Win­dows 10 Fall Cre­ators Up­date

Free for Win­dows 10 com­put­ers

Tech Advisor - - Contents - Mark Hach­man

Mi­crosoft’s Win­dows 10 Fall Cre­ators Up­date is what ev­ery se­quel shoots for: big­ger, bet­ter, more am­bi­tious than the orig­i­nal. As it rolls out in phases, our re­view fo­cuses on Win­dows’ big, risky bet on mixed re­al­ity, plus smarter in­vest­ments in the pen, cre­ative 3D apps, Edge, and even speech. A ton of prac­ti­cal, ev­ery­day ad­di­tions won us over, in­clud­ing OneDrive place­hold­ers and much longer bat­tery life while watch­ing movies.

Tak­ing a page from Ap­ple’s play­book, Mi­crosoft has also cho­sen to syn­chro­nize the Fall Cre­ators Up­date with new hard­ware in­tro­duc­tions. The up­com­ing Sur­face Book 2, mixed-re­al­ity de­vices from a hand­ful of part­ners, the Har­man/Kar­don In­voke, and the Xbox One X pop­u­late a hard­ware/soft­ware ecosys­tem that’s a co­he­sive whole. If Mi­crosoft wins its big bet on mixed re­al­ity, the Fall Cre­ators Up­date could be a nearly fives­tar re­lease. For now, we think there’s enough here to merit our four-star re­view score.

Story Remix, Mixed Re­al­ity Viewer, and Paint 3D

We could be­gin with Mi­crosoft’s mas­sive bets on new plat­forms, like mixed re­al­ity, but those are also its big­gest ques­tion marks. Let’s talk in­stead about three suc­cesses within the Fall Cre­ators Up­date: Pho­tos (Story Remix), Mixed Re­al­ity Viewer, and Paint 3D’s new Magic Se­lect tool.

Think of the trio as a wealth of fun pos­si­bil­i­ties. The Pho­tos app re­mains an ex­cel­lent ba­sic photo editor, but from there, you choose: Should that photo be part of a photo and video slide show with Story Remix, with music, tran­si­tions, and even 3D ob­jects? Would it work bet­ter as a tex­ture for a 3D ob­ject within Paint 3D? Wouldn’t that 3D ob­ject look great su­per­im­posed on a real-life scene within Mixed Re­al­ity Viewer that you could record as a photo?

Story Remix: Turn your pho­tos into slide shows As soon as a Mi­crosoft pre­sen­ter trans­formed a soc­cer ball into an ex­plod­ing me­teor, Story Remix be­came

the most an­tic­i­pated app of the Fall Cre­ators Up­date. But it’s not an app; in­stead, Story Remix is sort of an al­ter­nate path within Pho­tos. Story Remix can take a se­lec­tion of pho­tos and videos and cre­ate an al­bum, or turn them into an al­go­rith­mi­cally gen­er­ated movie, or let you take to­tal con­trol and add fun 3D ef­fects.

Some dif­fer­ences between Pho­tos and Pho­tos (Story Remix) feel forced. Your Pho­tos are now stored in a search­able Col­lec­tion tab that needs to be in­dexed when you first open it. Once there, you can se­lect pho­tos to cre­ate an al­bum, or tap Story Remix to make a Video Remix, au­to­mat­i­cally trim­ming them and adding music and tran­si­tions. Mi­crosoft may be overzeal­ous in its cu­ra­tion, slic­ing min­utes’ worth of video down to just a few sec­onds in some cases. If you don’t like the re­sults, you can click the big Remix but­ton and let it try again.

Video Pro­ject is where you take over, re­ar­rang­ing things as you like and adding tran­si­tions, music, and those 3D an­i­ma­tions. While the an­i­ma­tions aren’t as com­plex as what Mi­crosoft showed off pre­vi­ously, ef­fects such as light­ning, laser lights, and por­tals are still fun, es­pe­cially for chil­dren. Be­fore, ef­fects an­chored to sur­faces or ob­jects in the video. Now, you can an­chor the ef­fect to a point on the screen. Story Remix will fig­ure out what it is and act ac­cord­ingly.

