Windows 10 Anniversary Update: What’s changed, what’s new and what you need to know

The launch of Windows 10 promised us something new; something we’d never seen before from Microsoft. It signalled a sea-change in Microsoft’s attitude towards its users, and not least the fact that this time around we could expect to get updates and new features whenever they were ready to go live. There would be no more waiting impatiently for the next version of Windows.

Already, over the past year, that we’ve seen a steady stream of novel additions to Windows 10, but this summer’s Anniversary Update promises to deliver by far the most dramatic upgrades yet.

Of course, it’s also worth remembering just how much Windows 10 has changed and evolved since it first landed all those many months ago, but can we expect any great birthday surprises?

It’s a good question, so here you’ll find the definitive list of all the features that have been added since launch, as well as all the juicy details about the new features which are due to make their debut in this summer’s gargantuan Anniversary Update.

Windows 10 Anniversary Update: What you need to know

1. Start menu

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Microsoft can’t stop fiddling with the Start menu. It went through numerous revisions in the various test phases of Windows 10 and the Redmond engineers have continued to tweak the design ever since – including a revised version for the Anniversary Update.

Last November’s first major update, dubbed Threshold 2, altered the menu’s behaviour. It saw Jump Lists added to the apps listed under Most Used on the left-hand side, meaning you could right-click on Outlook and instantly create a new Calendar appointment without having to open the app’s window, for instance.

Microsoft’s increasing desperation to shove people towards its app store also saw Suggested Apps added to the Start menu. You can right-click to turn off all suggestions if you’re bothered by Microsoft’s hard sell.

A little-known option to “Show More Tiles” on the Start menu (found in Settings | Personalisation | Start) allows those with bigger screens to cram in a few extra.

Microsoft has been toying with the Start menu once again for the Anniversary Update. This time the changes are relatively subtle.

The company has added a new bar down the left-hand side of the menu, and this bar contains icons for power, settings, Windows Explorer and your user profile, which previously sat under the list of Most Used apps.

In place of those displaced icons comes the full A-Z list of apps installed on your machine, suggesting that not enough people were clicking on the All Apps button at the foot of the previous Start menu iteration.

The full-screen All Apps menu returns in Tablet mode, which we certainly find easier to navigate than the thin list when prodding an 8in tablet screen with our podgy digits.

Has Microsoft finally settled on a Start menu that works in either configuration? We wouldn’t bet on it, but this is the best of the 867 efforts we’ve seen so far.

2. Desktop

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Perhaps the most useful addition to the desktop since Windows 10 first dropped last summer was the new behaviour for snapping windows, introduced with Threshold 2 (the other big update to Windows 10 that took place in November 2015). Snap a window to either side of the desktop (by dragging it off the edge of the screen with the mouse, or by pressing the Windows key and the left/right arrow key simultaneously) and the other half of the screen is filled with thumbnails for other open apps. Click on one of those, and it’s automatically resized to fill the other half of the display. Combined with the revamped Task view introduced with Windows 10, it makes navigating desktops with several windows open far easier.

However, there’s a big new feature in the Anniversary Update that could prove even more useful than that for users of virtual desktops. There’s now an option to pin a particular window to every virtual desktop. So if you’re running separate desktops for different work projects, for example, you can have your email client open in each. This apparently minor change instantly makes virtual desktops much more useful, in our view.

To activate this, you first need to have multiple desktops open. (Click on the Task view button on the left-hand side of the taskbar, then click on the “New desktop” button at the bottom right.) Press Alt+Tab to see all the open applications and right-click on the one that you wish to display across every desktop. You have two options: pin just that window, or pin all windows from that same app across every desktop, which is handy for web browsers.

3. Action Center

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Action Center has been beefed up since last summer, when it refused to work consistently on some of our test PCs. The original Action Center sported only a handful of icons, but since then we’ve seen the addition of several new shortcuts. These include a brightness control that lets you toggle between five different settings (oddly including 0% brightness, which still offers a visible display); Project, which provides the various settings for external displays; Battery Saver mode (when not on the mains); the option to toggle the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios, as well as enter Flight mode; and a Note button for users of Microsoft’s OneNote. Irritatingly, however, Note insists on opening the stripped-down Windows Store version of OneNote rather than the full desktop software.

The Anniversary Update gives Action Center a further boost. The number of unread notifications is now displayed in the System Tray, giving an instant indication of the number of alerts awaiting your attention. If you find this irritating, disable it by right-clicking on the Action Center icon. The Action Center icon has also been shifted to the right of the clock, to make it easier to find. (See our separate entry on Clock.)

Rotation lock has been added on tablets, and Wi-Fi now hides behind a new Network button; this lets you choose which wireless network to connect to, rather than simply toggling the Wi-Fi radio on and off.

4. Universal messaging

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Microsoft’s Skype strategy is, to put it kindly, in something of a pickle. At launch, there were separate desktop and Windows Store versions of Skype, for reasons nobody could quite fathom. In the current build, the desktop app remains, but the Windows Store app has been replaced by no fewer than three successors. There are now separate apps for Phone, Messaging and Skype Video are baked into the OS.

The Anniversary Update sees another new Skype app. Dubbed Skype UWP, it looks visually similar to the desktop app and combines Phone, Messaging and Video back into one Universal app, although the three separate apps are still present in the preview builds we’ve tested.

Would we trade the Skype UWP app for the desktop version? Not currently. The interface needs work and not all the features have made the transition. Skype should be a massive USP for Microsoft, but right now it feels more like a PIA.

5. Windows Store for Business

The business version of the Windows Store didn’t arrive until Threshold 2 appeared in November. This enterprise-geared feature allows businesses to provide their employees with a hand-picked catalogue of apps to choose from and install on their work PCs, preventing them from downloading Candy Crush while making Citrix easy to locate and install, for instance. The company’s own line of business apps can also be added to their Store without being submitted to the public version.

IT managers not only get to choose which apps are offered to employees, but which employees get to run those apps, with the management console letting IT revoke licences for Store apps for certain employees, helping to keep a lid on costs.

Yet the entire concept of the Windows Store seems to leave many businesses cold, with some taking advantage of Group Policy settings to block Microsoft’s emporium on employees’ PCs. That will soon no longer be an option for Windows 10 Pro systems, however, with Microsoft withdrawing the option to switch off the Store for all but those on the top-dollar Enterprise licence.

Is there any reason for disabling this facility beyond a naked desire to expose its flagging Store to more users? Microsoft’s excuse is staggeringly unconvincing. In a statement, it claimed the decision to remove the blocks was based on “customer feedback about the types of service, control and access they need to manage their environments”, as if IT admins had been crying out for less control over Windows 10 Pro.

Microsoft added that: “The ability to block access to the Windows Store is typically for organisations that want more control over corporate-owned devices. This fits into the value of Windows 10 Enterprise.” In other words, cough up if your company still wants to use this feature.

Continues on page 2: Settings, Cortana, Ink Workspace, Edge, Command Prompt and Clock

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