Incredibly, five months have passed us by since the last major update of Windows 10 was released. The April update had a lot of potential, but it wasn’t obvious if all the improvements would pay off as Microsoft desired. We’ve had a bit of time with that update’s features, though, and their usefulness is becoming clearer. Now, it’s time for you all to gather round and hear the thoughts of the King of the TR sweatshop regarding the shiny new Windows 10 features in the officially named “Windows 10 October 2018 Update.”
This quietly released build is numbered Windows 10 version 1809, for those interested. The update contains some significant changes to the core user experience as well as smaller features which improve the operating system in subtle ways. It’s actually quite a substantial update, and we’re going to cover the most important items. Without further ado, let the dissertation begin!
One of the first things you’ll likely notice is that dark themes have continued their conquest of computing, and Windows Explorer is now sporting a stylish shadowy theme. It looks good and will be automatically applied based on your system settings for light or dark themes. It’s the same Explorer you know and love, but darker! The long- rumored UWP Explorer is still MIA, though.
I need more hard drive space. Or fewer games.
Before any of you decide to throw down in the comments, yes, like most small children, I quite like flashy colors; I admit it. Unfortunately, the desktop OneDrive app currently doesn’t have a dark theme, and apparently one isn’t planned. macOS will be getting OneDrive with Batman styling, however. If you desire night-time consistency, Macs, not Windows PCs, will be providing it for the foreseeable future.
The screen-capturing Snipping Tool will be going away at some point in the near future. There’s now a new “Snip and Sketch” app meant to replace it, as well as an entirely new Windows UI for taking screenshots. Snip and Sketch is a hybrid capture and inking application. You can take your screenshots and edit them within the application, as opposed to opening them in Paint or whichever other application you use.
I’ve loved TR ever since I co-founded it. Ahem.
The UI design is very similar to Paint 3D’s, though it’s more useful for annotations than creating art. Don’t expect any super-fancy editing features here. You can also set your keyboard’s Print-Screen button to bring up the Snip and Sketch app with just a toggle in Settings. This new screen-capturing process is excellent. It was significantly faster to gather the screenshots for this piece than it has been the past. You did well with this new feature, Microsoft.
Game bar has been updated again and now includes a far superior UI that includes controls for selecting specific audio settings for different applications. You might recall I wasn’t a fan of the prior design, and thankfully the annoying notification advertising the feature is gone. The Game Bar is now accessible in the Start menu as an app, too.
Stylish and useful features! Currently lacking the promised performance graphs though.
In an earlier build, the Game Bar temporarily included a handy Performance section with RAM, GPU, CPU, and FPS data. Therein resided a “Dedicate Resources” toggle that would reduce unnecessary background system activity and give resource priority to a running game. However, Microsoft pulled this feature back after a period of testing. Despite that omission, I think the changes to the Game Bar are positive, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the Microsoft engineers do with it.
Cloud clipboard syncing and SwiftKey
This release finally brings something I’ve wanted for years and that Microsoft has been working on for almost as long as I’ve been pining for it, and it’s finally here: cloud clipboard synchronization! Now you can cut and paste text across devices and access a cloud-saved clipboard history with Windows+V. Right now, the feature is Windows-only, but Android and iOS support is incoming to Microsoft’s SwiftKey keyboard in those operating systems.
“What’s a SwiftKey keyboard,” many of you ask? Microsoft bought the SwiftKey company a few years ago, and it’s finally brought its typing technology over to Windows. For those lucky enough to have their default Windows settings set to a few specific language regions, Windows now has a SwiftKey-powered on-screen keyboard. The on-screen keyboard now supports swiping, and the predictions should be quite a bit better than on previous Windows incarnations.
For now, the new keyboard is available for those using: English (United States), English (United Kingdom), French (France), German (Germany), Italian (Italy), Spanish (Spain), Portuguese (Brazil), and Russian locales. Those of us in Canada (and many other places) look on with envy at your superior tablet typing, but I just can’t give up properly using the letter “u” when spelling words like “colour” or “labour.” Also, what is a “liter?”
“Your Phone” is possibly the biggest feature update of this build. It’s a new app that brings cross-platform integration between smartphones and Windows PCs, but what that integration entails depends on your phone platform. On Android (7.0 and later) you can send and view SMS messages (though MMS media or RCS texts aren’t yet supported), and you can view the most recent pictures on your phone. Your PC can’t otherwise interact with those photos, though, and the app will just make temporary copies for you to use on your computer. In order to use this feature, you need Your Phone installed and configured on both Android and Windows 10.
