I’m always surprised when I talk to other system administrators who have never heard of the elusive Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB)/Channel (LTSC) versions of Windows 10, but I can’t blame them for not knowing! These versions of Windows 10 were initially designed for only Point-of-Sale, Medical, or otherwise critical devices that cannot risk any downtime. LTSB, released in 2016, runs on the 1607 build of Windows 10 and was followed by LTSC, released in 2018 and running on build 1809. LTSB/LTSC both have their own licensing, available only through the Volume Licensing Center, unless pre-installed and pre-activated on an OEM device. We get a lot of questions about migrating from Windows 10 LTSB/LTSC to Windows 10 Enterprise.
Aside from being the most slimmed-down versions of Windows 10 (no bloatware, no updated Microsoft store, no Xbox apps, and minimal accessory apps) these enterprise versions of Windows 10 NEVER receive feature or build updates automatically, but are supposed to receive monthly security updates for ten years! The only way to upgrade from one build to the next is to manually mount the install media and perform an in-place upgrade; this can be done to upgrade LTSB users to LTSC so long as you have the installation media and your licensing is good. The process is simple, and even allows you to keep all apps and settings.
Frankly, I’ve never seen a single PC in the wild running either LTSB or LTSC, but if you look online, you will see they have a special reputation around online forums and PC enthusiast sites. When the LTSB and LTSC media leaked online years ago, many users flocked to them and started installing the streamlined OS on their devices as an alternative to the conventional Windows 10 Pro or Home.
This whole chain of events is important because it is suspiciously familiar to what I faced with Windows 7 Ultimate years ago. Just like LTSB/LTSC, Windows 7 Ultimate was a version of Windows that I would rarely find anywhere outside of custom builds with cracked license keys! Windows 7 Ultimate was never intended for POS devices or anything like that, but the price tag and name made it an alluring choice for anyone that was browsing the internet in search of a “superior” Microsoft OS.
Because of the update cycle of LTSB/LTSC, anyone with these versions will not have access to the latest and greatest features released in the current build of Windows 10. Most notably, and my stimulus for writing this article, people are already finding that many Microsoft Store apps (including the new Xbox app) are supposedly broken and incompatible with anything older than 1903. Although there are some experimental PowerShell scripts and batch files to combat these issues, the real fix is to get to a build of Windows 10 supporting consumer use!
Let’s “Upgrade” from LTSB/LTSC to Windows 10 Enterprise
Because LTSB and LTSC are enterprise versions of Windows 10, they cannot take an in-place upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, Home, or Education. You must have a valid Windows 10 Enterprise license key if you want to abandon LTSB/LTSC and get fully patched to the latest build of Windows 10.
- Download Windows 10 Pro/Enterprise Installation Media for Windows 10. I highly recommend using the latest ISO, which currently is build 1909. You can use the official Media Creation Tool from Microsoft if you do not have your own ISO. Make sure you are using the correct architecture (32/64-bit).
- Right-click the ISO file and open with Windows Explorer to mount the ISO, or physically insert your installation media.
- Open an administrative Command Prompt and navigate to your installation media, then run:
Setup.exe /pkey xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx
- If you are currently running LTSB/LTSC and you used a valid Windows 10 Enterprise license key, then the Windows 10 setup will run, and you’ll be given the option for an in-place upgrade keeping all applications and settings.
- Once the upgrade is finished, you will see in your Windows 10 Settings > Build Info that you’re now running Windows 10 Enterprise and may have a few updates before you’re completely done. The Windows Store and all apps, including the new Xbox app, will work without a hitch.
What about LTSB/LTSC to Windows 10 Pro?
I have not had a test subject for this yet, but theoretically Windows 10 Enterprise can always downgrade to Windows 10 Pro if you simply provide a valid Windows 10 Pro license key within Windows 10 Settings > Activation. If you have a valid Pro license key, then it could theoretically be used once the “upgrade” to Windows 10 Enterprise has finished, and thus let you go all the way from LTSB/LTSC to Windows 10 Pro.
I wrote this article because LTSB and LTSC still have a massive reputation online and I know that some people out there will need a method to get to an updated, or legitimate, build of Windows 10. I’m still finding illegitimate copies of Windows 7 Ultimate out there, and I’ve got a strong feeling that history will repeat itself in LTSB and LTSC.
If you are genuinely concerned about the bloatware or telemetry present in Windows 10 Home or Pro, there are many ways to safely take control of your OS by creating your own custom installation media, using PowerShell, or group policy. There are plenty of third-party apps out there too, but just be careful. When in doubt, only make the changes that you completely understand.