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Microsoft's Windows 10 April Update reviewed


A look at the Timeline of the latest Windows changes

I remember at one point in my life being so excited that I finally had Windows XP! No more boring Windows 98 grey taskbar uglying up my sweet desktop made up of bright neon colors with low-res bitmap images copy-pasted onto them! Those were the heady days of the post-2000s, when I was a teenager with a Pentium II desktop with Windows XP and Starcraft. How times have changed. Now I'm a fat old man with a faster desktop, still banging away on Windows playing similar games.

Windows 10 launched roughly three years ago in the summer of 2015. Microsoft later announced that the operating system would receive regular bi-annual feature updates. We've just witnessed the launch of one of them for 2018. The imaginatively-named April Update appeared literally on the last day of that month, though you may not have it installed yet. Since you're no doubt dying to know what the new features in this update are, let's get started.

Timeline

The most significant addition is the new organizational feature named Timeline. This interface replaces the old task view brought up by Win+Tab. When Timeline is activated, you'll see a wall with a historical overview of opened browser pages and Office files, along with items opened in third-party applications, if developers add the necessary integration. Windows now remembers what you've been working on over the last hours, days, or even weeks. The operating system can also sync this data across your devices if you choose.


Timeline currently displays websites and Office documents from each day, and can even display per-hour app history.

Think of Timeline like browser history, but for potentially everything on your computer and across all your PCs. Were you working with specific websites and Word, say for a Windows April update review on your desktop, and you're now on your laptop? Simply open Timeline and there's everything you were working on, ready to be recalled. For now, Timeline is mostly just used by Microsoft apps, as third parties need to update their applications to support it. Timeline support in Chrome is currently MIA, for example. The data sync functionality currently works only on Windows, though Microsoft announced that Timeline support is coming to Edge on iOS and to Android via the Microsoft launcher.

As far as I'm concerned, Timeline works and does what's advertised. If configured right, it can be quite an excellent feature, and I'm eagerly looking forward to it working on my OnePlus 5T.

Progressive Web Apps

Another major change in Windows 10 is the addition of Progressive Web App (PWA) support, part of an ongoing joint effort by Microsoft, Apple, and Google. This feature may have a larger long-run impact on the Windows 10 ecosystem than any other change in this update. Essentially, PWA support lets websites run web-based apps that appear to the user as native applications. This means web apps can install local shortcuts, notify the user without a browser being open, and behave largely as people expect from a locally-installed application.


Twitter's PWA doesn't yet have Live Tile support, but does support push notifications to a desktop.

PWAs let you go to a website, click "download app," and see a new shortcut or icon on your phone or PC, all without ever visiting an app store. Microsoft had initially required PWA apps to be listed in the store, but pulled this requirement at the Build conference. Ideally, you shouldn't need to know if the app you're running is native or web-based. There's cross-platform support for PWA applications in Windows 10, Android, and iOS.

The chicken-and-egg problem

Whether the needed developer support for PWA and Timeline appears is yet to be seen. Given that Edge currently sits at less than two million downloads on Android and the Microsoft launcher at ten million, the potential number of non-PC users for Timeline isn't that big. As a result, additional developer support might be a long time coming unless Timeline's APIs are very simple to use.

I couldn't find download numbers for Edge on iOS, but it has roughly one-sixth as many App Store reviews compared to the Play Store. That means actual installations are likely few and far between. The iTunes 17+ rating probably isn't helping, either. At Build, Microsoft pitched its Android launcher at businesses, but whether it'll be adopted remains to be seen. The fact that most of the Timeline functionality requires you to opt in also means many people will miss out on it.

For those of us who loved Windows Phone devices, PWA support could be a game changer if it plays out according to plan. Like with Timeline, that support is a big "if." Microsoft's My People, which appeared in the Fall Creators Update, is also a potentially useful feature that has had basically no developer support. For those interested in PWA technology, Twitter has a write-up on how it built the Twitter Lite PWA.