There’s def­i­nitely room for im­prove­ment, but Story Remix re­mains one of the high­lights of the Fall Cre­ators Up­date. Un­for­tu­nately, there’s one enor­mous catch: Mi­crosoft may hold back many of its new 3D ef­fects for Of­fice 365 sub­scribers, which if true is sim­ply ridicu­lous.

Paint 3D’s Magic Se­lect tool is what we were wait­ing for

Paint 3D has one sig­nif­i­cant change in the Fall Cre­ators Up­date: Magic Se­lect, a tool that, like the Pho­to­shop Magic Wand it re­sem­bles, can edit out chunks of a photo as if they were never there.

Magic Se­lect pulls ob­jects out of a scene by in­tel­li­gently trac­ing their out­line and cut­ting them out. Then it fills in the back­ground based on the rest of the sur­round­ing im­age.

The per­for­mance varies. Some­times re­moved sec­tions left a ‘ghost’ out­line, or the at­tempt to fill in the back­ground left an odd al­ter­ation. The cut-out im­ages tend to be of bet­ter qual­ity, and you can in­sert them into an­other photo, or ap­ply them as a tex­ture map to an­other 3D ob­ject within Paint 3D. You can use Magic Se­lect as a sup­ple­men­tary tool for photo

edit­ing within Paint, or as an­other cre­ative el­e­ment within Paint 3D.

Mixed Re­al­ity Viewer is Win­dows aug­mented re­al­ity

Whether it’s Snapchat’s aug­mented bit­moji or In­sta­gram’s an­i­mated face fil­ters, aug­mented re­al­ity is very much of the mo­ment. Mixed Re­al­ity Viewer is Mi­crosoft’s at­tempt to jump right in, leveraging its amaz­ing ar­ray of 3D ob­jects within Paint 3D’s Remix 3D. Un­for­tu­nately, Mixed Re­al­ity Viewer isn’t a mo­bile app. In­stead, it re­quires a Win­dows tablet or lap­top with a rear-fac­ing cam­era, so that you can su­per­im­pose (just one) 3D ob­ject over the real world.

Though it feels more nat­u­ral to de­scribe Mixed Re­al­ity Viewer last in this sec­tion of the re­view, it’s re­ally

a start­ing hub for the other apps. Mixed Re­al­ity Viewer ac­tu­ally opens with Model View, which sim­ply plops a slowly-ro­tat­ing model for you to stare at blankly as you fig­ure out what to do. Through ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, you’ll dis­cover that you can al­ter the model in Paint 3D, or re­place it en­tirely with an­other Remix 3D model, via the links at the top of the screen.

Click­ing the Mixed Re­al­ity tab launches the ex­ter­nal cam­era, where you can ro­tate, en­large, and then place the model within the scene. The app in­tel­li­gently aligns the model with a real-world sur­face like a floor, giv­ing a bit more verisimil­i­tude to the gi­ant cowboy taco you just added.

Mi­crosoft rarely both­ers to pro­mote and ex­plain new apps, and the Fall Cre­ators Up­date des­per­ately needs to lead users to these apps and show what

they can do. Story Remix at least en­joyed some stage time at Mi­crosoft’s Build devel­oper con­fer­ence. App ex­pe­ri­ences like Story Remix and Mixed Re­al­ity Viewer need to wave at the user when Win­dows launches, and they don’t.

My Peo­ple adds a so­cial el­e­ment to Win­dows 10

Some ex­tro­verts seem rarely able to go a day with­out check­ing in on friends and fam­ily. For those who like to stay in touch, there’s My Peo­ple.

My Peo­ple places icons for up to three peo­ple in your taskbar. Click­ing them brings up two ways of

con­tact­ing them – Skype and Mail – as well as their Peo­ple con­tact card. Setup can be a pain, and the pay­off – fun, en­gag­ing emoji that pop up on your taskbar when your friends send them – seems lim­ited. (My Peo­ple also opens a ver­sion of Skype and Mail which presents only your in­ter­ac­tions with your friend.)

