What are Windows 10 ‘feature updates’ and ‘quality updates’?

November 23, 2018 |

greater than 8 minutes

If you use a Windows 10 PC (or even any Windows computer at all), you should be familiar with the “Windows updates” concept. Microsoft creates and provides Windows updates to users for a wide variety of important reasons, which are not of much concern to us now.

In this guide, we will help you understand the kind of updates you often receive, and spell out the difference between Windows 10 feature updates and Windows 10 quality updates.

What changes have been made to Windows Update in Windows 10?

Microsoft first introduced the Windows Update service (in the form of an app) with the release of Windows 98. A lot has changed since then. The facility has undergone numerous modifications and improvements, all of which finally resulted in the successful Windows Update setup we have today.

In Windows 10, the most crucial change involving Windows Update had something to do with Microsoft getting rid of the options that users often employed to defer or block updates completely. Then again, others might consider the introduction of the servicing model (also known as the Windows as a Service) the key event.

Windows as a Service (WaaS) defines the setup in which users get incremental updates that speed up the integration of new features instead of what they were used to before (getting a new Windows version every 3 years). This way, Microsoft finally managed to simplify the process of keeping Windows devices updated and current in a digital world where things change very fast.

More importantly, given the new servicing model and the changes associated with it, we came to expect 2 types of updates. You must have guessed what they are—the feature updates and the quality updates. In an ideal world, we could easily claim that both are equally important, but you do not have to take our word for it.

  • What are Microsoft feature updates in Windows 10?

Any specific feature update is technically a new version of Windows 10. Feature updates are generally released to users twice a year. The stated period corresponds to an update being made available roughly every six months (during spring and fall). For this reason, Windows 10 feature updates are sometimes referred to as “semi-annual” releases.

Numerous stages or events precede the release of a feature update. For example, during the development phase of a major Windows update, Microsoft goes through a lot of feedback from internal testing and reviews telemetry data usually provided by people who take part in the Windows Insider Program.

The operating system maker is supposed to test the update thoroughly to identify bugs or related issues and fix them. After they are done checking the stability and reliability of the update, they initiate the rollout phase. Typically, consumers get the update first. Business customers and other categories of users get the release later.

Feature updates are known to contain new features or functionalities, visual improvements, and other changes that improve the overall experience, security, and stability of the Windows operating system environment.

In the previous servicing model for older versions of Windows before Windows 10 (Windows 7, in particular), Microsoft used to include a smaller list of changes (most of which were supposed to help fix app compatibility problems and related issues).

One major difference between feature updates and quality updates lies in the size of their packages—Windows 10 feature update downloads are always bigger than Windows 10 quality updates. The former can be as big as 3GB for the 64-bit version of Windows 10 or 2GB for the 32-bit equivalent.

If you try to install Windows 10 feature updates through an installation medium, you will come to realize that the package is even bigger than the stated size: it will probably be up to 4GB for the 64-bit version of Windows 10 and 3GB for the 32-bit version.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft has tried implementing some changes to reduce the size of feature updates. Microsoft introduced a new upgrade mechanism in the Windows 10 Creators Fall Update that ensures systems download only the files that have been changed. This way, download package becomes smaller (about 35 percent less in size).

Now, given what has been said about feature updates, you might have figured out that the installation of such updates is more or less the same thing as the installation of a new Windows version. Therefore, the update process requires significantly more time than you are used to. Furthermore, errors and complications are more likely to spring up due to the nature of the updates involved.

Before you install any feature update, it is a good idea to create a comprehensive backup of everything you have on your PC. You are not obligated to do so, but this move might save you a lot of time if things go wrong (like they sometimes do).

If you are running the Home edition of Windows 10, then your system is probably set up to receive and install feature updates as soon as they are available. In that case, you are more likely to be a victim of bugs or problems associated with Windows updates (especially the early releases).

Microsoft tests updates thoroughly before it releases them, but we know too well that even a rigorous testing phase does not guarantee the non-existence of bugs or other issues in updates. If anything, Microsoft is more likely to iron out the vast majority of problems after regular users have encountered and reported them.

If you do not want your computer to serve as a guinea pig for Windows updates, you must find a way to ensure your system gets and installs the updates as late as it can. Users with the Windows 10 Home editions have to make do with unorthodox methods of preventing Windows from downloading and installing updates.

If your PC is running the Pro, Education or Enterprise edition of Windows, you have a wider range of options or means to block, defer or delay Windows updates. If you want to, you can even make use of unorthodox methods too (the only means available to Windows 10 Home users).

