Win­dows 10 An­niver­sary Up­date

PC Advisor - - CONTENTS -

We’ve spent some time div­ing deep into Win­dows 10’s An­niver­sary Up­date. As a birth­day present of sorts to users who’ve up­graded to Win­dows 10 in the past year since the op­er­at­ing sys­tem launched, it’s a pretty nice one.

Here’s what’s in the box: Cor­tana, which is now ac­ces­si­ble from the lock screen, is more ubiq­ui­tous than ever. Ex­ten­sions fi­nally make Microsoft Edge us­able. Win­dows Hello im­proves, Skype’s re­boot seems to be on the right track, and un­der­neath it all are even more thought­ful tweaks that im­prove Win­dows 10’s over­all ex­pe­ri­ence. The new Win­dows Ink is in­trigu­ing, if only par­tially baked. One or two fea­tures you may have ex­pected aren’t quite ready.

But if you’re a Win­dows user still on the fence, the An­niver­sary Up­date won’t sway you. This isn’t Win­dows 8.1, Microsoft’s apol­ogy for the sins of Win­dows 8. Some of the scep­tics’ big­gest reser­va­tions about Win­dows 10, such as the de­mand for a Microsoft ac­count, or the many and var­ied at­tempts to keep tabs on your ac­tiv­i­ties, clearly are here to stay.

Think of the AU in­stead as a mile­stone in Win­dows 10’s jour­ney, a chance to pol­ish some fea­tures and bring on board a few oth­ers.

Win­dows Hello

Microsoft’s An­niver­sary Up­date was sup­posed to take the Win­dows Hello bio­met­ric au­then­ti­ca­tion sys­tem a step fur­ther, fi­nally de­liv­er­ing on the ‘Passport’ prom­ise of the orig­i­nal op­er­at­ing sys­tem: your face or fin­ger­print would serve as your pass­word for the web as well as your PC. Microsoft ex­ec­u­tives told us that Hello will take on this new role once the FIDO 2.0 stan­dard of­fi­cially rolls out in a few months. For now, Hello is now used to au­then­ti­cate you at the Win­dows Store.

Microsoft’s orig­i­nal Sur­face tablets used a depth cam­era to snap a 3D im­age of a user’s face, iden­ti­fy­ing and log­ging them in. Now, Hello has be­come even more ac­ces­si­ble, as more hard­ware mak­ers adopt fin­ger­print read­ers. Both bits of hard­ware work ex­cep­tion­ally well – and if they don’t, there’s al­ways a PIN or Microsoft pass­word al­ter­na­tives.

Now, Microsoft is push­ing Hello be­yond your lo­gin screen, and the first stop is the Win­dows Store. The AU code now uses Hello to buy apps, mu­sic, and more. What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween tap­ping a but­ton to ap­prove a stored credit card, ver­sus us­ing your face? Not that much, though the trans­ac­tion is au­then­ti­cated via the hard­ware in your PC, pro­vid­ing an ad­di­tional as­sur­ance that you are you.

We still think re­plac­ing pass­words via bio­met­rics is the fu­ture of shop­ping on the web, but re­strict­ing it to Store pur­chases helps ease users into this new tech­nol­ogy. A lot is go­ing to de­pend on which sites adopt Hello au­then­ti­ca­tion, es­pe­cially bank­ing sites.

Cor­tana

If you be­lieve that Microsoft is the devil in Red­mond, gob­bling up your data to pass along to ad­ver­tis­ers (or worse), noth­ing about Cor­tana’s lat­est fea­tures will change that. (But you’ll be happy to know that the French gov­ern­ment agrees with you.) That said, the Cor­tana dig­i­tal as­sis­tant has steadily im­proved since the ini­tial re­lease of Win­dows 10. The An­niver­sary Up­date presents a Cor­tana that’s more aware of you than ever, as­sum­ing you al­low her ac­cess to your life.

(In the An­niver­sary Up­date, you can’t turn Cor­tana off, though you can pe­ri­od­i­cally wipe out her mem­ory by eras­ing what it knows and by dis­abling Win­dows’s 10 per­son­al­i­sa­tion fea­tures via the Pri­vacy op­tions in Set­tings.)

