Next month, Microsoft will release its Windows 10 Creators Update, the first major upgrade to the operating system since its Anniversary Update arrived last August. When Microsoft first announced details of the Creators Update in October, it focused – unsurprisingly – on the new features that it said would nurture and inspire creativity in the hundreds of millions of people who now use the OS around the world.
But while some of those features obviously and directly target that aim to boost creativity, such as the new Paint 3D app, the Creators Update is packed full of all sorts of other handy and impressive new features. Most of these have no direct connection with ‘creativity’, or even content creation, but many of them should still prove to be very useful.
Indeed, a great deal of those new features will simply make Windows 10 a 'better' OS, with a more complete, more secure, and more cohesive user experience. That may well help to boost creativity – as well as productivity – in unexpected ways.
Millions of people on the Windows Insider Program have had access to these improvements and new features over the last seven months or so, and have seen the Creators Update gradually coming together through the regular release of new Windows 10 preview builds. This coming week, Microsoft is likely to publish its ‘release candidate’ build – the near-final version of the Creators Update – for a last wave of improvements, adding a bit more polish before the update is made generally available next month.
For those who haven’t been testing Insider Previews since the first ‘Redstone 2’ release, build 14901, which was made available last August, here’s an overview of some of the major new features and improvements to look forward to in the Windows 10 Creators Update.
One of the first announcements that Microsoft made regarding the Creators Update was a major overhaul for one of the most familiar built-in Windows applications. Paint 3D is a radical revamp of the classic Paint app, integrated with one of Microsoft's key mantras for the Creators Update: "3D for everyone".
The company aims to make it much easier for anyone to create 3D content that can be shared on social media, or added to documents, websites or apps. It even showed off a remarkable new Windows Capture 3D app, which can use the camera on an ordinary smartphone to 'scan' real world objects which are then turned into 3D models that can be manipulated on screen - but it hasn't yet released that app, even in preview form.
Microsoft also said in October that Paint 3D would be coming to Windows 10 Mobile, but the app remains exclusive to PCs for now. It will ship to PCs with the Creators Update, replacing the 'legacy' Paint app.
Last August, Microsoft revealed that it would be bringing its Windows Holographic shell to Windows 10 PCs as an integrated component of the OS. It followed the company's announcement in June that it was opening up Windows Holographic to all manufacturers, promising that new devices running its mixed reality shell were "months away".
Windows Holographic has since been rebranded to Windows Mixed Reality, but Microsoft's vision for embracing AR and VR on Windows 10 remains unchanged. The new shell will enable users to purchase low-cost virtual reality headsets, bringing them VR experiences powered by their existing PCs - subject to certain minimum spec requirements, of course.
Some of these new headsets will be priced as low as $299, and Microsoft believes that by reducing the cost of VR hardware, and making mixed reality a core component of the OS, it will greatly expand the use of this technology among consumers and businesses alike.
Microsoft made a huge range of improvements for stylus-toting users with the Anniversary Update, and it's delivering more new features to the Windows Ink experience in the Creators Update.
For example, the Sticky Notes app supports detection of addresses, phone numbers, time, stock symbols, and flights in more markets, allowing users to jot down these details, and then get quick access to insights and additional functionality straight from the scribbled note. The Photos app also supports Windows Ink, enabling users to annotate and share their images.
Microsoft has also made small but helpful refinements to the overall Ink experience, such as hiding the cursor when you're inking, and making it easier to resume previous Screen Sketches, along with more intuitive controls and indicators for color and stroke width.
Perhaps the most significant change to the Edge web browser is Microsoft's decision to begin blocking Flash content by default, improving security and performance, as well as offering some battery life improvements on mobile PCs.
Other new features include Web Payments support in the browser, web-to-app linking, and new Jump List support, which lets users right-click on the Edge taskbar icon to be able to launch a new window. Edge in the Creators Update includes WebRTC 1.0 support for plugin-free video communications.
E-books in the Windows Store
With the Creators Update, Windows 10 users will be able to buy e-books from the Windows Store, and read them in the Edge browser. Books purchased from the Store come in PDF form, but Edge also supports reading of DRM-free EPUB formats.
Edge also has a new "read aloud" button for its book-reading mode.
Windows 10 themes
Downloadable themes are another new addition to the Windows Store as part of the Creators Update. The first themes appeared for Windows Insiders in December, and were officially announced as part of Microsoft's release of build 15007 a month later.
