By Woody Leonhard (edited for space) …..
One year after the initial, faltering release of Windows 10 and almost nine months after the arrival of Win 10 Fall Update, we finally have a new tenant at the apex of the Windows 10 “as a service” heap. Windows 10 Anniversary Update, aka Redstone 1, will be available to Windows users on August 2.
For those of you who have already taken the plunge and installed Windows 10 — 350 million machines, at last count — the upgrade is going to proceed without any intervention on your part, whether you like it or not.
If you’re happy with Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, there’s still no overarching reason to upgrade.
Anniversary Update brings a few improvements in security, modest improvements in usability, and cosmetic improvements all around. Cortana has gone from being merely usable to being worthwhile. But the Edge browser still isn’t ready for prime time, and Universal apps are still a bust.
In short, Windows 10 is good, but it isn’t a slam dunk — and it comes with considerable baggage.
On the other hand, if your machine, drivers, and apps are compatible, and you’re willing to accept the new Windows-as-a-service world of forced updates and Google-like data collection, you will probably be happy with Windows 10.
But be sure you understand the new rules:
- Unless you go to extreme lengths, Microsoft will update your machine according to its own rules without your permission, and on its own schedule, give or take a few hours. Enterprises can control updates to domain-joined Windows 10 PCs using Windows Update for Business, WSUS, SCCM, and other patch throttlers. But even corporate admins can’t separate key security patches from less critical updates.
- Windows 10 snoops more than any previous version of Windows. We don’t know what gets sent to Microsoft’s vaults because the snooped data is encrypted before it goes out. Microsoft offers extensive assurances that your privacy will be protected. Nonetheless, information about your interests, preferences, browser usage, Cortana queries, and interactions with other Microsoft apps is still going out, even if you turn off all the snooping options. Enterprise data snooping can be configured to reduce the leak, but I haven’t seen data-field details.
While the Windows 10 cumulative updates have brought on a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth — with installs taking hours and hours, sometimes failing to complete — we haven’t seen any fatal, show-stopping bugs in the patches. The only consistent problem with the cumulative updates is that they fail to install on many machines, for obscure reasons.
In the following sections, I talk about the features that have been improved in Windows 10 Anniversary Update compared to the earlier Fall Update. I talk about what’s new for enterprise. Then I look at the near-term future of Win10.
What’s new in the Anniversary Update
The list of new and improved features in Windows 10 Anniversary Update includes a reformatted Start menu, improvements to Tablet mode (bringing back some features in Windows 8.1), new Cortana capabilities, a much-needed reworking of notifications, new Taskbar features, a Universal Skype client, an upgrade to Settings, Lock Screen improvements, and the introduction of Windows Ink for pen and finger input.
There truly is something for everyone, and even Microsoft has its pet points. I stepped through most of these features in April, when they appeared in beta build 14328. Here’s an update.
A better Start
The Anniversary Update Start menu works exactly like the Fall Update Start menu, but it’s been rearranged a bit. Instead of an All Apps list, all of the apps simply appear when you click the Start icon, in a massive scroll-down list that should look familiar to any Windows 10 user.
The other big difference: Any recently installed apps (up to three) bubble up to the top of the list, as you can see in the screenshot below.
Anniversary Update’s Start menu displays your most recently installed apps (Netflix here) at the top of the list.
There are minor cosmetic changes in the new Start, but nothing of substance, unless the presence of a hamburger menu gets your wickers in a twist, or you like to debate the colors on the File Explorer icon. Tablet mode gets a little more Start love in the Anniversary Update, with an All Apps view in addition to the old tiles and a disappearing taskbar.
As has always been the case, we have few of the Start menu customizations that were so useful in Windows 7. To get them back, you have to turn to third-party utilities like Start10 or Classic Shell.
Cortana turns the corner
Cortana is getting smarter all the time. In my experience, it’s not nearly as smart as Google Now, but it’s definitely getting better. In build 1511, you had to train Cortana before it would work; it also had a universal off switch. That’s changed in the Anniversary Update.
Cortana can now run “on the lock screen,” which means it’s running all the time, listening to what you say whether you’re logged on to the computer or not. Further, the old Cortana Reminders icon has been subsumed into Cortana, and you can turn photos or some app data into reminders.
Cortana remains an expressway to Bing. Anything you do with Cortana ends up in your Bing profile, including local searches. With the Anniversary Update, though, Cortana gains the ability to search your OneDrive files in addition to the files on your machine.