Cor­tana can now speak sev­eral lan­guages, search your email for flight times and other per­ti­nent data, and more. Two key ad­di­tions make Cor­tana es­pe­cially use­ful, how­ever: its hang­out on your lock screen, and its abil­ity to re­mind you of ba­si­cally any­thing.

This is a great trick. You can yell across the room – “Hey Cor­tana!” – and trig­ger a few ac­tions on the lock screen, with­out need­ing to log in. It can tell you of up­com­ing ap­point­ments, or even tell you a joke. One of the prod­uct man­agers re­spon­si­ble for Cor­tana told me that she likes to see her cal­en­dar on her screen across the room, and she’s right, it’s cer­tainly handy.

The other use­ful ad­di­tion to Cor­tana’s reper­toire is that you can now set a ‘re­minder’ for a ran­dom fact: “Re­mem­ber that my room

Cor­tana does ask for in­for­ma­tion from a va­ri­ety of con­nected ac­counts, though they’re off by de­fault. In part, that’s to help you plan out get­ting to and from meet­ings, say, via Uber

num­ber is 1443,” or “Re­mem­ber that my nephew likes Star Wars toys.” Later, when you need to, you can then ask “What is my room num­ber?” or “Tell me the toys my nephew likes.”

The best sum­mary of Cor­tana’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties lies within the Cor­tana Note­book, where you’ll find all sorts of lit­tle tid­bits: do you want Cor­tana to know when you typ­i­cally eat lunch, and sched­ule around it, to con­nect to your fit­ness tracker or to make res­tau­rant rec­om­men­da­tions? This re­viewer fires off re­minders all the time, just by yelling at Cor­tana while tap­ping away at some­thing. And you can send texts to An­droid and iOS phones, too, if you’ve in­stalled the Cor­tana app.

Edge

Edge, Microsoft’s in­te­grated browser, was a glar­ing flaw in the orig­i­nal Win­dows 10 re­lease: too spare, too slow. Even now, as Win­dows 10 boasts a de­cent 19.1 per­cent mar­ket share, Edge’s share sits at just 5.1 per­cent. It still de­serves men­tion here though, be­cause it’s steadily and sur­pris­ingly im­proved over time (although no spe­cific im­prove­ments are re­ally re­cent enough to be part of the An­niver­sary Up­date). Edge now syncs data with the cloud, adds ex­ten­sions, and even of­fers in­te­gra­tion with Cor­tana.

When Win­dows 10 de­buted, nei­ther Edge’s Favourites nor its stored pass­words eas­ily synced with the cloud, which is es­pe­cially frus­trat­ing when mov­ing to a new

PC. There were work­arounds – we could store favourites in Chrome, in­stall the browser, load the favourites, then ex­port them to Edge – but that was a pain. Now, as long as you sync ev­ery­thing to your Microsoft ac­count, all that data should roam be­tween de­vices. Just make sure to visit Set­tings > Ac­counts > Sync your set­tings and ver­ify your iden­tity. IE users will be frus­trated that click­ing on a link with the mouse wheel doesn’t open a web page as a new tab over the cur­rent one.

The An­niver­sary Up­date code now con­tains sup­port for ex­ten­sions, a fea­ture the orig­i­nal ver­sion of Edge no­tably lacked. At the time of writ­ing, 13 Edge ex­ten­sions are avail­able via the Microsoft Store, none of them fluff: AdBlock and AdBlock Plus, the LastPass free pass­word man­ager, an Ever­note web clip­per, and more. They’re easy as pie to in­stall: sim­ply go to the el­lip­sis menu at the up­per right, scroll down to Ex­ten­sions, and in­stall them like any other app.

Whether you like the new Edge de­pends on whether you have an ad blocker in­stalled. With­out it, web brows­ing still re­mains choppy. With it turned on though, Edge now is in the same league as other browsers, ren­der­ing web pages about a sec­ond slower than the com­pe­ti­tion. We still found Edge some­what un­sta­ble, though, crashing on me­dia-rich pages even with ad block­ing on. For­tu­nately, such crashes re­booted the tab, with no ap­par­ent ill ef­fects to the other tabs. We just hope that the crashes can be chalked up to a bad ad, rather than an is­sue with the Edge code.