I per­son­ally find My Peo­ple too dis­tract­ing, but some peo­ple may ab­so­lutely love it. Even­tu­ally, I’d love to see it ex­tended to What­sApp, Face­book Mes­sen­ger, and more – ba­si­cally, as a uni­ver­sal com­mu­ni­ca­tor for friends on dis­parate so­cial net­works.

Fi­nally, an emoji key­board within Win­dows

While My Peo­ple adds a so­cial el­e­ment to Win­dows, the ad­di­tion of the long-awaited emoji key­board helps tran­si­tion this re­view into the more use­ful ad­di­tions to Win­dows. Why do Win­dows web apps like Twit­ter and Face­book have ded­i­cated emoji but­tons? Be­cause Mi­crosoft never got around to adding them to Win­dows, that’s why.

Us­ing just one Win­dows short­cut – I use WIN + ; (in­clud­ing the semi-colon), oth­er­wise known as the ‘winky’ – you can bring up the stan­dard Win­dows

emoji, plus Mi­crosoft’s own ‘nin­ja­cats’. Emoji used to be re­stricted to mo­bile phones or Win­dows tablets in tablet mode. This is a great ad­di­tion, but why did it take so long?

Video Play­back stretches bat­tery life

One of my can­di­dates for best un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated fea­ture within the Win­dows 10 Fall Cre­ators Up­date is an Apps set­ting called Video Play­back, which smartly rec­og­nizes that one of the most pop­u­lar uses of a lap­top on a plane flight is to watch recorded video. Pro­vided you have com­pat­i­ble hard­ware, Video Play­back al­lows you to op­ti­mize your stream­ing or recorded videos for one of two things: video qual­ity – in­clud­ing sup­port for HDR video – or to max­i­mize bat­tery life.

On my test Sur­face Pro 4, im­prov­ing video made mar­ginal im­prove­ments to the video qual­ity. But op­ti­miz­ing for bat­tery life – which in­cluded the op­tion to play video back at a lower res­o­lu­tion, which I barely no­ticed – re­ally made a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in our bat­tery run­down test, which loops a 4K video. Note that these im­prove­ments ap­ply only to apps that use Win­dows 10’s video plat­form, in­clud­ing the Movies & TV app, but also third-party video apps from the Store such as Net­flix. YouTube seemed to be un­af­fected.

OneDrive on De­mand

One of the small, long-awaited con­ve­niences within the Win­dows 10 Fall Cre­ators Up­date is OneDrive Files on De­mand, the ‘place­holder’ technology for sync­ing files with OneDrive. When Win­dows 10 launched, sync­ing files with OneDrive put one copy of the file on your hard drive, and an­other in the cloud. Given that OneDrive al­lows up to a ter­abyte of OneDrive stor­age with an Of­fice 365 sub­scrip­tion, this was un­ten­able.

Now, OneDrive has re­turned to the ‘place­holder’ model of Win­dows 8.1. In­stead of stor­ing a file on your hard drive, the file is es­sen­tially a short­cut to the ac­tual copy stored on OneDrive, us­ing a frac­tion of the space, and with­out launch­ing an app or web­site. (You’ll still have to down­load any files stored on OneDrive be­fore you can use them.) Now, there’s no rea­son not to mir­ror your en­tire OneDrive on your PC.

Se­cu­rity im­prove­ments in­clude a bet­ter PIN

For users, there are two im­por­tant se­cu­rity ad­di­tions to Win­dows 10’s Fall Cre­ators Up­date. In the Cre­ators

Up­date, Mi­crosoft added some­thing called Win­dows De­fender Ap­pli­ca­tion Guard: a sand­boxed in­stance of Edge that pro­tected users’ PCs from any driveby mal­ware on the web. The Fall Cre­ators Up­date al­lows those users to en­joy more web fea­tures, and store down­loads and cook­ies, within the pro­tected en­vi­ron­ment.

You’ll prob­a­bly like an­other se­cu­rity fea­ture even bet­ter. The PIN code you’ve used to se­cure Win­dows now ac­cepts let­ters and spe­cial char­ac­ters as well as num­bers. It’s still just four char­ac­ters at a time, but you can make the PIN harder to guess.

