Microsoft pushes new Photos app onto Windows 10 beta 9926 PCs via Windows Store

The new Photos app is a dud, and the Windows Store update mechanism leaves users without control over their PCs

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Over the weekend, Microsoft updated the Windows 10 January Tech Preview in a unique way: It pushed a Microsoft-written Universal app from the Windows Store and onto all PCs running beta 9926. While the new Photos app isn't significantly better than the woefully inadequate one it replaced, the update mechanism imperils those who want to keep some modicum of control over their machines. 

The Windows 8.1 incarnation of the Metro Photos app had few features, and drew widespread scorn. The Photos app that shipped with Windows 10 build 9926, identified as Windows Photos 1.0.1501.131126, had a few placeholders for new features -- specifically an Albums view and a Folders view -- but aside from duplicate removal (which didn't work very well) and a revamped way of navigating to folders, it's very nearly identical to the Photos app in Windows 8.1.

In short, the original Windows 10 Photos app is forgettable in almost every conceivable way.

Microsoft spokesman Gabe Aul announced Monday afternoon that Microsoft slipped an update to the build 9926 Photos app over the weekend. The change, up to version 15.130.1615.0, came in through the beta version of the Windows Store -- not through Windows Update.

Here's the announcement, from the Insider Hub program inside Windows 10 (in case you are experiencing problems and can't see it):

First Store update of a Windows10 Universal app -- the Photos app

Windows Insiders,

In the spirit of frequent updates, we now have our first Store Update of a Windows10 Universal application -- the Photos app. This went out on Friday, and it is likely you have it already! The Photos app settings page will read version 15.130.1615.0 when it has been updated.

It's only been two weeks since the build 9926, but the changes are based on things we heard from you:

One of the top three suggestions for us was improving AutoEnhance, with specific comments around some photos turning out a little grainy.  We've fine tuned the noise removal algorithm and it is ready for you to try! (Your collection will automatically get the new version of AutoEnhancements, to see the noise reduction you should zoom in on a photo.)

We've been working hard on perf, specifically around drawing thumbnails in list view. Most people should see significant improvements in how fast their page of thumbnails is drawn.

And we've collected some data that some customers were experiencing crashes, we've been through those reports and have fixes that should greatly improve stability for the customers that hit them.

Thanks for all your help so far, and we look forward to hearing more from you soon!

The Photos team

A side-by-side comparison of the Windows 8.1 Photos app, the original Windows 10 Photos app, and this new Photos app 15.130.1615.0, shows that there are some improvements in clarity of photos shown in the new version of the app. Performance is marginally better. And I didn't have as many crashes with the new version. Other than that, the first Windows 10 Photos app is virtually identical to the new Photos app -- and both are only slightly (primarily cosmetically) different from the Windows 8.1 version.

The new Photos app doesn't have any of the features I've heard people complain about: You still can only view photos sorted by date; you can't apply tags to any photos; you can't narrow the list of folders sucked in from OneDrive, although you can turn off the OneDrive feed entirely; and you can't expand the list of folders scanned on your computer -- unlike Windows 8.1, there's no explicit reference to a Photo Library.

The real surprise in all of this isn't that the Photos app is a dog. That's always been the case. The surprising part is that everybody with Windows 10 build 9926 had their PCs updated, automatically, over the weekend, without warning, without Windows Update in the middle. This completely new version of the Universal Photos app came in through the Windows Store. As best I can tell, as Aul notes, that's a first.

Before you break out your tin hat, grab your tar and feathers, and march on the Windows Store, note this tweet from Aul late Monday night:

The Beta Store doesn't have UX to manually update yet (it will) so it will just be autoupdated.

So now we know a forced auto-update from the Windows Store is not only possible, it's already happened with no reported problems (at least none I've seen). And, notably, Microsoft is on the hook to give us the means to manage those auto updates.

Which leads to an interesting question: If we are given the opportunity to control which updates get applied from the Windows Store, will we have the same options to control the Windows Update chute?

Curiouser and curiouser.

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