments (17)

17 responses to “Microsoft Begins to Implement Update Delivery Changes in Windows 10 Builds for Insiders”

  1. 285

    While smaller downloads are of course always welcome, I'm ultimately disappointed with this announcement.  Once you break it down, it appears to be nothing more than fancy compression.

    I was hoping for a true change in the feature upgrade experience - moving away from full in-place upgrades of the OS - to something better.  It doesn't sound like this is the case.  Sure, the download will be smaller and faster.  However, once it has downloaded I'm guessing it re-constitutes the file locally to the full OS installer and then still performs an in-place upgrade.

    The in-place upgrade from build to build is the heart of the problem and that doesn't sound like it is changing!

  2. 5234

    I know one thing: Windows 10 on a cellular Internet connection is just a no-go for most users.  In lots of areas where cellular is the only cost-effective option, and bandwidth caps on a lot of providers top out at 10GB at most, with most customers paying less for smaller amounts, new build upgrades just don't work.

  3. 473

    Top notch, the sooner they implement this the better (as long as it's thoroughly tested)!!

  4. 5534

    "... 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 ..."

    In other words, Microsoft will now be scanning computers prior to downloading updates to find out what needs to be updated and what doesn't. Boy, the conspiracy freaks will have a field day with this change. Sounds reasonable to me, though. (Would I be correct in assuming the only part of a computer that would actually be scanned would be the registry, to identify the last update that was installed?)

  5. 5038

    This is nice, but I was hoping we'd hear about an end to the major in-place OS upgrades delivered with full builds, and move toward a future where it can move forward with just incremental patches for all OS updates/upgrades.  We may never have that though; after all iOS and Android haven't solved that either and such a thing should be much easier with those simplistic OS's... 

  6. 5234

    It would be so much better if Windows was just installed and serviced like how Chrome OS is: 2 copies of the OS with user data and settings completely separate.  Differential updates applied to the offline copy.  Hashes confirm that the OS is exactly as it should be when patched.  Everybody's system with the same hardware should have the same OS image.  Rebooting flips to the then-offline copy and makes it the online copy that the system boots from.  The now-offline copy is then updated in the background after the updated copy is booted properly so that both OS copies are up to date.  If anything goes wrong, verified boot hashes prompt for Internet recovery of the OS.

  7. 7223

    The other issue is that it will wreak havoc with the Update Sharing facility since the updates are tailored to the individual PC and won't be of much value to other PC's in the network or outside it.  I have to say, I won't be sorry to see it go, however, since it did pose some security risk, I guess.

  8. 5394

    Will downloads get smaller to update tablets? Anything larger than 3 Gb won't fit?

    • 5134

      In reply to glenn8878:

      all I remember is this statement from Microsoft when announcing the new servicing model:

      With Windows 10, Microsoft will package new features into feature updates that can be deployed using existing management tools. Because feature updates are delivered more frequently than with previous Windows releases — two to three times per year rather than every 3–5 years — changes will be in bite-sized chunks rather than all at once and end user readiness time much shorter.

      currently bite-sized means 3GB+ and might therefore (reduction up to 35%) potentially come down to 2GB - a far cry from being "bite-sized" IM(H)O



  9. 214

    "Curious to see how it works out"

    You, me, and a whol s_pile of system admins...

  10. 427

    Love the word Unified, why not Universal or One.  Because those terms have worked out so well for them in the past.  One Update, don't you like that, probably makes you think of how well One Drive actually works, or doesn't. 

    Yeah, I think the pain most people are feeling is due to perceived bad quality.  Hopefully this system does what you have been asking, and helps with the aftermath issue of installing a bad update. I think that has been the real issue.  What will windows do when there is a bad update? Will it roll it back automatically, allow manual rollback, something smarter?  It seems like in the past sometimes the answer is nothing.  I could understand that in rare circumstances, but that being a wide spread problem is ludicrous.  Are restore points still a thing in Windows 10? I remember older versions if you installed something bad, you could go back to a previous state pretty easily.  I am aware of the 10 day (way too short) roll back to a previous build, that has saved my bacon a few times, but that is kind of a sad strategy especially given its length.

    I think large updates aren't by themselves bad, unless the chances of successfully updating the system is actually relevant to the size for some crazy reason.  Otherwise getting all the features/fixes together would make sense, because one would assume they have been thoroughly tested together, and not separately. 

  11. 8068

    They did the same thing back in Windows 7 timeframe, they would look at your system and only install the stuff you needed. This meant that cumulative updates were a no go in all situations.

    This however broke Windows 7's update from a clean install and requires, even today a lot of tinkering for Windows 7's Update service to be updated to the new system before any system/feature/security updates could be installed.

  12. 570

    I wonder if this will solve the problem with Windows devices of 32GB or less that run full Windows 10 and can not fit a full upgrade download. The only option now is a clean install.

  13. 2354

    Pity they still don't honor the 'active hours' I and many other set, and think its fine to reboot my computer while in the middle of working on something, and then have it unusable for up to 20 minutes while updates are installed.