Windows 10 Insider beta build 14279 updates Cortana, sign-in screen

Microsoft finally breaks its streak of putting out Windows 10 betas with no new features

Windows 10 Insider beta build 14279 updates Cortana, sign-in screen

There's a little bit of news on the road to Redstone, the next version of the "final" version of Windows. General consensus puts the Redstone RS1 ship date in June. The glacial appearance of new features in beta builds has many people (including me) wondering if Microsoft will be able to get much new out the door in the next three months.

On Friday, Mar. 4, we were treated to the new build 14279.rs1-release_160229-170, replacing build 14271, which came out on Feb. 24. The official announcement from Windows spokesman Gabe Aul lists a handful of new capabilities along with known problems, including "an issue in which some Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Book devices experience a freeze or hang and all input such as keyboard/trackpad and touch do not work. The workaround is to hold down the power button to force the device to hard-reboot."

Cortana received some attention, including the ability to work with Mexican Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Canadian French. In this version, Cortana lets you set reminders without a date or time ("Hey, Cortana. Remind me to kick out the cat"), allowing you to modify the reminder with a specific location, time and/or person(s), at your leisure.

Aul also promises that "in future builds Cortana will be able to retrieve these upon request, just like a real personal assistant would." Not sure exactly what that means, but it's hard to avoid a comparison with Doug Stamper in "House of Cards."

The second, uh, major change is in the use of the background picture on the sign-in screen. When you get Windows going, you see a succession of three screens:

  • The lock screen appears when you first boot the computer, or (usually) when you bring it back from hibernation. In Windows 10 build 1511, the current release version of Win10, the default lock screen shows a picture, taken from inside a cave, of rocky islands jutting out of a bay. In the lower left corner, by default, you see the time and date, usually with a link titled "Like what you see?" in the upper right corner, a count of unopened mail in the lower left corner, and/or icons for Wi-Fi connection and battery power in the lower right corner.
  • The sign-in screen -- formerly called the logon screen, and frequently called the log-in screen -- appears when you need to sign in with an account (you can tell the PC to bypass this screen by using the netplwiz command). When the sign-in screen appears, the most recently logged in use has their sign-in credentials displayed prominently in the middle of the screen, while other valid users appear stacked in the lower left corner. Click on the user, type the password or PIN, and you're logged in. (Windows Hello operation with face, fingerprint or iris recognition changes the sequence.)
  • The desktop background screen, formerly called Windows wallpaper, appears as the backdrop to your Windows desktop -- for all of your Windows desktops, should have you more than one. In Windows 10 build 1511, the default wallpaper is the new, very blue "Hero" wallpaper, which depicts an intentionally smoking window on a blue background.

In Windows 7, there was no distinction between the lock screen and the sign-in screen. The lock screen/sign-in screen was commonly called the Welcome screen. Third-party utilities like Windows 7 Logon Background Changer can change the screen by flipping the right bit in the registry and putting the picture that you want to use as your combined lock/sign-in screen in the correct location. Many hardware manufacturers used this approach so your Win7 Welcome screen would say their company name.

In Windows 8 (and 8.1), Microsoft separated out the functions of the lock screen and the sign-in screen. In true smartphone fashion, the lock screen has to be cleared away before you can log in at the sign-in screen. Details of the background picture in the Win8/8.1 lock screen are complex, but Windows would alternate between choosing an individual's lock screen background and a system-wide lock screen background, depending on how the last user logged out (or locked) the machine.

The original Windows 10 (build 10240) removed some of Windows 8.1's ambiguity, and the current version of Win10 (version 1511) added a new setting. As the sign-in screen stands now, you can choose between using the Windows desktop background wallpaper as the sign-in screen background, or you can choose a single color background (click Start > Settings > Personalization > Lock screen, with Background set to Picture, slide "Show Windows background picture on the sign-in screen" to Off).

In this latest beta, Redstone build 14279, Microsoft swapped the options around to use the lock screen background on the sign-in screen: "Show lock screen background picture on the sign-in screen." You can no longer use the desktop wallpaper on the sign-in screen. If you turn the setting Off, once again, you get a solid color on the sign-in screen.

That's the whole "updated logon experience" story.  The only ramification I can see is with Windows Spotlight, which is the Win10 subsystem that lets Microsoft sell advertising space on the lock screen and, with this build 14279 change, on the sign-in screen. I wrote about the Spotlight advertising push -- and the announcement Microsoft apparently pulled from its Bing Ads site -- last August. According to Aul's post the final behavior isn't in place yet, "If you're a Windows Spotlight user -- hold tight, you'll see this change soon in a future build."

There were some other small changes. Skype now syncs messages between your phone and PCs. That's a feature I've used with Chrome and MightyText for four years, and on my Mac for two years. Nice to see Microsoft catching up.

The sfc command is broken in 14279. On my test machines, sfc with any of its switches -- /scannow /verifyonly /scanfile /verifyfile -- returns a terse "Windows Resource Protection could not start the repair service."

With new reports that Redstone 2, the next, next version of Windows 10, has been delayed until 2017 (see Andy Weir at Neowin, Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet, and Paul Thurrott at petri.com), the pickin's have turned slim indeed. We saw tiny improvements between the original Windows 10 (released July 29, 2015) and the "Fall Update" version 1511 (released in November, 2015). In the past five months, we've seen basically no visible improvements at all. Yes, I know the plumbing's getting fixed. Or so we're told.

If we stay on this course, even if the Edge browser grows add-ons soon (I expect to see the announcement at the Build conference late this month), the anticipated June, 2016 release of Redstone 1 won't turn many heads. Granted, Microsoft's making some headway on the major hurdles to Windows 10 adoption but, as Gregg Keizer at Computerworld notes, Win10's adoption rate has slowed down considerably.

Heaven only knows how many folks will stick around till 2017 to get a compelling Win10.

To comment on this article and other InfoWorld content, visit InfoWorld's LinkedIn page, Facebook page and Twitter stream.
From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.