How Microsoft’s operating system has changed since its launch a year ago – thanks to continuous evolution and this major new update.
The launch of Windows 10 promised us something new; something we'd never seen before from Microsoft. It also revealed that Microsoft was changing how it did things, and that this time around we could expect to get updates whenever they were ready to go live.
Already, over the past year, we've seen a steady stream of new features added to the operating system, but the Anniversary Update is by far the biggest yet. (We've provided three ways to get the update elsewhere.)
Windows 10 is a year old today, so it's worth remembering just how much Windows 10 has changed and evolved since it first landed all those many months ago. But are there any great surprises with the big new update? Here you'll find the definitive list of the features that have been added since launch as well as all the juicy details about the new features which make their debut in the Anniversary Update.
1. Start menu
Microsoft can't stop fiddling with the Start menu. It went through numerous revisions in the various test phases of Windows 10 and the company’s 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 attempts to pus 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.
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
Action Center has been beefed up since last year, 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 application.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
The Windows 10 Settings menu has continued to expand in scope, now almost reaching the point when you feel the control panel is on the verge on redundancy. It would be tedious to list all of the settings that have been added since last summer, but each of the major categories is now stuffed full of tabs, some containing a dozen more options within themselves. Privacy alone now has 16 different tabs, making the Settings search facility more critical than ever.
Will Microsoft bite the bullet and retire Control Panel? As far back as last October, the senior program manager of Windows Insider, Brandon LeBlanc, tweeted that “Settings will eventually supersede control panel”, with Windows vice president Gabriel Aul adding: “Having two separate implementations [Settings and control panel] means more code complexity and disk/memory usage. Getting to one is leaner.” We suspect the control panel won't be around to see Windows 10's second birthday.
Has Cortana come on leaps and bounds in the past year? That would be a generous assessment, although significant new features are being added to it.
Language support has certainly widened over the past year, with the service becoming available in larger markets such as Australia, Canada, India and Japan, while others are being added in the Anniversary Update.
For the hardy few who remain loyal to Windows Phone, new features such as the ability to send text messages via your desktop PC or desktop notifications of missed calls are great, if hardly unique.
Apple had these baked into OS X long before Windows 10, and apps such as Pushbullet provide the same functionality for Android users on Windows 10.
Further Anniversary Update additions include the option to activate Cortana from the lockscreen, although only for limited functions, such as setting reminders. The voice assistant is also trying to be more helpful, warning you when your Windows Phone battery is running low and helping you locate the device if it goes missing.
Anecdotally, we know of few people who even use Cortana on the desktop; the idea of talking to voice assistants on a phone still seems a tad alien, let alone on a desktop. What's more, Cortana flings most queries in the direction of Bing rather than giving the straight answers you normally receive from Siri or Google Now. More work is needed, particularly on search, which seems to have gone backwards.
8. Ink Workspace
A feature likely to be appreciated by Surface owners, or anyone with a stylus-driven device, the Windows Ink Workspace is an icon that now resides in the System Tray, providing shortcuts to stylus-friendly apps.
These include Sticky Notes, virtual Post-It Notes designed for jotting phone numbers and reminders.
Then there's Sketchpad, a free-form drawing app that's a poor man's version of the Fresh Paint app in the Windows Store. Screen Sketch, meanwhile, lets you annotate a screengrab of your currently open window.
At the foot of the screen, there are shortcuts to other stylus-enabled apps that you may have installed on your PC, including OneNote, the Edge browser and Maps. The Ink Workspace is a convenient feature for those who constantly use their stylus, although we had trouble getting some of the apps to work on our original Surface Pro.
9. The Edge Browser
Edge really was a barebones browser when Windows 10 launched, which perhaps explains why it's struggling to gain momentum. Despite Windows 10 claiming over 15% of the desktop market, according to NetMarketShare, Edge is the browser of choice for only 4%, suggesting the vast majority of people seek alternatives to Microsoft's default choice.
Its feature count has grown steadily over the past 12 months, including a couple of significant additions in the Anniversary Update. The first is browser extensions – which wouldn't have been a standout feature a decade ago, let alone today. There was a relatively slim selection in the Anniversary Update previews: Adblock Plus, OneNote Web Clipper and a Pin It button for Pinterest among a selection of eight.
The installation routine was awkward too, although we suspect that will be smoothed by the time the final release arrives. Still, it's difficult to see how Microsoft is going to attract third-party developers to launch extensions for Edge when it's a bit player compared to rivals.
Another Edge catch-up feature in the Anniversary build is the option to pin tabs. Like Chrome, this creates a pervasive tab that loads every time you open the browser and displays only the site's favicon in the tab bar, thereby reducing clutter. Edge is improving, but it's yet to offer any compelling reason to drag people away from its rivals.
10. Command Prompt
Prior to the announcements about the Anniversary Update, if you were to compile a list of ‘apps’ most likely to get a lick of paint from the Microsoft design team, the Command Prompt would have been lucky to make the top 500. But there are now more visual options for those who think it's a little too mundane.
Scaling has been improved for those on high-DPI screens, although we'd argue the default text size is still the wrong side of squinty on our Full HD Surface Pro (this can be fixed via a tweak of the font size).
Talking of fonts, there are now several more from which to choose, so if you've always wanted to type your commands in MS Gothic or NSimSun, knock yourself out.
There are few other upgrades to character rendering and backgrounds, although line-wrapping went squiffy when we started fiddling with the different visual options in our test. Probably best left alone.
Like the Command Prompt, it's hard to believe there's anything Microsoft could do to the humble Clock, but it's actually been much improved in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.
Chief among the tweaks is that the Clock has now been integrated with the Calendar app, so if you click on it you'll receive an alert of upcoming appointments. Calendar appointments can also be added from the pop-up menu.
Another small but notable update for those with multi-monitor setups: the Clock will now appear on all your screens, not only on your primary display.