This week, Microsoft will publicly release its third major version of Windows 10. But don’t be fooled by the name: The Creators Update offers very little in the way of new functionality for creators. Indeed, it’s a fairly minor upgrade overall.
The original version of Windows 10 arrived in mid-2015, offering a nice return to the PC focus that prevailed at Microsoft before the “touch-first” insanity of Windows 8. It was a solid release out of the gate—with a few iffy bits, like Microsoft Edge and the Universal Windows Platform (UWP)—and of course the promise was that Microsoft’s “Windows as a Service” (Waas) vision would keep us all up-to-date with fixes and security updates, plus regular feature updates.
The first such feature update, called the Fall Update, arrived in November 2015. This was a minor update that focused mostly on fit-and-finish work, and it addressed feedback from the initial release.
The second feature update, called the Anniversary Update, was a much bigger release. So big, in fact, that it was the only new version of Windows in 2016. (It arrived mid-year, as it name suggests, about one year after the initial release.) It provided major new features related to Windows Ink, Tablet Mode, Edge, Cortana, Xbox and gaming, notifications, and more.
Unfortunately, the Anniversary Update also suffered from a number of reliability issues, undermining confidence in WaaS as the deployment time stretched out to several months. (Indeed, I had a new HP computer that didn’t get this update until February 2017.)
So this is the world into which the Creators Update arrives. The central promise of Windows 10 remains solid—it works well, and does so across a stunningly diverse array of hardware form factors—but we have … worries.
Fortunately, the Creators Update is a much smaller and less impactful release than it predecessor: This one is much more like the Fall Update, and is full of refinements, not major new platform features. That said, Microsoft is promoting a few Big Box features in this release. But these features—3D apps and a foundation for some coming virtual reality/mixed reality future—aren’t all that interesting to mainstream users. And like most of you, I will mostly ignore them going forward, at least for now.
So. What does the Creators Update—which increments Windows 10 to version 1703—bring to the table? These are the most important features to know about.
Improved control over your privacy. No matter how you acquire the Creators Update—on a new PC or by upgrading an existing Windows 10 install to this new release—you will be prompted to review and configure privacy features in a way that is clearer and more transparent than at any time in the past. To be clear, I don’t feel that Windows 10’s underlying data collection—which is a requirement for WaaS—is egregious or anything to worry about. But Microsoft is wise to address this need, given the attention that it’s received from regulators and other privacy watchdogs from around the world.
Improved control over software updates. While Windows 10 is still a bit confusing in this regard, those with Windows 10 Pro or higher can now pause updates using a clear and concise interface in Settings. (Those on Windows 10 Home are screwed, sorry.)
Deeper Cortana integration. From initial Setup through the day-to-day experience of using Windows 10, Microsoft’s digital personal assistant is a more central, useful, and unavoidable than ever before. And that’s true whether you agree to let Cortana access your personal information or not.
Microsoft Edge improvements. Tied as it is to major Windows 10 versions, Microsoft’s new browser isn’t advancing as quickly as it needs to. But like previous feature updates, the Creators Update adds a ton of new Edge functionality nonetheless, including a new e-book store and reader, new tab management features, and more.
Gaming improvements. Gamers will want to upgrade to the Creators Update immediately: This version brings a new Game Mode feature that optimizes performance for games, plus Beam broadcasting integration.
App improvements all around. While these aren’t strictly tied to the Creators Update—the cadence at which apps are updated compared to OS updates is more mysterious than the Bermuda Triangle—the so-called in-box apps that Microsoft includes with Windows 10 have all been updated: Mail, Calendar, Groove, Movies & TV, Maps, Paint, you name it, all of them have improved substantially since last summer. That said, I still feel that UWP is the soft underbelly of Windows 10 and that these apps can and should be much better, and be treated as showcases that demonstrate to developers and users alike what is possible. They are most certainly not that.
New 3D features. In one of the few nods to the update’s name, the Creators Update includes several 3D mobile apps: Paint 3D for creating 3D images and printing them on a 3D printer, View 3D for viewing them, and an underlying Windows Mixed Reality platform for viewing 3D imagery with a coming generation of MR headsets. (There’s also a Remix 3D website for sharing 3D images.)
New and improved security features. While there is still some confusion around this, a new Windows Defender Security Center works much like the old Security Center/Action Center did in previous Windows versions: It provides a central dashboard for managing all of the security and reliability functionality in Windows. It also provides a new home for the Refresh Windows tool, now called Fresh Start, which lets you perform a clean install of Windows, minus the crapware from your PC maker. Nice!
Fit and finish work. Like previous Windows 10 versions, the Creators Update includes a ton of fit and finish updates that make the system seem more refined and modern. Key among them is Night Light, which works like F.lux by reducing the blue light emitted by your PC’s display at night, Start folder support, Dynamic Lock for automatically locking your PC when you walk away with your phone, “new” (OK, reintroduced) support for themes, and more.
As you must know, I’ve been busy documenting all of these new features in a series of Windows 10 tips here on Thurrott.com, and of course I’m updating the Windows 10 Field Guide for the Creators Update as well.
But like millions of other Windows Insiders, I’ve been testing the Creators Update for several months. And there’s just not a lot of “there” there: Certainly, none of the few new creation features are interesting to most users, and none of the other changes are particularly major. That is absolutely fine—Windows 10 is a mature platform, after all—except for one inconvenient truth: There are still some areas of concern here, and none of them are addressed by the Creators Update.
So while no one was asking for a Microsoft e-book store whose wares are only viewing in Edge on Windows 10, many have been asking for a viable apps platform and a store full of high-quality apps. Many, too, have been asking for a viable, full-featured web browser that either works on mobile platforms too or perhaps at least provides Favorite and password sync with popular mobile browsers. And many have legitimate concerns about the reliability issues that have dogged Windows 10, plus the rampant in-box advertising that I feel cheapens this product at a time when it needs to be as classy as possible.
There’s nothing wrong with the Creators Update, per se. Indeed, Windows 10 version 1703 is the best version of Windows that Microsoft has ever made, as it should be. But with these fundamental issues still dogging the platform, I’m curious why Microsoft would pretend to focus on “creators” and then ignore that audience while doing nothing to address long-running issues.
So on that note, I’d like to see a return to fundamentals for the next release, which is currently code-named “Redstone 3.”
There’s no need to recommend the Creators Update: You’re going to get it whether you want it or not. But my advice to anyone concerned about quality issues is to wait 2-4 weeks to see how the rollout progresses. And, yes, I have documented exactly how you can do so, no matter which Windows 10 product edition you’re using.
The Windows 10 Creators Update will begin rolling out publicly on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Cross your fingers.