We all shop on­line, and Edge has added a few handy fea­tures. Edge is in­te­grated with Cor­tana, so the dig­i­tal as­sis­tant will re­turn re­sults us­ing Bing and Edge, that it can’t find it­self. We’re not ready to call Edge a great browser, but it’s risen to the level of ac­cept­able.

Win­dows Ink

Pen com­put­ing has been part of the Ap­ple New­ton, the Tablet PC, the Sur­face Pro 3, and other de­vices. But the PC world has never re­ally an­swered the cen­tral ques­tion con­cern­ing the pen: what ex­actly do you do with it?

Vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing about Win­dows Ink was de­signed for the An­niver­sary Up­date. OneNote used to be Microsoft’s great ink­ing ap­pli­ca­tion; now, a col­lec­tion of na­tive Win­dows Ink-pow­ered apps (which orig­i­nated from the mas­sive Sur­face Hub) – Sticky Notes, Sketch­pad and Screen Sketch – is el­bow­ing into its ter­ri­tory. And if those aren’t good enough, a cu­rated col­lec­tion of ink­ing apps are now in the Win­dows Store.

A few years ago, Microsoft ex­ec­u­tives showed a Sur­face Pro 3 tablet that could be writ­ten upon just by click­ing the sty­lus, even with­out un­lock­ing the PC. To­day, that same fea­ture (which, due to a bug or faulty Sur­face Pen, we could not get to work) un­locks the Win­dows Ink Workspace and any of the as­so­ci­ated apps. They’re also found be­hind the new pen icon, in the Win­dows taskbar.

Of the three Workspace apps, nei­ther Sticky Notes nor Sketch­pad par­tic­u­larly im­pressed us. Sticky Notes sim­ply drop them­selves on your screen – yes, like tiny, phys­i­cal sticky notes. A late-break­ing tweak just be­fore the An­niver­sary Up­date launched added the In­sights fea­ture, which al­lows Bing to in­ter­pret a scrawled flight num­ber, for in­stance, as ac­tual, ac­tion­able data.

Sketch­pad’s ex­is­tence, mean­while, ba­si­cally tells us that Microsoft felt OneNote, even the sim­pli­fied Metro ver­sion that shipped with the Sur­face Pro 3, was sim­ply overkill for what users want to do: scrawl a quick note. Sketch­pad, though, doesn’t fix things: it feels more like a draw­ing tool than a note-tak­ing app. What we’d like to see is for Sticky Notes to

go away and In­sights to mi­grate to Sketch­pad. Ide­ally, Win­dows would ‘read’ all of your dig­i­tal scrib­bles, any­way – or at least those that you’ve des­ig­nated.

Screen Sketch, mean­while, re­minds us of how we use a Galaxy Note smart­phone: for grab­bing web pages or scrawl­ing a note, and post­ing them on­line. Our com­plaint is how Win­dows fails to recog­nise that our pri­mary desk­top mon­i­tor is not touch-en­abled, and dumps both Screen Sketch and Sticky Notes there, rather than on a touch­screen di­rectly next to it.

We never thought we’d say this, but there’s a sec­tion of the Win­dows Store worth check­ing out, and that is the Win­dows Ink sec­tion. It con­tains at least 40 apps, all cu­rated for pen use. This is a re­fresh­ing change: a smart col­lec­tion of apps or­gan­ised with a pur­pose.

One ex­pected fea­ture, dig­i­tally ink­ing a route in the Maps app, isn’t ready yet. Microsoft told us that it also plans to ex­pand OneNote’s smart ink­ing – a free­hand cir­cle, for in­stance, con­verts to a ma­chine-gen­er­ated one – to equa­tions. But this misses the point: un­til Microsoft de­liv­ers the ca­pa­bil­ity to in­ter­pret inked letters as rich, ed­itable text, that can be in­serted into Word or Out­look, Win­dows Ink isn’t fully baked.