It will also be allowing users to set custom 'accent colors' for the OS, which had previously been restricted to a limited selection of Microsoft-approved options.
Originally introduced as 'blue light settings', Night Light is a new feature for Windows 10 PCs that will enable users to reduce the amount of blue light emitted by their screens in the later hours of the day. This includes the ability to gradually transition from the standard 'day' display to Night Light over the course of a couple of minutes.
The idea behind Night Light - of which Google and Apple have also introduced their own versions in Android and iOS - is that by showing 'warmer' colors outside of daylight hours, it should help users who stare at their screens before bed to sleep more easily.
Improved high-DPI support
The Creators Update brings better support for desktop apps on high-DPI displays. Some of these improvements are enabled by default on certain desktop apps, but Microsoft says "you can enable them yourself for other GDI-based applications too".
The Creators Update will be the first version of Windows 10 to support 802.11ad, a new Wi-Fi standard that uses the 60GHz spectrum, rather than the 2.4GHz and 5GHz options used by devices today.
Previously known as 'WiGig', 802.11ad is intended to provided ultra-fast wireless connectivity at close range - and ideally, within line of sight.
Sometimes, the smallest changes can make a big difference to improving the usability of a device. Microsoft has made OS-level improvements to its precision touchpad support, which make using gestures far more pleasant.
For example, it's tweaked the way touchpads react to three-finger swipes to increase or decrease volume, making it easier to change the volume by a significant amount with a single gesture, while still being able to adjust volume by smaller amounts without difficulty.
App folders on the Start menu
This new feature will already be familiar to Windows phone users, but Microsoft is finally adding the ability to group apps together in Start menu folders on Windows 10 PCs.
Just like on phones, creating a new app folder is as simple as dragging a tile on top of another one. Tapping on the folder tile opens it up to reveal all the apps contained within it.
It's nice to share
The existing Windows 10 user experience for sharing content - for example, a photo that you want to tweet, or a web link that you want to email to someone - hasn't changed since Windows 8 (!!). In the Creators Update, Microsoft is finally giving it a new "app-focused and integrated" design, which first appeared in Insider Preview build 15002.
Apps built on the Universal Windows Platform will now be able to support the new 'Compact Overlay' feature - essentially a picture-in-picture mode for Windows 10. This feature will allow users to continue watching a TV show, for example, while they get on with work in another window.
There's a wide range of improvements and new capabilities in Microsoft's digital assistant as part of the Creators Update, including:
- Ability to turn off, restart, lock, and 'sleep' your computer using Cortana voice commands
- Better support for recurring (e.g. monthly or annual) reminders
- Cortana can help you pick up where you left off when working between different Windows 10 PCs, displaying your recent apps, documents and sites from Microsoft Edge
- Cortana sign-in using Azure Active Directory identity
- Full-screen display when using 'Hey Cortana' when your PC is unlocked and idle
- New support for controlling music playback and volume in iHeartRadio and TuneIn Radio
Unfortunately, as with all Cortana features, availability of these additions will vary around the world.
Microsoft has made it clear that it wants to embrace gaming on Windows 10 in a way that it's never previously done with its operating systems. There are strong indications that it's succeeding - in November, Alienware's CEO noted that Microsoft had all but abandoned PC gamers with Windows 8, but that Windows 10 had changed everything.
The Creators Update will build further on Microsoft's PC gaming efforts with even more additions. The most substantial of these is a new PC 'Game Mode', which "optimizes your PC for an improvement in game performance." The OS will also support integrated game streaming through Beam, which Microsoft acquired last year.
Further additions include a new 'Gaming' section in the Windows 10 Settings app, and improved full-screen support for the Windows Game Bar in dozens of games.
In December 2015, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke of the importance of "universal design", and said that the company must do more to make its products accessible to "people globally of all abilities". The Creators Update includes some important new features to improve accessibility and ease of use for more of its users.
One major new addition is that of support for braille input and output through specialized braille displays. It's also making big improvements to Narrator support, and adding new audio experiences, as well as boosting integration of Windows 10's assistive technologies with products such as Office 365. This also includes improved legibility in UWP apps when used in high-contrast mode.
Microsoft has promised that "inclusive design and accessibility" will now be at heart of the development process for all of its products and services.