Edge evolves into an ex­cel­lent PDF reader

Pre­vi­ous Win­dows up­dates made Edge the star. Here, the fo­cus is on op­ti­miz­ing Edge as a PDF reader, no

Adobe Acro­bat needed. New ca­pa­bil­i­ties in­clude fil­l­able fields, markup, and even the abil­ity to ink a dig­i­tal signature right within Edge. All told, Edge is now the best of all browsers at han­dling PDFs – though power users will want more. Edge also gains a few mi­nor pow­ers. You can an­no­tate ebooks and pin web­sites to the taskbar within Edge. If you pre­fer to run an app like Slack as a web app rather than a ded­i­cated app, it works, though Edge reloads the page ev­ery time you check it. Mi­crosoft added the one Edge fea­ture whose omis­sion drove some peo­ple mad: full-screen mode, F5. Yep, it’s fi­nally here.

Ink­ing, dic­ta­tion, eye con­trol and more

Hav­ing learned that Mi­crosoft’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Satya Nadella is fa­ther to a spe­cial-needs child, the new in­put modal­i­ties that Mi­crosoft has in­tro­duced have taken on a new sig­nif­i­cance. Here are all the ways Win­dows 10’s Fall Cre­ators Up­date lets you in­ter­act with your de­vice, beyond key­board and mouse.

The new Sur­face Pen is might­ier

Mi­crosoft sees the pen as a tool for dig­i­tal artists as well as ev­ery­day users, and for the lat­ter, the Fall Cre­ators Up­date brings wel­come im­prove­ments. Un­like the ad­di­tion of Win­dows Ink to the An­niver­sary Up­date, the ink­ing im­prove­ments within the Fall Cre­ators Up­date are more fun­da­men­tal. There’s a glitchy ‘Find My Pen’ fea­ture to help you find a lost pen, and the abil­ity to scroll and se­lect text with the pen that feels a bit forced. I’m re­ally im­pressed by how well Win­dows now reads elec­tronic ink strokes, though. The ink­ing win­dow now ‘floats’ to where you need it, and about any com­bi­na­tion of cur­sive and print­ing is re­li­ably un­der­stood.

Dic­ta­tion comes to the fore

Though dic­ta­tion has lived within Win­dows since Win­dows Vista, you’ve prob­a­bly never used it. It’s been hid­den within the Con­trol Panel, it re­quires train­ing and a head­set, and it’s clumsy and painful to use. Now, it’s right out in the open: the WIN+H key turns it on, and you can be­gin dic­tat­ing in Word, Pow­er­Point, a web page, or just an or­di­nary text field.

Two things ham­per dic­ta­tion within Win­dows: ac­cu­racy and con­trol. Even if Win­dows achieved 90 per­cent ac­cu­racy, that still would re­quire 10 cor­rec­tions for ev­ery 100 words. Un­for­tu­nately, Win­dows’ ac­cu­racy is south of that, maybe 80 per­cent or so. Even worse, cor­rect­ing mis­takes is too clunky to be use­ful, with oral com­mands that you’ll strug­gle to mas­ter. I was pleased, though, to see that some ran­somware was rec­og­nized and cor­rectly tran­scribed.

Eye Con­trol: As­sis­tive to­day, pro­duc­tive to­mor­row?

Eye Con­trol is an as­sis­tive eye-track­ing tool for those with de­gen­er­a­tive nerve dis­eases and re­lated dis­or­ders. Like mixed re­al­ity, it re­quires ded­i­cated hard­ware – specif­i­cally a To­bii 4C (£139 from­k87u) eye tracker, for now.

Es­sen­tially, eye track­ing re­places a mouse: you look at a spot on the screen, and your cur­sor fol­lows

your gaze. Lin­ger­ing there for a mo­ment brings up an over­lay for you to fine-tune and then click your se­lec­tion. In key­board mode, users can ei­ther ‘type’ out words, or use a mo­bile-phone-like key­board and pre­dic­tive guess­work to speed things up. The en­tire process is slow but sur­pris­ingly func­tional, even if a typ­i­cal user would vastly pre­fer ei­ther a mouse or touch­screen.