That setup process turned out to be more difficult than it should be for me. I have not been able to get it to work consistently with my OnePlus 5t. I tried every troubleshooting step many times, experimented with three different PCs, and even did a complete reset of my phone. I also downgraded to Android 8.0 as a last-ditch effort, and as you can guess, that didn’t help. I did get the phone connected once, but it wouldn’t connect again. My wife’s LG G5 connected without issue, but only to my PC, and wouldn’t hook up to hers. I’ve sent many emails back and forth with Microsoft engineers trying to troubleshoot the issue, and they think something funny is up with my DNS. After trying numerous other fixes, I still couldn’t get Your Phone going.
On iOS, Microsoft doesn’t have the ability to implement many Your Phone features compared to what’s possible on Android. Currently, all you can do is send links from Edge on iOS to Windows. There’s no SMS or photo library integration. Microsoft states that Your Phone on iOS grants you “cross-device experiences,” but the existing integration is actually tied to other applications. Timeline data syncing exists on Edge, and the cloud clipboard is SwiftKey-based, but neither feature needs a “Your Phone” configuration. When speaking to Shilpa Ranganathan (Microsoft General Manager of mobile product experiences), she couched her language carefully but couldn’t say what features you gain by linking an Apple device with Your Phone. In other words, as of today, the app seems to do next to nothing with iOS.
At the Surface event on October 2, Microsoft demoed complete Android phone mirroring on PC, showing a user opening and replying to Snapchat on a Windows machine without ever touching their phone. The mirroring and app integrations will be interesting features when they launch, but they didn’t make it into this update, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they miss the next Windows update. The future of “cross-platform experiences” with Windows is just getting started, at best.
I’m not currently impressed with the “Your Phone” feature as it stands, since I can’t get the darn thing working with Android, and it currently does almost nothing on iOS. I’ll need to see significant improvements to recommend it. Luckily for everyone, it’s not the only new feature in this update.
Search and Cortana
The Search and Cortana sections of Windows have seen significant changes with every new version, and we’re finally seeing serious usability improvements compared to heavily-criticized past versions. There’s now a double-wide panel for searches—a UI change that matches Cortana’s last update. You can clearly specify what you’re looking for: files, apps, emails, documents, settings, photos, or web pages. The new second panel shows a preview of the matches, whether that’s Bing results (which I think are actually pretty solid), file details, or settings.
I find the second panel very useful, as it’s much faster to quickly pull up a Wikipedia page, image search, or just to check some random data compared to opening a browser first. Cortana recently lost the ability to track packages, though, so if you appreciated that info, you’ll now need to look for it in Windows Mail. Otherwise, Cortana hasn’t changed all that much since the April Update.
Making grandmothers happy globally (and other people who defer updates forever), Windows now uses machine learning to figure out when to do updates that require a restart. Essentially, the OS will monitor when and how you use it in order to figure out the best time for a restart. Hopefully this means more updates applied with fewer tears.
Those worried about how this data is collected, analyzed, and stored should know that the telemetry is cloud-based, though Microsoft isn’t entirely clear on what information stays on its servers, if any. The company does provide an app called the Diagnostic Data Viewer that shows exactly what telemetry data a machine collects. The viewer gained some additional filtering after the October 2018 update, and you can find it in the Microsoft Store.
Much like with every Windows update, Microsoft brought some new refinements to Edge. The menu under the ellipsis button has been completely redesigned and seems to be more intuitive. Edge also gained the ability to restrict specific sites from auto-playing videos. You can configure the browser on a per-URL basis to either automatically play videos normally, play them muted, or block them entirely. The Jump List (the one that pops when you right-click Edge in the taskbar) now will list your most-visited sites. There are additional labeling options for set aside tabs that you’re saving for later, too.
Edge has much better menus now
Edge now has support for FIDO U2F security keys. Hopefully that’s the start of the end of passwords. Personally, I’m awfully tired of constantly reminding my family what their passwords are. There are a few other UI adjustments. Microsoft’s Acrylic material style continues to advance in both Edge and Windows. One of my favorite changes with the October update is that PDF files (opened by default by Edge) now have a proper PDF icon in Explorer rather than the browser’s “e.”
Highlighting words when using Edge as an e-book reader will now automatically search that word’s definition. That’s a small change, but a handy one. Overall, Edge continues to work pretty well, and I recommend that most regular users try it. It’s a decent and stylish browser.
Other bits and bobs
There are several other features rounding out this update that merit mention. Whereas in the past HDR settings were configured by your GPU vendor’s control panel, they’re now included directly in Windows Settings. There’s also automatic brightness adjustment for video if your machine has an ambient light sensor. You might notice I lack a compatible HDR monitor, so please, if you’re rushing to make a GoFundMe page to correct this travesty, just check if someone else already made one and donate there. That’ll make collecting my funds easier. Remember I have a Nvidia graphics card, so the monitor must have G-Sync support as well. It won’t be cheap, so give generously!