Task View and Snap

The An­niver­sary Up­date doesn’t change that much about Task View, Microsoft’s vir­tual desk­top util­ity, but it adds the abil­ity to pin win­dows from a par­tic­u­lar app to mul­ti­ple desk­tops and to do the same for mul­ti­ple win­dows. It also al­lows you to pin a chat app or mu­sic player where it’s al­ways ac­ces­si­ble.

We sus­pect that most users pre­fer to use mul­ti­ple phys­i­cal mon­i­tors, then for­get about Microsoft’s ex­tremely use­ful Task View fea­ture when they’re con­fined to a note­book. Snap and Task View go hand in hand: you can snap apps to the four cor­ners of a screen, or one to each side. Task View al­lows you to swap be­tween these ‘screens’ of apps with just a key­stroke com­bi­na­tion.

We just wish there were a sim­pler way to slide be­tween desk­tops. Ctrl + Win + ei­ther Right or Left Ar­row isn’t in­tu­itive, and there’s still that pesky hard stop at the end of the row of vir­tual desk­tops. Per­haps Microsoft could im­ple­ment a touch­screen ges­ture, or the three-fin­ger swipe used to move be­tween apps could be re­as­signed to desk­tops. That hasn’t stopped both Snap and Task View from re­main­ing one of the most valu­able fea­tures of Win­dows 10.

Un­der the hood

A num­ber of mi­nor fea­tures have been added to the Win­dows 10 code since last year, in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments that some­times fly un­der the radar. We high­light a few be­low that we think make a sub­stan­tive dif­fer­ence: the ad­di­tion of num­bers to taskbar icons, dark mode, a quick cal­en­dar view, im­prove­ments to the Ac­tion Cen­tre, and a tweak for con­fig­ur­ing au­dio sources.

No­ti­fi­ca­tions are now an im­por­tant com­po­nent of the mod­ern op­er­at­ing sys­tem, and the Ac­tion Cen­tre has im­proved in the past few months’ worth of In­sider Builds. Pre­vi­ously, the Ac­tion Cen­tre was dom­i­nated by which­ever ap­pli­ca­tion had the most no­ti­fi­ca­tions (email, in our case). Now, it gives equal weight to var­i­ous apps, tuck­ing older no­ti­fi­ca­tions out of sight.

Win­dows will also show the num­ber of to­tal no­ti­fi­ca­tions in the Taskbar. Click­ing the Taskbar’s time/ date will also show a con­cise view of your cal­en­dar for the day. That time and date will also show up on all of your dis­plays – not just the pri­mary one. There’s a dark mode (see the screen on page 18), too, avail­able in the Set­tings menu’s Per­son­al­i­sa­tion sec­tion, but just for some UWP apps, and not Win32 apps or even the whole of the Win­dows 10 UI.

Here’s one hid­den fea­ture we re­ally love: switch­ing be­tween au­dio sources, such as head­phones or tablet speak­ers, used to be a func­tion of a buried con­trol panel. Now, you can sim­ply click the vol­ume icon, then click the ar­row above the slider to change your au­dio sources. (But there’s still no graphic equal­izer in Groove.)

OneDrive

In May, Microsoft launched a UWP OneDrive app, which helped ad­dress the loss of ‘smart’ or ‘place­holder’ files in the orig­i­nal re­lease of Win­dows 10.

Win­dows 10’s An­niver­sary Up­date im­proves OneDrive in im­por­tant ways. In our orig­i­nal re­view of

Win­dows 10 last year, we wrote of OneDrive: “One fea­ture has dis­ap­peared, though: the confusing ‘place­holder’ files that resided on your PC as a time­sav­ing de­vice. And that’s good.”

No, it’s not. That was wrong. OneDrive is a mess, and the place­holder files should be there to­day. For­tu­nately, OneDrive meets us half­way: it’s an app that func­tions like the OneDrive web­site, list­ing the files you’ve stored in the cloud. It’s also slow. But you can drag files into the app and OneDrive will up­load them, so it’s al­most, but not quite as good, as a ded­i­cated folder.

Win­dows Store

Two things are note­wor­thy about the Win­dows Store: the new apps and de­scrip­tions that pop­u­late it, and the un­nec­es­sar­ily poor re­design that Microsoft forced onto it.

