Every time I see a big Windows 11 update I wonder why it wasn’t a Windows 11.1 or Windows 11.2 release. Instead, Microsoft has used a number of confusing ways to name Windows updates in recent years instead of a simple method like point releases.
Let me illustrate my point to you:
- Windows 10 Anniversary Update
- Windows 10 Creators Update
- Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
- Windows 10 October 2020 Update
- Windows 10 May 2021 Update
- Windows 11 22H2
- Windows 11 2023 Update
As you can see, Microsoft is gradually getting to a more understandable naming strategy for Windows releases, but it still regularly uses 22H2 and 23H2 monikers that sound like weird codenames to regular people. If you head into Windows Update you’re also more likely to see a reference to 23H2, and even the about screen in Windows lists 23H2 as the current version of Windows 11.
I’m not entirely sure what’s stopping Microsoft from using point releases for Windows these days. Windows 8 got its own Windows 8.1 update, but it never had true point releases like Windows 8.1.1 or Windows 8.1.2. Then Windows 10 followed with a confusing mess of marketing and internal names that often don’t make sense.
A few years ago multiple sources told me that Microsoft was looking at naming its updates after animals or people, but ultimately decided against this for a variety of reasons, not least because people can do bad things and you don’t want an OS named after a bad person. Instead, Microsoft transitioned to monthly names over point releases, and now we’re back to yearly names that don’t really mean much when you consider Windows 11 has had multiple big updates in 2023 alone.
Apple successfully uses point releases for iOS, iPadOS, and watchOS, even if it stubbornly sticks to naming macOS releases after locations. It’s easy for me to troubleshoot a family member’s iPhone and get a quick and clear idea of what version of iOS they’re running. On Windows, the 23H2 version number doesn’t really tell me much, because there are monthly updates that can add features on top. It’s also far easier to Google “Windows 11.1” than “Windows 11 2023 Update November update” or “Windows 23H2 November features” to find out what got added.
I mean just look at Microsoft’s own update history page for Windows 11, it’s full of a mix of KB numbers and OS build numbers. Now look at Apple’s list of updates to iOS 17, it’s immediately easier to understand that iOS 17.1.1 is the latest. Microsoft lists OS builds 22621.2715 and 22631.2715, which don’t mean much to real humans. Good luck comparing those builds to 22621.2506 and 22631.2506, which were released just two weeks apart.
Microsoft also has a long history of getting marketing names for its Windows operating systems horribly wrong. Jared Spataro, head of modern work and business applications at Microsoft, joked about Windows naming earlier this month. “Simplicity and naming, well, they haven’t always been our strong suit,” admitted Spataro, while discussing the Bing Chat rebranding to Copilot. “Anyone else remember Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems? Just rolls off the tongue,” he joked.
Still, it could be much worse. Believe it or not, Microsoft used to ship a product called “Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition” and even launched Windows Phone as “Windows Phone 7.1 Series” before quickly dropping the Series part. The Windows Mobile naming history was spread over at least 15 years of different brand names, so we might have a little while to go yet before things get better.
Hopefully with Windows 12, or whatever Microsoft ends up calling it, we’ll finally get point releases back or a clear and easy way to identify the latest version of Windows. Until then, good luck helping your family member with their Windows laptop during Thanksgiving. Oh, and don’t forget to turn off motion smoothing on your family’s TV while you’re at it.