Reach­ing out to An­droid, iOS and more

At one time, Mi­crosoft had grand am­bi­tions to tie mo­bile and desk­top de­vices to­gether with Win­dows as a com­mon OS. Now that Mi­crosoft has es­sen­tially de­clared Win­dows Mo­bile dead, its new mo­bile strat­egy ex­tends Win­dows ex­pe­ri­ences to An­droid and iOS, us­ing apps as con­nec­tive tis­sue.

Within the Fall Cre­ators Up­date’s Set­tings menu there’s a new Phone sec­tion, which con­nects your PC to your phone via an app called Mi­crosoft Apps.

Mi­crosoft Apps en­ables Chrome or Sa­fari to share a Web page to your PC, ap­prox­i­mat­ing the ‘pick up where you left off’ func­tion­al­ity that was promised for the Fall Cre­ators Up­date. Even­tu­ally, that piece­meal so­lu­tion will be re­placed by the Edge browser for iOS and An­droid, which will pro­vide truer cross­plat­form con­nec­tiv­ity.

Per­son­ally, I think the best thing about the new phone-PC in­te­gra­tion within the FCU is a tiny fea­ture: the new abil­ity to re­ply to (only re­ply – not, sadly, to cre­ate) texts on my phone, right within Win­dows. Har­man/Kar­don’s Cor­tana-pow­ered In­voke speaker will be able to place calls, us­ing Skype. Cor­tana now also

talks to smart-home de­vices, a fea­ture Mi­crosoft added at the last minute and that I didn’t have a chance to try.

Mi­crosoft’s grade here? In­com­plete. Mi­crosoft is lit­er­ally years be­hind Ama­zon in the smart-home space. Shar­ing a web page between de­vice is some­thing I did just once or twice, as I would usu­ally find the time to keep read­ing it on my phone. Mi­crosoft’s ser­vices are go­ing to have to ex­ceed the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Ama­zon and Google’s of­fer­ings, and I’m still scep­ti­cal.

Mixed re­al­ity: a very real ques­tion mark

Pos­si­bly the big­gest bet Mi­crosoft and its part­ners are mak­ing is with mixed re­al­ity, its um­brella term for aug­mented re­al­ity plus tra­di­tional vir­tual re­al­ity. Five mixed re­al­ity head­sets from Acer, Dell, Sam­sung, and oth­ers are nearly here. But ig­nore all of the con­fus­ing lan­guage: The ‘mixed re­al­ity’ de­vices Mi­crosoft wants

you to buy are teth­ered vir­tual-re­al­ity head­sets and con­trollers, priced between £399 and £499, that run Win­dows. You’ll also need a PC (ei­ther a desk­top or note­book) ca­pa­ble of run­ning mixed re­al­ity.

We hope to ded­i­cate a more ex­haus­tive re­view to mixed re­al­ity. I’ve tried these part­ner mixed-re­al­ity head­sets on four sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions, and came away im­pressed. But only Acer made its head­set avail­able just be­fore the Fall Cre­ators Up­date. That won’t cut it.

Mi­crosoft’s mixed-re­al­ity en­vi­ron­ment is built around a ‘cliff house’ en­vi­ron­ment, where users can move from vir­tual room to vir­tual room, in­ter­act­ing with apps and pin­ning them to walls, much like plac­ing a win­dow on

your desk­top. Users ‘point’ with the con­trollers, which must be vis­i­ble to the cam­eras on the mixed-re­al­ity head­sets, then ‘tele­port’ by flick­ing the thumb­stick. It’s cer­tainly fun if you’ve never tried it be­fore, but we have reser­va­tions about how well the hard­ware works.

Apps, though, will be where VR will suc­ceed or fail, and it’s not clear what games Mi­crosoft will make avail­able in its store. (I’ve seen three: Su­per­hot VR, Space Pi­rate Trainer, and Halo: Re­cruit.) All are shoot­ing gal­leries, and the Halo game seemed dis­ap­point­ingly hum­drum. Mixed re­al­ity will even­tu­ally be able to run SteamVR games, by far the largest bucket of con­tent. But that ca­pa­bil­ity won’t ar­rive un­til the hol­i­day sea­son, po­ten­tially leav­ing the VR en­thu­si­asts who haven’t al­ready bought a Vive or a Rift twid­dling their vir­tual thumbs un­til then. It’s un­for­tu­nate that Mi­crosoft’s big­gest ques­tion mark is also its most sig­nif­i­cant ini­tia­tive. For­tu­nately, the rest of the Fall Cre­ators Up­date is a more def­i­nite win.