Officially, Windows 10 Pro users can defer updates for up to 18 months after the original release date of the updates. Windows 10 Enterprise or Education users have things even better. They can postpone updates for up to 30 months (starting with the Windows 10 October 2018 update).

Note: At the end of the support cycle or stated time limit, you must upgrade to a supported version of Windows. Otherwise, you will struggle to get security and non-security patches.

  • What are quality updates in Windows 10?

Quality updates are those mandatory updates your PC downloads and installs automatically every month. Windows Update is usually set up to get the job done on the second Tuesday of every month by default. Things do not always go as planned, though. Your computer sometimes might end up downloading and installing a quality update outside of the stated monthly schedule.

Quality updates are also referred to as cumulative updates. You might even see them appear as cumulative quality updates. In the Windows Update program window or menu, you might see any of the following terms: Cumulative update, Security update, Update for Windows 10. They all mean the same thing.

Fortunately, you can quickly identify a quality update by going through the list of updates installed on your computer.

Follow these instructions:

  • First, you have to launch the Settings program. Do this by pressing (and holding) the Windows button on your keyboard, then continuing with a tap of the letter I key.
  • Once the Settings program window is up and running, you must click on the Update and Security link to enter their menu. You should end up on the Windows Update screen.
  • To see the updates that have been installed on your PC, click on the View installed update history link. Windows will now move to display a list of what it has installed as quality updates.

Microsoft hardly ever bundles quality updates with new features or include visual changes in them. You would even struggle to find significant improvements in the capabilities of Windows in quality updates. It is all understandable, though.

Quality updates are maintenance updates, and this means Microsoft provides them to remove bugs, get rid of errors, and patch up critical security vulnerabilities. This way, they help improve the stability and reliability of an already existing version or build of Windows.

Since they are cumulative, they are meant to increase in size each month. Each successive update contains more stuff than the one that came before it, or a new update always includes the changes in updates that preceded it.

Due to the cumulative nature of quality updates, they are bulkier than they are actually supposed to be. Their size, however, is still quite modest when compared to the storage space often used up by feature updates. Moreover, we know of some upsides associated with cumulative setup of quality updates.

For one, the cumulative approach invariably reduces the number of updates you have to download and install on your PC (especially for those users who only recently finished setting up Windows on their device). Furthermore, given how the cumulative setup works, you are less likely to encounter problems in general with Windows updates.

As you might have realized already, Windows downloads and installs quality updates significantly faster than feature updates. Your system works smoothly with quality updates because they often consist of smaller packages. Quality updates also do not require a complete installation of the operating system in sharp contrast to the demands of feature updates.

Since the installation of quality updates is not akin to the reinstallation of the Windows running on your PC, the creation of a backup is hardly a necessary precaution in its case. Nevertheless, you will not suffer any harm from going with this backup recommendation. Errors can spring up unexpectedly, and you cannot predict when any of your essential hardware device or component is going to fail.

Microsoft is a lot more flexible with the options it provides to users in regards to the downloading and installation of Windows 10 quality updates. All categories of users (people with PCs running Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Pro, and so on) can delay quality updates for up to 35 days.

Nevertheless, you can use the delay option for a specific update only once. After Windows delays the download or installation of the update for the stated period, your system will be forced to go with the update (without any input from you). Of course, Windows will let you use the ‘delay the update’ option again only after you download and install the outstanding quality update.

Microsoft has revealed its approach to managing updates on the Windows ecosystem with the Windows as a Service model. By definition, this setup or method is supposed to help your device stay secure and current. In other words, your computer will always end up with the latest features and security updates, and at the same time, it should have no issues maintaining the consistency and reliability of its OS.

A good plan or well-guided approach does not always guarantee success, though. For one, Microsoft has always struggled with the quality of the code fused into its updates, and things do not appear to be getting any better.

Let us consider the issue that occurred recently as an example: Microsoft released the Windows 10 October 2018 update as scheduled, but it was forced to pull it back quite early or pause its rollout. A reasonable amount of users reported that their files went missing after they downloaded and installed this particular update.

We could also mention Microsoft having to release a critical fix for a quality update only after it had troubled many users with Blue Screens of Death. Such events just do not reflect well on Microsoft efforts.

Now, we must reiterate one fact: you cannot do without updates. However, you can prevent the problems they sometimes bring with them by delaying the download and installation of Windows updates for as long as you can or as long as necessary.


Windows updates might do well to patch the existing vulnerabilities on the OS your PC is running, but you still have to worry about other forms of threats.

If you are on the lookout for improvements that could be made to the security apparatus on your PC, you should be interested in checking out Auslogics Anti-Malware. The recommended program will set up an extra line of defense on your computer to keep out viruses and malware. Surely, you would welcome this improvement.

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