Microsoft nixes update deferral settings, but gives us a TargetReleaseVersionInfo

The company intentionally removed the “update deferral” options from the Win10 version 2004 Update Advanced options pane, ostensibly “to prevent confusion.” Riiiiight. But there’s good news: a newly documented Pro, Education and Enterprise Registry setting that circumvents the version deferral problems. And it appears to work in version 1803 onward.

Microsoft Windows update arrows / progress bars
IDG Communications

At AskWoody, we’ve been lamenting the sporadic lack of update deferral settings in Win10 version 2004 for some months. At times, the disappearance of the “feature” (version) deferral and “quality: (cumulative update) deferral settings in Advanced Updates appeared to be a beta/Insider build glitch, a changing design tick, a regurgitated A/B test, or a remnant of an upgrade gone bad. 

Now, we have official confirmation that the options in Windows Update’s Advanced Settings applet are gone for good. It’s easy to see, when you compare the Advanced Settings screens side-by-side.

Win10 version 2019 Update Advanced Settings contains a “Choose when updates are installed” section (screenshot below).

1909 advanced update options Microsoft

While Win10 version 2004 Update Advanced Settings has no such section (screenshot below).

2004 advanced update options Microsoft

Tucked away in the middle of a lengthy piece called What's new in Windows 10, version 2004 for IT Pros, Microsoft made the announcement:

Last year, we changed update installation policies for Windows 10 to only target devices running a feature update version that is nearing end of service. As a result, many devices are only updating once a year. To enable all devices to make the most of this policy change, and to prevent confusion, we have removed deferrals from the Windows Update settings Advanced Options page starting on Windows 10, version 2004. 

Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet writes:

I asked Microsoft if the company had anything to say as to why users weren't notified in advance about this change but received no word back.

The end result: Microsoft has changed the updating game once again, without notification or customer input. Patch Lady Susan Bradley has a few choice words about Microsoft’s propensities in that direction. @AlexEiffel hit the nail on the head when he said:

As to lifting confusion, I am not sure those casual users who finally thought they could defer Windows feature updates for a long time will be less confused after they get updated even if they added a delay a few months ago, and then won’t be able to find that setting they know was there because their setting disappeared and they were not told about it… why remove a simple deferral setting that many people clearly asked for? What possible problem this would have caused at a user level? I really don’t see any reason to do things this way even if I try to be charitable. Updating only once a year while that is not what you wanted? Wouldn’t that be fixable without removing the ability to defer feature updates? 

The official docs point to Group Policy settings in Pro/Education/Enterprise that will continue to control feature/version updates and quality/cumulative updates, if you want to wade through some GPedit mumbo jumbo. There’s still a great deal of undocumented confusion about the interaction of the settings. See section 5 of @PKCano’s AKB2000016: Guide for Windows Update Settings for Windows 10.

But hang on. All is not toil and trouble.

A Canadian blogger named Ed Braiter dug deep into an unlikely Microsoft article called Optimize on-premises monthly update delivery using the cloud and came up with gold. Ed discovered that there’s a Registry setting you can use in any recent version of Win10 Pro or Enterprise (version 1803 or later) to lock your computer onto a specific version of Win10. 

If you want to stay on Win10 version 1903, for example, set this TargetReleaseVersionInfo registry key to 1903 and Microsoft won’t push you to 1909 or 2004 or 20H2. 

This Registry key isn’t set in stone. It’s officially documented in one table entry in a tiny part of a small section of a large treatise. Microsoft says it’ll work “until the current OS version reaches end of service… or until the policy is changed to [in? -WL] a newer Windows 10 feature update.” Microsoft has a haphazard way of determining the exact date your OS version approaches end of service – do you get a week or a month or three months before the published EOL date? 

But in the grand scheme of things, this is a jewel.

@abbodi86 found Braiter’s post and tested the TargetReleaseVersionInfo key thoroughly. He found that, starting with a Win10 version 1803 Pro machine, setting the key to “1809” (and rebooting and waiting for Windows Update to catch up) left the machine on Win10 version 1809. Using “1909” gave him Win10 version 1909. 

Based on the sketchy information we have, it looks like you can lock your Win10 version 1903 Pro, Education or Enterprise machine on version 1903 by setting TargetReleaseVersionInfo to 1903. That’ll keep Microsoft from pushing you to update your machine until (roughly) Dec. 8, 2020. Set it to 1909, and you’re good until (roughly) May 11, 2021.

You can muck around in the Registry if you want, but it’s much easier to set up the correct key using @abbodi86’s three-step process:

Step 1. On Win10 Pro, Education or Enterprise, version 1803 or later, right-click the Start button and choose Windows PowerShell (Admin)

Step 2. Copy this line into the PowerShell window and press enter:

reg add HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate /f /v TargetReleaseVersion /t REG_DWORD /d 1

That’s all one line, as shown in the screenshot.

add targetreleaseversion Microsoft

Step 3. Copy this line into the PowerShell window and press enter:

reg add HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate /f /v TargetReleaseVersionInfo /t REG_SZ /d 1809

In place of “1809” you can put any of the recent Win10 version numbers – 1809, 1903, 1909, or 2004.

If you’re unsure, you can confirm that the Registry now has the correct entry (screenshot below).

new registry key Microsoft

Abbodi86 describes the TargetReleaseVersionInfo registry key as “a Feature Update chooser/nuker” – something we’ve sought for a long, long time.

Bravo.

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