Microsoft has often stated that Windows 10 is the "most secure" version of its operating system to date, but the company isn't resting on its laurels. With the Creators Update, it's introducing new measures to help users stay secure while using their devices - whether they're consumers, or in enterprise. These include:
- A new Windows Defender Security Center
- Enhancements to Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection
- Improved MDM solutions for enterprise, and Surface Enterprise Management Mode
- New 'Update Compliance' with Windows Analytics to monitor issues with Windows 10 deployments
- Enabling organizations to prevent users installing apps from sources other than the Windows Store
Windows Information Protection improvements for business customers
- Easier setup of Windows Hello biometric authentication
While Windows Hello provides biometric authentication for Windows - based on a scan of your face, iris recognition, or fingerprint input - a new feature nicknamed 'Windows Goodbye' will also bring an extra bit of security to the Creators Update.
The feature is actually named Dynamic Lock, and uses proximity detection of your Bluetooth-paired phone to identify when you've left your computer unattended, and automatically locks your PC after 30 seconds.
Of course, that's great if you keep your phone in your pocket while you leave your PC to go and get a coffee. But if you generally leave your phone in your bag at your desk when you go to grab a drink or head to the restroom, Dynamic Lock does appear a bit less useful. Still, it's nice to have these options available.
"More control over your data"
Along with new security features, Microsoft is also improving privacy controls in Windows 10, including a new out-of-box setup experience for the Creators Update, which offers clearer explanations of why the company is collecting certain user data, and more granular controls to enable or disable that collection.
A better update experience
Microsoft has introduced the new Unified Update Platform, designed to provide a more 'seamless' update process for Windows 10. But another key function of the UUP will be to make major updates much smaller. This will involve only installing "a differential download package [that] contains only the changes that have been made since the last time you updated your device, rather than a full build."
The company will also be offering users more control over when the latest updates are installed, including longer Active Hours, the ability to 'snooze' updates for up to three days, and the option to schedule a required restart at a specific time.
Windows 10 Mobile
The list of new additions and major improvements to Windows phones is much shorter than of those heading to PCs, although some of the features listed above will also be supported on Windows 10 Mobile devices.
This isn't an exhaustive list by any means, but changes in the Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update include:
- Ability to use Cortana to control music playback in more apps
- Cortana can now recognize and identify songs in China
- Buy and read e-books from the Windows Store, along with support for reading EPUB books in Microsoft Edge on phones, and 'read aloud' functionality
- Improved text scaling and zoom on websites in Edge
- Improved legibility for UWP apps in high-contrast mode
- Overhauled Wi-Fi and device settings to match Windows 10 PCs
- Sign-in and settings sync through Azure Active Directory Identity
- Options to defer updates as on Windows 10 PCs
While some have written off Windows 10 Mobile as the phone industry consolidates around iOS and Android, Microsoft has made it clear that it is "still flighting Mobile builds... and we fully expect to keep doing that beyond the release of the Creators Update."
Features that didn't make the final cut
In January, Microsoft said that the Creators Update won't include Windows 10's new 'My People' experience. The company had announced that feature a few months earlier as part of plans to make it easier for PC users to stay in touch with, and receive updates from, the most important people in their lives, but later said that it had been delayed until "the next major update to Windows".
It's also starting to look like two major additions to Windows 10 Mobile won't be in the Creators Update either. The first is Night Light, which is already confirmed for PCs; the second is a set of improvements to the PC-style Continuum experience for high-end Windows phones. Enhancements for Continuum were originally announced in September, but haven't yet been featured in any Insider Preview builds for phones.
Windows Insider Program chief Dona Sarkar told Neowin in February that these features would be introduced to Windows 10 Mobile "at the right time", but there seems to be little time left for these features to be added to the Creators Update before its release.
Microsoft also said in January that it will remove Apps Corner from Windows 10 Mobile with the Creators Update. A further list of features being removed or deprecated in the Creators Update, for both phones and PCs, can be found here.
Earlier this year, Microsoft offered its first look at some of the improvements on the way in its next update for the Xbox One. Among the changes confirmed was the removal of the console's 'Snap Mode', as part of broader changes to the user experience.
Since then, Microsoft has been rolling out preview builds of that update to those on the Xbox Insider Program, and you can track the various builds that have been made available here. There are four rings in the Xbox Insider Program, and this post explains how Microsoft determines how users are separated into each ring.
While development continues on the next update for the Xbox One, Microsoft hasn't said much about the Creators Update for other Windows 10 devices, such as HoloLens, or the Surface Hub. Last year, Microsoft rolled out the Anniversary Update for Windows 10 Team - the specialized version of the OS that runs on the Surface Hub - over two months after its PC release.