What is Windows 10 LTSB?

Microsoft's flagship operating system has several servicing channels that push both essential, and not so essential, updates to users' machines at markedly different speeds.

In contrast with the Windows Insiders branch, which pushes relatively untested Windows builds to users' machines at regular intervals, we have the Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC).

This option, which regulates the updates released to Windows 10 Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) installations, is the slowest and most stable of the servicing channels. Designed specifically for a subsection of enterprise users, it's essentially a stripped down version of Windows, and comes without the Microsoft Edge browser, Cortana, and a host of Windows Apps.

While the most common option, 'Semi-Annual Channel' (SAC), pushes major updates to users' machines twice a year, the Windows 10 LTSB branch only updates machines with essential security patches. Servicing agreements through the LTSC also last ten years.

While new Windows 10 LTSB builds are occasionally released, these won't automatically port to existing installations in the same way users have come to expect via SAC. Instead, Windows 10 LTSB users will have to update their machines manually via external media.

Windows 10 LTSB vs Enterprise: What's the difference?

LTSB is a relatively unknown licensing option for Windows 10 Enterprise users and features an almost fully stripped-down version of the flagship OS. But it isn't for everyone.

In fact, Microsoft says in its user documentation that the LTSC agreement is not intended for deployment to most or all PCs across an organisation, for example, office employees or information and IT workers. This is because of the highly-limited functionality.

Instead, Windows 10 LTSB installations should normally be reserved for special purpose machines, or devices that power critical infrastructure, like ATMs or healthcare equipment. These kinds of devices wouldn't have any need for the additional features Microsoft routinely pushes to Windows 10, and the security patches provided as part of a ten-year LTSC agreement will suffice.

According to official documentation, new LTSC releases are available every two to three years, and organisations can choose to install them as upgrades, or skip the releases entirely over their 10-year agreement. By contrast, Windows 10 Enterprise machines are normally on the SAC release cycle.

What does Windows 10 LTSB feature (or not feature)?

The Windows 10 LTSB Enterprise edition, to give it its full version name, doesn't feature a number of core applications that normally feature in other iterations of Windows 10. The Microsoft Edge browser, for example, is not included, nor is the Cortana virtual assistant. Some limited search capabilities do remain, however.

This is in addition to other omissions, including Microsoft Mail, Calendar, OneNote, Weather, News, Sports, Money, Photos, Camera, Music and the Clock apps. These apps are fundamentally not supported in Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB, even if you install them via sideloading. The Microsoft Store, too, is not included.

What's the latest version of Windows 10 LTSB?

To coincide with its last major upgrade, Microsoft released Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2019, or version 1809, in early October 2018. Does this number sound familiar to you? That's because it's the same code assigned to Microsoft's October Update, released at the same time.

Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2019 was the first iteration since version 1607 was released in August 2016. However, due to the disastrous handling of the October Update's rollout and several critical bugs found in this Windows 10 version, Microsoft pulled this latest LTSB release, as it did with the consumer version. After re-examining the issues flagged with the latest version of Windows 10, the 2019 LTSB edition was made available again.

This latest version builds on Windows 10 Pro, and adds a range of features designed to address the needs of mid-sized and larger organisations. These include added security features to protect against modern threats, updating and support options, and a comprehensive device and app management system.