Looking for an Edge
Microsoft Edge finally has the long-promised support for extensions, but it is still a long, long way from being a first-rate browser.
As of this writing, I count 13 extensions available for Edge, including two ad blockers. The Office Online extension is a collection of links to Office Online services, not unlike the Google Apps links we’ve had in Chrome for many years. The Evernote extension freezes frequently. The Amazon Assistant means never having to leave Amazon.com. Most of the extensions look like they were thrown together over a long weekend.
The one extension I really need — LastPass, the password manager — doesn’t cut the mustard either. I continue to have all sorts of problems running it.
As Microsoft’s premier Universal Windows Platform app, Edge should be a shining example of how great Universal apps can be. Instead, we’re given a default browser that, even a year after its first release, can’t do many of the things some browsers have done for years — such as a closed tab list, mute button, profiles. The taskbar icon doesn’t show all tabs. It’s still ridiculously difficult to change search engines. Settings options go on for pane after pane. We’ve seen a lot of promises for Edge over the years, but progress has been slow.
Edge continues to suffer from the same security holes that plague Internet Explorer. Nearly every month we see security patches that apply to both IE and Edge. Security holes in IE are so common that most folks are inured to their appearance. Edge, as the new kid on the block, should be much more secure.
That said, I remain optimistic that the Edge developers will ultimately deliver a better browser. The ability to identify “non-essential” Flash garbage on a page and throttle it rates as a first-class improvement, and I expect many more good things are still to come. But I can’t recommend Edge to anyone until more of those good things arrive.
Ready for Action Center
Microsoft’s new, improved notification pane (dubbed the “Action Center”) represents a major makeover, which brings Windows 10 notifications up to the level you would expect on any modern smartphone.
The Action Center brings a much-needed overhaul to Windows 10 notifications.
Plus, Cortana can now throw notifications, so your appointments will generally appear at the top of the Action Center. You can choose from several new Quick Actions tiles at the bottom of the notification pane. Unfortunately, you can’t drag to move a tile or right-click to add or delete one; you have to go to Start > Settings > System > Notifications & Actions and work with a template to change the icons.
Universal Windows apps
Although Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform apps are updated according to their own schedule and generally not obliged to follow the vagaries of Windows versions, many of the Universal apps that ship with Windows are going through major changes.
On the plus side, Windows Mail has become usable — an adjective that wouldn’t have applied last year. Groove Music and Movies & TV are also improved.
On the minus side, the new Universal OneDrive app shows you only the files on OneDrive that you’ve synced to your machine; its sole redeeming value may be its finger-friendliness. The Skype Universal app has many of the same reliability problems of its non-Universal brethren.
The story with third-party Universal Windows apps bobs from week to week. Many companies have withdrawn support for Windows Store apps, while others have signed on. Neither Project Centennial (a tool that converts traditional Windows desktop apps into Universal apps) nor Microsoft’s acquisition of Xamarin (which makes a toolset for porting iOS and Android apps to the Universal Windows Platform) have begun to fill the gaping hole that is Windows Store.
As of this writing, about a third of a billion machines are running Windows 10. In general, they’ll be upgraded to Windows 10 Anniversary Update shortly after Aug. 2. If you have problems, keep your eye on InfoWorld for the latest advice and commiseration.
Those of you who recently upgraded from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 will likely have to wait before you’re offered the Anniversary Update. As a rule, automatic updating of versions hasn’t kicked in until you’ve passed the 30-day mark of your previous update. Why? Microsoft doesn’t want to clobber your ability to roll back to your previous version of Windows — and you’re allowed to roll back for 30 days.
There are many open questions about the transition on July 29. How to install the Anniversary Update directly, how to upgrade from Win7 or 8.1 after July 29, and how to buy a copy after the free upgrade offer ends have not been adequately explained yet.
Is it time for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users to embrace Windows 10? It’s not a clear-cut decision. There’s no killer app, no killer service, and certain drawbacks (forced updates, snooping). Windows 10 is good and steadily improving, but not yet compelling. If you’re happy with Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, and Anniversary Update’s key draws (such as Cortana and Windows Ink) don’t ring your chimes, you might as well stay put. There’s no harm in waiting, although the free upgrade from Win7 and 8.1 will likely expire on July 29.
Rumor has it we won’t see the next major Windows 10 update (“Threshold 2,” or in my way of thinking, Service Pack 3) until early 2017. Maybe this third major update will be the charm.
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