Float across devices with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update


— 11:33 AM on May 11, 2017

Microsoft's spokespersons spent most of the first day of the company's annual Build conference talking about Cortana and other AI-related topics. Today, the focus turned to Windows 10 and the improvements in store for the OS's next major update, called the Fall Creators Update. Windows 10 will get new applications, a new Fluent Design UI system, and a set of features to offer users seamless transitions between multiple devices.

The big new application in the Fall Creators Update is Story Remix, a sort of Windows Movie Maker on steroids. Story Remix will automatically stitch together videos from collections of photos and video clips. The application's focus is clearly on ease-of-use, with a simple interface, built-in 3D effects, and the ability to remix a project with a single click. The app also comes with a selection of background music tracks that won't immediately catch the ire of YouTube's audio copyright algorithms.

The Windows 10 UI will get a new coat of paint, too. The company showed a video demonstrating the Fluent Design system that the company will be baking into the Fall Creators Update. According to MS, Fluent Design applies the concept of "light, depth, motion, material, and scale," though much of the demo looks like the return of Windows Aero, after the last few years spent hammering user interfaces to be as flat as central Nebraska. Gerbils can cast their glassy little eyes at the video above for a taste of Windows' new design language, which uses the previously-mentioned buzzwords as tools for guiding users' attention within applications.

On the productivity aisle, the new Timeline feature is designed to let users to pick up tasks across devices and across time. On a single desktop PC this translates to the ability to pick up an app and its open data at some point in the past, like a text document from a couple weeks ago. The particularly-interesting bit is the ability to transfer an open task from a desktop PC to a laptop or another mobile device (iOS and Android included), using the accompanying Pick Up Where You Left Off feature. Cortana should automatically realize that the users may want to continue their work when they move to another device and ask them if they want to do it. If the app needed to pick up a task isn't installed, the system will prompt the user to install it.

The Timeline feature described above should go hand-in-hand with the new cloud-enabled clipboard. I found this part of the presentation most intriguing: a common clipboard between all of a person's devices, whether they're running Windows, Android, or iOS. Apple introduced a similar feature a while ago called Universal Clipboard in macOS Sierra, but it operates only between the company's decreasingly-relevant macOS computers and its popular iOS devices. Microsoft's cloud clipboard facilitates roaming across multiple devices, and could finally present the replacement for the age-old process of emailing photos and files to oneself. Microsoft says the cloud clipboard works seamlessly without any special work by application developer, though cross-platform interactions can be enhanced with a little extra elbow grease thanks to new APIs.

Microsoft will also be integrating OneDrive even further into the operating system with OneDrive Files on Demand. The new feature grants users more granular control over the automatic syncing of files and folders from desktop PCs, file servers, and mobile devices. Files on Demand has OS-level support, meaning that applications can use shared files seamlessly with no additional work required on the developer's side. The feature is essentially a replacement for the OneDrive Placeholders included in Windows 8.1 but removed from Windows 10 due to technical difficulties. Paul Thurrott goes into greater detail about OneDrive Files on Demand here.

A "Phone" entry in Windows 10's settings menu will guide users through setting up their mobile devices for use with the cloud clipboard, OneDrive File on Demand, and Timeline features. Microsoft also demoed a number of improvements to Windows' pen interface, in a nod to owners of the Surface Pro, Surface Book, and Surface Studio. The company didn't provide a release date for the Fall Creators Update, but the name alone gives a pretty good idea of when to expect it.

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