The Store app is al­ready ham­strung by two is­sues: its rel­a­tively low app count (669,000 Win­dows Store apps as of Septem­ber 2015, ver­sus two mil­lion or so for An­droid and iOS) and its need to push those apps at you. Un­for­tu­nately, Microsoft’s Store re­design doesn’t help.

Cus­tomers ob­vi­ously weren’t scrolling down the page to find the ‘top apps’ or ‘fea­tured apps’, so Microsoft added four ugly boxes up top to cap­ture your eye­balls. But what’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween ‘top apps’, ‘fea­tured apps’, ‘col­lec­tions’, ‘Best of Win­dows Store’, as well as ‘Picks for you’? Take it down a notch, Microsoft. We’ll get there.

If you don’t go be­yond the first page of the Store, though, you’d never guess that Microsoft suf­fers from an ‘app gap’ be­tween it­self and An­droid – al­most ev­ery­thing on its front page is of high qual­ity. In­di­vid­ual app pages have also been im­proved, clearly spell­ing out which plat­forms they run on, in­clud­ing mo­bile and PC. App rat­ings now can be viewed just for the lat­est ver­sion, which is handy. We still need some in­di­ca­tion of how many down­loads an app has, though, and when the most re­cent ver­sion was pub­lished.

Ku­dos to Microsoft for at least try­ing to el­e­vate its Win­dows 10 rep­u­ta­tion with a se­ries of high­er­pro­file game ti­tles, though. These are the some­what con­tro­ver­sial UWP apps that strad­dle both Win­dows 10 and the Xbox One, in­clud­ing games such as Quan­tum Break, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and even a nifty free­bie, Forza Mo­tor­sport 6: Apex. Microsoft’s pur­chase of Xa­marin seems to have paid off with new, qual­ity apps: Hulu, Fox Sports Go, Plex, and oth­ers. Let’s hope it con­tin­ues.

Skype Preview

Skype was no­to­ri­ously left out of the orig­i­nal Win­dows 10 re­lease, re­placed with a ‘Get Skype’ place­holder app. Now, Microsoft’s pre­pared for the even­tual rere­lease of Skype as a UWP app with Skype Preview, which so far has proven sim­ple and ef­fec­tive.

Ig­nore all the silly love emoti­cons and other rub­bish Microsoft added to Skype ear­lier this year. Skype Preview does calls and mes­sag­ing – even some of the new chat­bots Microsoft high­lighted at its Build con­fer­ence – and that’s about it. Premium fea­tures, such as trans­la­tion, aren’t quite there yet. Re­fresh­ingly, Skype Preview just logged me in us­ing my Win­dows lo­gin cre­den­tials.

We’re not huge Skype users, although we tend to have most of our over­seas con­ver­sa­tions us­ing the ser­vice. Skype Preview might not be the fi­nal, full-fledged UWP app, but it seems like it does ev­ery­thing we need to at the mo­ment.

Other UWP apps get their own tweaks

You’ll no­tice tweaks big and small to other UWP apps in the An­niver­sary Up­date. Here are the high­lights.

One of the big­gest is ac­tu­ally a new ad­di­tion: the Bash app, which lets de­vel­op­ers to try out a Linux en­vi­ron­ment within Win­dows, with­out the need for a vir­tual ma­chine. We’ll con­fess that we know lit­tle about Linux, how­ever, and can’t of­fer any in­formed com­men­tary on what the shell can or can’t do.

In­sider builds of the Win­dows 10 Mo­bile Pho­tos app now cap­ture video in slow mo­tion, and a sim­i­lar ca­pa­bil­ity may be com­ing to the desk­top Pho­tos app as well. Un­for­tu­nately, Microsoft pulled it be­fore the AU code shipped.

Mail’s been up­dated with the abil­ity to drag-and-drop cal­en­dar ap­point­ments. It’s also mer­ci­fully much more sta­ble, un­like in the early days of Win­dows 10. Fi­nally, the Start menu looks just a shade dif­fer­ent: what was pre­vi­ously an All Apps but­ton is now just a scrolling list of apps, by de­fault.