Time will be the fi­nal judge of the Win­dows 10 Fall Cre­ators Up­date. Look­ing back, Win­dows 10 fea­tures like Cor­tana and Win­dows Hello have stood up over time, while the vir­tual desk­tops of Task View have not. To­day, the just-un­der-the-wire de­but of mixed re­al­ity deals it a tough hand.

Be­lieve it or not, there’s even more un­der the hood than we’ve had a chance to dig into: Win­dows’ Game Mode, for ex­am­ple, de­votes more re­sources to UWP games then be­fore, help­ing to im­prove per­for­mance and hope­fully re­solve stut­ter­ing is­sues. Ubuntu is now

part of Bash. A set­ting called Xbox Net­work­ing tests your gam­ing la­tency, and lets you know if Xbox Live ser­vices are on­line.

But within the Fall Cre­ators Up­date, the Story Remix/Mixed Re­al­ity Viewer/Paint 3D trio is a solid, fun foun­da­tion for build­ing a cre­ative ex­pe­ri­ence. Fea­tures like the im­proved pen nav­i­ga­tion, eye track­ing, and dic­ta­tion ably serve niche au­di­ences who de­pend on these fea­tures. Fi­nally, it’s the lit­tle, use­ful con­ve­niences – check­ing a text mes­sage that pops up on your screen, OneDrive place­hold­ers, video play­back op­ti­miza­tions – that feel like they’ll stick.

The Fall Cre­ators Up­date feels like the most sig­nif­i­cant re­lease since the de­but of Win­dows 10. Its

weight rests in part upon the num­ber of new Win­dows de­vices you’ll be hear­ing about over the next few months, from the Sur­face Book 2 to the In­voke to the Xbox One X. All will in­volve Win­dows in some way.

If Mi­crosoft cares about Win­dows, though, the com­pany needs to start telling oth­ers about it. Many feel that ser­vices like Groove Music and the Zune died of ne­glect. Of­fice 365 apps learned this les­son – each up­date to Word or Ex­cel is ac­com­pa­nied by blurbs that trum­pet their new fea­tures. Win­dows? Mi­crosoft barely ac­knowl­edges when an up­date takes place.

The engi­neers be­hind the Win­dows 10 Fall Cre­ators Up­date have de­liv­ered an up­date that’s wor­thy of praise. Now Mi­crosoft needs to step up and make con­sumers care.

The new 3D por­tion of Task Man­ager

Acer’s Win­dows Mixed Re­al­ity head­set is a flag­ship VR head­set for Win­dows 10

Edge lets you ‘share’ web pages to your PC

Part of the test doc­u­ment for the Fall Cre­ators’ Up­date’s dic­ta­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties, in­di­cat­ing its ac­cu­racy

The ink win­dow in the Win­dows 10 Fall Cre­ators Up­date has dra­mat­i­cally im­proved

Edge’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties now in­clude markup and fil­l­able fields

Tweak­ing the Video Play­back app set­ting added 30 per­cent more bat­tery life in this in­stance. All tests were per­formed with the power set­tings set to ‘best bat­tery life’. We also con­fig­ured Win­dows to lower the res­o­lu­tion of the video

The Win­dows 10 Fall Cre­ators Up­date feeds emoji fever: Press the Win­dows key plus a semi­colon, and this emoji in­put screen ap­pears

My Peo­ple keeps your friends close via icons on your taskbar. Open­ing them al­lows you to re­sume on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tions

Even a ba­nal photo looks bet­ter with a gi­ant taco. Un­for­tu­nately, you’re stuck with the tablet cam­era, which usu­ally of­fers in­fe­rior qual­ity com­pared to smart­phone cam­eras

With other back­grounds, Magic Se­lect has more prob­lems, leav­ing ‘ghosts’

Adding 3D an­i­mated ef­fects is the best part of Pho­tos (Story Remix)

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