Since Windows has migrated from the original concept to Windows like a Service, Microsoft’s desktop operating system is always a work-in-progress, and also the feature updates that the company releases each year come to add new capabilities and enhance the existing ones.
According to Microsoft’s release calendar, there’s two different feature updates which are pushed to Windows 10 each year. The first one typically comes to the spring, while the other one gets the go-ahead in the fall. Like a summary fundamental essentials expected release dates for Windows 10 feature update, according to Microsoft’s schedule:
Spring feature update: finalized in March or April, shipped in April or May
Fall feature: finalized in September or October, shipped in October or November
Windows 10 uses version numbers which are direct indicators of the dates mentioned previously. The version number typically consists of 4 digits, the first a couple of which represent the year once the update was created, while the other two indicate the month when it was finalized. Consequently:
Windows 10 version 1809 (October 2018 Update): finalized in September 2018
Windows 10 version 1903 (May 2019 Update): finalized in March 2019
Windows 10 version 1909 (November 2019 Update): finalized in September 2019
As you can tell, the product name indicates another date than the version number, only because this the first is supposed to point to the date when each feature update was launched.
For consumers, understanding the version number doesn’t necessarily help, albeit this might prove useful when requesting assistance for coping with specific bugs or trying to download updates manually (from other sources than Windows Update).
At this time, Microsoft is believed to be giving the finishing touches towards the first feature update of 2020. And of course, based on the information mentioned previously, it’s pretty clear this doesn’t align with the original schedule, and it’s all because Microsoft is attempting a different approach that would help it to buy more time for pre-launch testing. Codenamed Windows 10 20H1, this update is projected to be finalized in December after which released in April or May based on the previous calendar.
But at the same time, Microsoft is also embracing another version numbering with Windows 10 20H1 to be called version 2004. As a summary:
Spring feature update (2020): finalized in December, shipped in April or May
Windows 10 version 2004: finalized (RTM) in December
Although this approach may not make sense to many, there’s another bit that’s confusing for many users. Why isn’t Microsoft staying with the initial naming system and calling this release version 2003?
It’s all because Windows Server 2003.
Microsoft believes that launching Windows 10 20H1 as Windows 10 version 2003 could create more confusion when talking about Windows Server 2003, therefore the company just increased the version number by one digit to call it 2004.
However, it has nothing to use the month when the update was finalized, as indicated above. A more accurate version number that would include the completion date for Windows 10 20H1 would really be version 1912 (when the update is indeed finalized in December), but Microsoft wants to stick with a two-updates-per-year approach that makes more sense for Windows 10 moving forward.
When examining all these numbers, all the reasoning behind Windows 10 version numbers is getting pretty confusing, and this is why I asserted for consumers, using the product names is only the easier approach to take.
Microsoft hasn’t yet announced the official name from the first Windows 10 feature update due in 2020.