Windows 10 Mobile's first worldwide update put phones on a PC-like update path

More frequent updates may mean more frequent restarts, however.

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Microsoft has ended 2015 with a cosmic aligning of sorts: All Windows 10 PCs and phones have aligned around a single build.

Microsoft released a preview build of version 10586.29 on December 4 to Windows 10 Mobile Insiders, and now all eligible Windows 10 PCs and phones can upgrade to this build directly from Microsoft. Although Microsoft has not pushed Windows 10 Mobile to existing Windows 8.1 phones yet, virtually all of its new Lumia 950 and Lumia 950XL phones have been upgraded to Windows 10. 

Microsoft’s Terry Myerson, who runs the company’s Windows and Devices group, called attention to the synergy via Twitter late Tuesday. 

In announcing the new build last week, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of engineering systems Gabriel Aul implied that more frequent updates were in the works.

“As our partners and Microsoft ship new Windows 10 mobile devices and existing devices are upgraded to Windows 10, all of our users will start to see more updates coming through Windows Update,” he wrote. “These will be addressing feedback we receive from our Windows Insiders and new Windows 10 users.”

What this means for you: If Microsoft increases the tempo of its rollouts—and without carrier interference—Windows Phone owners will receive new features and bug fixes more frequently than before. That’s a feature Android users have long prized in the Nexus line. Windows 10 Mobile phones purchased from carriers will still ship with carrier apps installed, but at least they’ll otherwise be “pure Windows.”

More frequent updates mean... more frequent updates

Microsoft reps said in May that the company was working to push software updates directly to phones, rather than migrate them through the carriers. That process can take weeks to months in the Android world—or not at all—and has significantly contributed to both the fragmentation in the Android market as well as the growth in Google’s Nexus line and its “pure Android” version of phones. 

Now, however, Microsoft pushed its Lumia 950 update directly to consumers, regardless of whether or not those phones were provided by a carrier: My Lumia 950 loaner (with an activated AT&T SIM) received the 10586.29 update; ZDNet reporter Mary Jo Foley’s Lumia 950 (with an unactivated SIM) also received the update. This shows us, as Foley points out, that Microsoft has successfully bypassed the carriers with its OS updates.

That either indicates a show of strength for Microsoft, or that Microsoft’s rather minuscule share in the phone market isn’t worth the development resources to qualify each upgrade. Microsoft has also used the “minor version”—a revision number incremented after the decimal point—to show us that this update is fairly insignificant. (Aul said that the updates only include bug fixes, such as improved Bluetooth stability and better Silverlight compatibility.)

If there’s one annoyance that frequent OS updates may bring with it, that would be a Windows PC-like frequency of restarts. Windows 10 Mobile version 10586.29 rebooted my phone—not a problem, as I wasn’t using it at the time. On the PC, though, the reboot and update process takes seconds to a minute or so, depending on a few factors—the size of the update, whether or not you’re running an SSD, and so on. On Windows phones, updates can require some time both to update the OS as well the various applications.

Still, as long as that update cycle can be scheduled for a time when the phone is not in use—and hopefully won’t wake you up if it kicks off at 3 a.m.—frequent updates aren’t necessarily a bad thing. 

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