Con­nect

The Con­nect app mar­ries your Win­dows 10 Mo­bile de­vice to your desk­top PC wire­lessly, pro­vid­ing a Con­tin­uum-like ex­pe­ri­ence with­out the cost of the Dis­play Dock. We don’t un­der­stand the Con­nect app on Win­dows 10.

Con­nect was one of the an­tic­i­pated fea­tures of the up­date, par­tially be­cause Con­nect projects your phone’s dis­play onto your Win­dows 10 PC screen, just like Con­tin­uum. But Con­nect con­nects your phone, em­bed­ding its desk­top within a win­dow on your PC. Shouldn’t you al­ready have those files on your PC? That’s not adding much to the ex­pe­ri­ence, in my book. Con­nect­ing my phone to a Sur­face Pro 4 via Blue­tooth was sim­ple enough, but the con­nec­tion lagged fairly se­verely. We poked through some pho­tos, surfed the in­ter­net a lit­tle, then moved on.

Ver­dict

For any­one who al­ready runs Win­dows 10, the An­niver­sary Up­date is com­ing, like it or not. We hope Microsoft patches many of the ran­dom bugs that still re­main, a few of which we noted in this re­view.

Mean­while, mil­lions of Win­dows 7 and Win­dows 8.1 users are won­der­ing if they should fol­low Microsoft’s lead. We sus­pect that lit­tle in the An­niver­sary Up­date it­self will con­vince them to make the switch. Far more im­por­tant will be the hit to the wal­lets of peo­ple who skipped the free up­grade to Win­dows 10, which has ex­pired.

As sta­ble and solid as Win­dows 7 is to­day, there sim­ply must come a day when Win­dows 7 will be­come so out­dated as to be­come nearly un­us­able. Mean­while, Win­dows 10 in­tro­duced Cor­tana, Win­dows Hello, Task View, Edge, and the Ac­tion Cen­tre. To that, the Win­dows 10 AU adds Win­dows Ink and buffs sev­eral ex­ist­ing Win­dows 10 fea­tures – worth­while, cer­tainly, but not the sort of mon­u­men­tal changes that Win­dows 10 orig­i­nally in­tro­duced.

Has Win­dows 10 im­proved? Clearly. Does it still de­mand fur­ther work? Sadly, yes. Microsoft promised us fea­tures such as us­ing Win­dows Hello to log in via the web, and it ought to pro­vide a fully fledged Ink ex­pe­ri­ence with rich, ed­itable text. Nei­ther are here yet. Speech should be Microsoft’s next pri­or­ity – yes, you can talk to Cor­tana, but oral dic­ta­tion should be a more prom­i­nent op­tion than it is.

Cor­tana, bio­met­ric web au­then­ti­ca­tion, data stored seam­lessly in the cloud: these are bold strides for­ward, and ones that can po­ten­tially re­shape the way we work and play. But they are un­fin­ished. Win­dows 10 may be the last Win­dows, but these are still its first steps. Mark Hach­man

One of the most an­tic­i­pated fea­tures of the An­niver­sary Up­date has been ‘dark mode’

Click the pen icon, and Win­dows will launch the Win­dows Ink Workspace, a col­lec­tion of inkspe­cific apps

More than a dozen ex­ten­sions add some long-awaited, and much-needed, ex­ten­si­bil­ity to Microsoft’s Edge browser

A new Task View op­tion within the Win­dows 10 An­niver­sary Up­date al­lows you to pin an app to mul­ti­ple desk­tops, such as Groove Mu­sic or Slack

Ac­tion Cen­tre now bet­ter or­gan­ises your no­ti­fi­ca­tions into cat­e­gories. Note the quick set­tings icons at the bot­tom. (You may need to click Ex­pand to see them.)

Click the time/date box on the taskbar, and a quick look at your day pops up

The front page of Microsoft’s Win­dows Store app

With the ver­sion of the app that’s avail­able with the An­niver­sary Up­date, Groove Mu­sic now dis­plays a (lu­di­crous) num­ber of cus­tomised playlists, based on what you lis­ten to

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