Say No to Long Term Servicing Channel (LTSC)


Hello, my name is Greg Nottage and I am a Consultant with the Windows and Devices team in the UK.

I often work with customers who are in the process of transitioning to Windows 10 but are considering the use of Windows 10 Long Term Servicing Channel (often shortened to LTSC and also previously known as Long Term Servicing branch which was shortened to LTSB – thanks Marketing team :-).

When we look at managing Windows 10 through the same lens as we’ve all done for the past 20 years or so (i.e. a new operating system release cycle of approximately one every 3 to 5 years), it's easy to see why customers would think LTSC is the right solution for them,.  However, with the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft introduced a new concept for release management – Windows as a Service (or WaaS for short).  I won’t dwell on the details of the concept, as it’s been well documented before – but I will say that, in a nutshell, WaaS represents an increased frequency of change (given the bi-annual release cycle that is the new normal).  Organisations do need to prepare for WaaS appropriately to ensure the best success - but once correctly implemented, the mid- to long-term results will reduce IT overhead as the changes being introduced are incremental in nature.

LTSC has its place – specifically it is meant for devices that have single (often mission-critical) use-cases such as:

  • Systems that power manufacturing or medical equipment
  • Embedded systems in kiosks, such as ATMs or airport ticketing systems

You might notice that the above examples are typical of ‘embedded style’ devices – and you would be right.  LTSC 2016 shares the same codebase as Windows 10 IoT, which is the evolution of Windows Embedded OS – and you wouldn’t have considered widely deploying Embedded OS everywhere.  The point of this article is to help to dispel any myths that may exist and to help you understand why wide adoption of LTSC is a bad idea.

Why not LTSC?

It may be tempting for organisations to look at LTSC and determine that this more closely matches the historic Windows release cycle, however the recommended Windows 10 version that should be widely deployed is the Semi-Annual Channel (SAC, formerly known as Current Branch for Business or CBB).

I’ve spoken to customers who held a misconception that the SAC version of Windows 10 prevented the permanent removal of certain standard applications that are pre-installed with Windows 10 (like the Xbox app etc.).  This is not correct and should not be a reason for adopting LTSC. Pre-installed applications can be removed and consumer features can be disabled. These activities have been covered by Michael Niehaus in his previous posts and I recommend customers bookmark these articles:

As a general guideline, devices that fulfill the following criteria are considered general-purpose devices and should be paired with Windows 10 using the Semi-Annual Channel servicing option:

  1. Devices that run productivity software such as Microsoft Office
  2. Devices that use Windows Store applications
  3. Devices that are used for general Internet browsing (for example, research or access to social media)

Note: Gartner agrees with this approach (see Rethink Windows 10 LTSB Deployment Based on Microsoft's Updated Guidance)

It is also worth mentioning that if you have deployed Windows 10 LTSC, all is not lost.  It is possible to perform an in-place upgrade to the SAC version of Windows 10, which is the recommended solution to align with Microsoft guidance on the broad use of SAC instead of LTSC.

To further explain the reasoning behind the use of SAC over LTSC, please read the following key points:

  1. Using LTSC means missing out on new OS enhancements that are included in SAC releases – particularly new security features
  2. LTSC does not keep pace with new silicon releases in the same way SAC does – so LTSC 2016 does not support Intel chips beyond the ‘Kabylake’ generation
  3. Windows Analytics Upgrade Readiness does not support LTSC
  4. No support for the modern Edge browser
  5. No support for Cortana
  6. No support for Windows Store
  7. No support for Surface hardware
  8. LTSC does not support ConfigMgr Express Updates
  9. In-Place Upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 is not supported for LTSC
  10. From January 2020, Microsoft Office 365 will not be supported on LTSC
  11. LTSC does not keep pace with feature enhancements to Windows Defender ATP
  12. Potential Independent Hardware and Software Vendor support and limitations on LTSC
  13. Non-security operating system fixes and enhancements may not get back-ported to LTSC
  14. Loosely defined LTSC release cycles make planning ahead more difficult

I hope this clarifies your understanding around the use Windows 10  LTSC and helps to explain the reasoning behind why you should deploy SAC, and not LTSC. If you have any questions or comments about this post, please leave a comment below.

EDIT (18-06-2018): A colleague has recommended I link to Todd Furst's excellent session from Ignite that also helps explain more on this subject - https://myignite.microsoft.com/sessions/56635

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