8 noteworthy improvements in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update

Here are the highlights of the good stuff to look forward to in the next major release of Windows 10

8 noteworthy improvements in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update
Microsoft

Since the initial release of Windows 10 last July, Microsoft has been working to improve the look and feel of its flagship desktop operating system and has solicited user input and feedback through the Windows Feedback app, which has been integrated into all Windows 10 versions.

And the company shows every sign of reading, considering, and often acting upon user requests for interface changes and improvements. Thus, you'll see lots helpful, if small, changes to the Windows 10 UI as the company works to complete what is now called the "Anniversary Update," which will be released on August 2. Here are the most noteworthy of those changes and additions.

Microsoft Edge: extensions and more

The Microsoft Edge browser is meant to improve upon and replace Internet Explorer. While users have not been as quick to adopt Edge as the company would like, the upcoming version may help to change that. The long-promised browser extensions for Edge have finally started to appear in the Windows Store.

Microsoft Edge extensions Ed Tittel

Most notably, these include the following:

  • Office Online: A plug-in for Edge that enables you to access Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Sway online without requiring Office to be installed (and without access to a valid Office 365 subscription). This makes offline access to these Office components unworkable, however.
  • LastPass: A market-leading password manager, LastPass securely stores all of your passwords and makes them available on any computer or mobile device with internet access.
  • AdBlock: Enables you to turn off web-based advertising on the pages you visit. The absence of this capability kept many users from adopting Edge or even trying it out, so support for two popular AdBlock implementations should help to remedy this omission going forward.

So far, there are fewer than a dozen Edge extensions available. But now that they're available through the Windows Store, that number should start climbing rapidly.

Other enhancements to Edge will likely include improved integration with Windows Hello. That means you will be able to sign into websites or online accounts using biometric devices such as fingerprint readers or cameras with facial recognition capability. Web notifications will start appearing in the Action Center, and you will be able to customize the main tab page by rearranging popular site tile. You will also be able to right-click on URLs to save them to access later using Reading mode. Native content translation is also expected to show up in Edge, relieving you of having to manually install the Translator extension.

Windows Ink

Microsoft demonstrated its new Windows Ink capabilities at the Build conference in late March to much fanfare and a surprisingly strong end-user reception. Windows Ink refers to the way that output appears on touch devices that accept stylus input. Of course, Microsoft chose to showcase this new feature on its flagship Surface Pro 4 and SurfaceBook PCs, but it works on all touch displays that support styluses. There's even a "digital ruler" so that you can place and draw lines on-screen with more precise placement and positioning. The experience centers around the Ink Workspace and works with apps such as Sticky Notes, Sketchpad (make sketches), Screen Sketch (annotate your screen), and so forth. It also lets you access and write messages on Sticky Notes that Cortana can recognize and convert into reminders or calendar appointments with a single tap or click.

Windows Ink Ed Tittel

More 'Hey, Cortana!'

One of the biggest changes in the Anniversary Update might be best described as "Cortana all over the place" -- if not yet "Cortana everywhere." The digital assistant will even be available on the lock screen in the form of an overlay atop the usual background (which gets blurred while Cortana is active). That means you can say "Hey Cortana" to make notes or appointments, play music, set reminders, and do all kinds of other stuff. More applications should become Cortana-savvy going forward, too.

Bash support

In Linux circles, most people know that Bash stands for "Bourne Again Shell," a play on the original command line (shell) environment known simply as "sh." To bring Bash to Windows 10, Microsoft partnered with Canonical (the organization that created the Ubuntu Linux distribution) to add native Bash support for Linux commands into the OS. Microsoft has created an underlying native Windows subsystem called the Windows Subsystem for Linux (aka WSL) to make this possible. You can run Ubuntu user mode commands natively in Windows 10 by typing Bash into a command-line prompt. For developers and old Linux-heads like me, this is nothing short of (white) magic; for non-Linux-heads, it's likely to be a "ho-hum" kind of thing. Your mileage may vary.

Notifications

Windows notifications (by default on the taskbar at the far right/bottom) are getting a big makeover. You'll see instance or item counts on icons, for example, to tell you how many messages or pending items are waiting for you to look at. Thus, for example, I can tell by looking at this Action Center notification icon that I have four messages/alerts waiting for me in that Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app.

Windows 10 notification count 620

The same visual treatment also applies to other UWP apps when they're open and showing on the taskbar, usually on the left side or top. Lots of notification bar icons have changed and their visual vocabulary has been spiffed up and simplified to make for easier identification, even on the smallest screens.

Windows Update

Windows Update is just one of the entries in the Windows 10 Settings hierarchy that has been visually reworked (in much the same way as Notifications). But Windows Update is worthy of mention because it gets more controls to help users coexist more peacefully with this service. Thus, Update Settings now include "Change Active Hours," which lets you instruct Windows Update not to restart the computer during normal working or busy times. Likewise, "Restart Options" lets you override active hours to schedule a custom time to finish installing scheduled updates that require a restart.

Windows 10 update controls Ed Tittel

Start menu

The Start menu remains present in Anniversary Update, but you get more control over sizing and placement of tiles and items on display. Tablet and fullscreen modes now feature a UWP-based approach to display, including placing the hamburger button at the top left with the User Profile button at the top of the icon column at the lower left. The most frequently used apps and applications show up at the top of the Start menu in the latest version, under the "Most used" heading. Lots of small and useful changes throughout here.

Windows 10 Start menu Ed Tittel

Update/release 'hydration'

There's a new technique for applying major updates and changes to Windows 10 at work in the background with the Anniversary Update. It's reflected in the term "hydration" and refers to ongoing background activities and file access that occur even after an upgrade or update has been applied, and after the system has restarted to resume normal computing activity. Hydration seems to mean that more things must happen -- again, in the background -- before the current upgrade or update process is fully complete.

The Anniversary Update is looking mostly good

I've been running the Insider Preview since the first build appeared in early December 2015. By and large, it has been the most stable, consistent, and least troublesome of any of the Technical or Insider Preview versions I've worked with all the way back to October 2014. You have lots of good stuff to look forward to in this upcoming release, and very few documented issues or workarounds. Overall, I can't help but think the Anniversary Update will be the best Windows 10 we've seen so far -- as it very much should be!

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This story, "8 noteworthy improvements in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update" was originally published by CIO.

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