The Windows 10 Creators Update certainly has its highs and lows. But let’s focus on the positive first: Here are the changes that matter the most, and to the most people.
1. Microsoft Edge
Sure, Microsoft Edge still misses the mark for far too many people: It’s missing mobile bookmark, passwords, and settings sync, it’s support for extensions has never matured into a healthy ecosystem of third-party offerings, and it lacks features as basic as a real full-screen mode. But let’s give Microsoft some credit: In each of the three major upgrades to Windows 10, the firm has markedly improved its new browser. And with the Creators Update, it’s more useful than ever, and it continues to offer unique features not found elsewhere.
You’ve probably seen the latest battery life tests, but if not, the story is simple: Microsoft Edge still offers a dramatic battery life advantage over competing browsers on Windows 10. That alone might be enough to put Edge over the top for users, especially those who travel or work on the go.
But I’m perhaps more interested in the new end user functionality in the Creators Update. Here, I’ll focus on the truly useful.
For example, Edge now offers incredible tab management features, including the ability to set tab groups aside and then access them later at any time, even after shutting down Edge or rebooting the PC. Edge also makes it easier to find exactly the tab you want, thanks to improved support for tab previews. And you can now share a tab—or, new to the Creators Update, an entire group of tabs—more easily than before.
Microsoft Edge offers a better reading experience, too. It already offered a dedicated Reading View for web articles that strips away ads and other clutter and offers a nice reading experience. But now it offers similar functionality for PDFs and EPUB documents, the latter of which works with unprotected files as well as those provided by an ill-advised e-book store that we shall discuss no further.
Also, it’s worth nothing that Edge is the only web browser that can play Netflix videos at true 4K resolutions. (That said, you could, of course, simply use the Netflix app to achieve this, and probably should.) Edge offers partial Flash blocking. And it includes smarter downloading capabilities.
If you are plotting a transition to Microsoft Edge, know that it’s easier than ever with the Creators Update: Previously, Microsoft offered only a way to import bookmarks from other browsers, but now you can import bookmarks, browsing history, and saved passwords to Edge, depending on which browser you were using previously.
Gamers of a Microsoft bent are right to be excited about the improvements Microsoft is making across its Xbox-compatible platforms, which today include the Xbox One console and Windows 10 for PCs. Looking specifically at Windows 10, we can easily see that the Creators Update is the biggest leap forward yet.
The biggest improvement is a new feature called Game Mode that improves gaming performance dramatically, especially on lower-end PCs: All you have to do is click a checkbox to make it work. But Microsoft has worked a new Gaming interface into Settings as well, providing a central location for game-related customization. And there’s a great new version of the Xbox app, which supports new Windows 10 and Xbox Live features, including the ability to set a customer gamerpic.
Also of interest is new support for the Beam game broadcasting service. Now anyone can broadcast a Beam session at any time, and you don’t have to master recording hardware, software, or services to make it happen: It’s just built right in.
Like Microsoft Edge, Cortana—Microsoft’s digital personal assistant—has improved by leaps and bounds over the past year.
But unlike Edge, Cortana’s improvements work across platforms too—it works on iPhone, Android, Xbox One, and elsewhere—and for a service like this, such pervasive support is both required and ideal.
In a great example of cross-device support, Cortana can help you pick up where you left off. So you are working on Office documents or websites in Edge on your work computer and head home, Cortana will display quick links in Action Center on your home PC so you can get back to work there.
And speaking of differences with Edge, Cortana’s core functionality is improving all the time: It doesn’t need to wait for some future Windows 10 upgrade. A great example is reminders, which have gotten much more sophisticated over time.
Also, Cortana is now available in Windows 10 Setup, and on the lock screen, and there’s a new full-screen “Hey Cortana” experience that appears when you access this feature on an ideal PC.
Microsoft doesn’t get enough credit for its single-minded focus on security, but it should. With the Creators Update, Windows 10 brings back a handy security and system health dashboard from the past—now called Windows Defender Security Center—and improves on it nicely, providing users with a true all-in-one solution for monitoring, and if needed, correcting—their security, PC health, and online safety.
Business customers will also benefit from services such as Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), which was improved for the Creators Update, plus the Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection and Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph.
5. Fit and finish
Sometimes, it’s the little things. And while it is easy to be cynical about such improvements, Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to provide both consistency and elegance to the Windows 10 user experience are appreciated.
On that note, there are a ton of fit and finish improvements in the Creators Update, and Start and Settings have both gotten a lot of attention. (Be sure to check out the new custom color and themes support) But a few small features are worth pointing out too.
Your ability to control how and when updates are installed is better than before, though perhaps not the full control that some would prefer. But you should no longer experience the ugliness of a PC rebooting while you’re working, or waking up to a PC that shut down all your open apps while you were away.
Updates will now be delivered more efficiently, too: Future feature and cumulative updates will use differential technologies to reduce the required bandwidth.
For those with high-DPI screens, Windows 10 now provides per-app high-DPI configuration, so you should be able to get even old-fashioned desktop apps to look and work normally on your modern PC.
A new Mini-View feature provides Picture-In-Picture support to apps like Movies & TV and Skype, letting you access them in a small floating window while you do other things.
Night Light, like similar features on mobile OSes, lessens the display of blue light when its dark, easing the strain on your eyes and lessening the impact on your ability to sleep.
Also like mobile systems, Windows 10 can now free up disk space automatically as needed.By default, Windows 10 will delete unused files that have been in the Recycle Bin for 30 days, and there’s a new “Clean now” tool that will free up space on the fly, sort of like a very basic version of the legacy Disk Cleanup tool.
Action Center supports notification grouping, and notifications can be interactive. For example, Windows Store notifications will now display a download progress bar.
Power user and business features got some nice updates, too. The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) provides a dramatic upgrade over the previous release. And Hyper-V sports a friendlier new Quick Create wizard.
Windows Hello is now dramatically faster. And more apps are pen-aware, including Maps and Photos.
Next up: The rest
Of course, the Windows 10 Creators Update isn’t all good news. Next, I’ll review the most over-hyped new features and the biggest disappointments in this release.