The Lord of The Rings

Rings. Not these things you put around your fingers, no, I mean the rings that make up the flighting system in Windows 10. Ain’t they beautiful? Gracefully flighting builds through them, from canary builds to the ever lasting Long-Term Support branch. Wonderful.

Until you reach the point where you are asking the question: how does this even work? Is anyone mapping this whole system out? Until you talk with people like @Nickurtnl. That’s the point where you realize how much of a mess this system actually is. A beautiful mess, but a mess nonetheless.

The people that have been around since the early days of the program might remember this chart:

The Windows 10 rings system as of build 9841.
The Windows 10 rings system as of build 9841.

It’s a very simple chart. This was published with the launch of build 9860 to draw a comparison with the old (build 9841) and new (build 9860+) ring system that was introduced that day. That day, they introduced the Fast Ring. The chart looked like this:

The Windows 10 rings system as of build 9860.
The Windows 10 rings system as of build 9860.

Simple. Isn’t it? Well yes, it is simple. And accurate for its time. However there have been some changes to it. The Fast Ring has now moved in between the Selfhost (what used to be the OSG Ring) and Microsoft Ring. And the Release Preview Ring has been added after the Slow Ring. But then again, this is only development rings. These aren’t all the rings.

Counting internal Microsoft-rings too, there are 9 rings (for desktop). But for the sake of simplicity, I’ll leave out all non-public rings in this article. That results in this chart (also dropping the visual rings to keep things from getting to confusing):

All rings that are available to the publc.
All rings that are available to the public… for desktop… in some editions.

Alright. Still with me? Great. Because this is just the easy part. Because lets not forget that we’re talking about the desktop/tablet SKUs of Windows in general. Not every desktop SKU has access to every ring. And to repeat myself: this is ONLY desktop. There is also Mobile, Holographic, IoT, Server, Xbox and Team. And here comes the fun part: all of these have their own combination of rings that are available to them. Behold:

All rings for each platform… not considering editions.

Well, that certainly doesn’t look that organized. However, this isn’t the most complex chart I could make of this, tho. We’re ignoring individual editions here, who all may or may not have their own set of available rings. This chart just shows all rings that are available for any SKU within a certain platform.

This chart isn’t all that complex, but if you are trying to keep track of everything in these rings, like what I do for ChangeWinodows, then things become messy. This makes a total of 27 rings. It’s a good thing that none of these rings can have more then 1 different build… Right? RIGHT?!

Well… Nope.

For those unaware, the Current Branch for the desktop versions of Windows 10 isn’t serving just build 14393. If you are still on 10586, then you’ll also get updates on this branch. Are you still on 10240? You are also still receiving updates. The Current Branch for Business on desktop is serving both 10586 and 10240 while the LTSB is serving only 10240, but is set to serve 14393 as well (in fact, it is already available, but not being “officially” supported, it’s complicated).

So. Let me show you the scheme as it is for desktop only. The blue squares are “entry points” for builds. This is where builds are “fed” into the public system.

The ring system as it stands for each individual release at this moment… on desktop.

This is getting a bit more confusing perhaps. Again, note that this is only – and only – for desktop. The Mobile scheme is different, so is any other scheme. And note that I’m completely ignoring the whole idea of editions here. The scheme above is only for desktop as a platform. The Home edition of Windows 10? Different scheme. The Pro edition of Windows 10? Also a different scheme. The Enterprise/Education editions of Windows 10? Also a different scheme.

You see, this is where “not all editions have all rings” comes in. Some editions of Windows 10 are/where excluded from the Insider Program, while others don’t go beyond the Current Branch or Current Branch for Business. Another important note is that these arrows between rings do not give a representation of time. If a patch is introduced to the Current Branch for a build that is the Current Branch for Business or both the CBB and Long-Term Support Branch, than that patch is distributed to all 3 rings at the same moment. But only if it is a patch, not for builds.

The Release Preview Ring on the other hand exclusively receives patches. Except if it doesn’t. At the end of a development cycle, when the final build of a future release has been accepted by the Slow Ring, it can move to the Release Preview Ring. From that point forward, the Release Preview Ring is no longer an “entry point” for builds (patches, in its case) but is receiving from the Slow Ring. And when that happens, slowly every single ring after it will follow.

Except for the Long-Term Support Branch, which doesn’t. Unlike the other rings, no matter how stable a build might be in the Current Branch for Business, it might never see the Long-Term Support Branch. The LTSB is said by Microsoft to be refreshed only every 2 to 3 years. This makes that 3, 4 or 5 releases of Windows 10 for every LTSB won’t reach this final ring (considering Microsoft will release 2 stable updates each year) – and I’m prety sure that, at this point, you see the following coming.

Except when it doesn’t. Because despite this “once every 2 to 3 years”-rule, the Anniversary Update, which follows only a year after the original and first LTSB-build (10240), will also get pushed to the LTSB. “Pushed” as in, it will be made available, these machines won’t actually get this new build offered. They have to be upgraded in-place.

However, on Holographic and Server both are receiving build 14393 on the LTSB. Even more confusing, there is in fact an LTSB version of 14393 for desktop available as well, but not officially served (they are getting updates, tho) just yet. Basically, multiple rings can have multiple builds. However, this only applies for stable rings, so everything that is green or farther to the right in the above chart.

Except Xbox. Xbox is currently getting served 2 different builds in its preview ring. Both the August Update and October Update are being previewed at the same time.

All right. Here we go. The full scheme. All public rings, for each individual release per platform. This only displays the rings that are currently being served for each platform. So IoT version 1507 isn’t on this, neither is Xbox version 1510, 1602 and 1603.

Can you feel me!?

Look at it. Just look at it! Such complexity. Again, completely ignoring the whole idea of editions. I can make this even more complex. This is the situation as it is right now, on November 6th, 2016. And believe me if I say that over time, this will get even more complex. As more builds move to LTSB to stick there for 10 years, more and more releases of Windows 10 will get spread over more and more support life cycles.