Task Manager saw another upgrade and can now show application-specific power usage along with power usage trends. That data isn’t all that useful on a plugged-in desktop, but on a low-power machine such as my wife’s new Surface Go (which is a fantastic device) it could provide some guidance on why the heck the battery is draining quicker than you’d like. Windows Defender has been renamed to Windows Security, and the icons therein have been subtly tweaked. It’s become a full-featured and easy-to-use security platform, and I can’t imagine most people need anything more.
The look of some emoji have been adjusted slightly, and there’s now support for Unicode 11 and its new super-fun emojis for all you texting teenagers out there. You can also see battery levels for Bluetooth devices that broadcast that info, like the Microsoft Surface Pen. Once you’re finished texting your omg bffs about your darn parents you can easily check to see if your Bluetooth headphones are charged before you flop on the bed and imagine you’re a grown-up and can do what you want.
OneDrive got smarter with this build and will automatically move locally saved files to on-demand cloud storage if they’re not accessed in a while. I can see this possibly being a problem for some users, but it’ll clear up some hard drive space for others. I think whether or not this feature survives will depend on how many people end up without internet access when they need a file that they thought was saved locally.
Kiosk mode, which permits an extremely locked-down Windows environment with only one app, has received a new setup experience. You can also adjust the size of text for most things in Windows with the new “Make Text Bigger” slider in Settings. That slider works independently from the “Make Everything Bigger” scaling, too, allowing for extra customization.
There are a few bonuses for those users who love Linux and its cousins. Notepad has seen a couple of improvements and now includes line character support. That should let users open and view text files created in Linux without formatting errors. Notepad now has Bing search and a zoom function, too. All told, that’s a surprising amount of improvements all at once for a program that still looks straight out of 1993.
Additionally, you can now open a Bash shell from anywhere in Explorer if you have it installed. Copy and paste shortcuts in a Bash Shell can now be set to Ctrl+Shift+C and Ctrl+Shift+V, too, increasing consistency for those who routinely wrangle different flavors of terminals. While these subtle changes are unlikely to matter to 99.9% of users, developers, sysadmins, and tinkerers will likely appreciate them.
The last few noteworthy features are as follows: the Registry Editor now auto-fills an address as you’re typing it. Wireless projection controls are improved with a new bar along the top, similar to the UI for Remote Desktop. Lastly, Focus Assist, the do-not-disturb mode of Windows 10, does a better job of detecting games, including those using the OpenGL and Vulkan APIs.
This October update is generally full of features which work well today, my issues with “Your Phone” excepted. Most of the new stuff falls into a general quality-of-use category. Whether it’s the HDR settings or the new Emoji, or perhaps the tweaks to the dark theme and the new snipping functionality, the improvements will offer a better Windows experience. Microsoft’s best operating system is becoming more and more consistent, and I encountered no issues installing this build on any of my devices. In my opinion, this update is likely my favorite for Windows 10 so far, and I really didn’t expect that going into this. Windows 10 continues to get smarter, faster, and more stable. I deem it highly recommended.
Although people still aren’t downloading many PWA applications, there’s a lot of software being built with this API. The upcoming Windows Insider app will be PWA-based, and Twitter will likely be replacing its current desktop website with the PWA version as the default. The company has made that change on mobile devices. Google is moving in the PWA direction as well, seeing as its Maps, Photos, Contacts, and Plus are PWA apps, and more are on the way. Tinder’s app load time was cut in half by switching to PWA, and the maker claims the app now has higher engagement, too. Many other companies claim similar results. The future of PWAs looks bright.
Anecdotally, Timeline, the application-history feature, isn’t used at all by the people I asked about it. I and the people I talk to continue to Alt+Tab exclusively. Most folks I asked had forgotten it was even there. For me, that’s not a great sign, and Microsoft needs to tweak the feature to make it more useful.
Full Timeline support will be launching on Android in the next few weeks, and it already exists in the Microsoft Launcher Beta. That should let Android users continue to browse and edit documents back-and-forth between Android and Windows. I’d love to hear in the comments whether you use Timeline, and if you’ve used or have interest in cross-platform functionality between Windows and mobile OSes.
We’ve continued to see Microsoft’s push to augment handsets since the terrible and horrible death of Windows Phones. I’m not sure whether the Android community at large is really picking Microsoft’s apps, but they’re worth checking out. From Microsoft Launcher to OneNote they generally work well, and they’re easily among the best apps on the platform. I look forward to a decent Microsoft Photos app for Android eventually. The increasing integration with Windows PCs makes those apps more attractive, too. We have to wait and see whether that’ll be enough for Microsoft to win new business on the mobile side.