This morning, Microsoft announced the Windows 10 Fall Creators Updates, which will bring several major new features to the software giant’s flagship platform for PCs. Key among them are integration solutions that work with the mobile devices its customers really use.
Note: This information is based on a briefing Microsoft provided press and bloggers ahead of the public announcement during the Build 2017 day two keynote address. And that a few surprises were held back, so there will be more to say later in the day.
Here’s what we know about the Fall Creators Update so far.
Naming. Yes, it’s a terrible name, but like all terrible things, we’ll just get used to it. My take on this is that Microsoft is doubling down a concept—creators and creativity—that it did not fulfill in the previous Windows 10 release, and that this release will be a more fully-formed implementation of that original vision, such as it was.
Timing. Despite recently announcing that it would ship Windows 10 versions in March and September every year, Microsoft seemed reticent to commit to a September release for the Fall Creators Update. That is the goal, but the final release will be quality-based, we were told. So September it is.
A new creative app. In a pointlessly secretive move, Microsoft revealed that it would include a new creative app in the Fall Creators Update but never described it. Fortunately, an early peek at a Microsoft blog post provides a description but not a name: “(This new creative app) transforms your photos and videos. (It) automatically brings your memories, or even your friends’ photos and videos together to create stories with a soundtrack, theme, and cinematic transitions. You can also create mixed reality by adding 3D objects to your photos and videos to tell stories in a whole new way, or turn your photos and videos into your canvas, drawing on them with Windows Ink.” So it’s not the Movie Maker replacement that everyone wants, but something closer to Apple’s Clips.
Microsoft Fluent Design System. Project NEON, a modern update to Microsoft’s previous design language, called Metro, is being branded as Microsoft Fluent Design System. Described as “a journey” and “not a revolution” in terms of a new direction, Fluent is something that will appear over time, and not all at once, and it will not be fully realized in the Fall Creators Update. (In fact, as we’ve seen, it’s already been implemented in some apps in Windows 10 today.) So what’s the point? “Fluent Design will deliver intuitive, harmonious, responsive and inclusive cross-device experiences and interactions,” Microsoft claims. “Fluent Design is built to help developers create more expressive and engaging apps that work across a wide range of device and input diversity.” That last bit is the most important change from Metro, as Fluent address both different kinds of devices and the diverse input types that exist today across those device types.
Cross-device experiences. This is, I think, the most interesting and exciting area of work in the Fall Creators Update, and as such I will be writing about it separately today. But the short version is that Microsoft has moved well beyond the “Windows only” and “Windows first” strategies of the best and embracing the reality that most Windows users will use a lot of non-Microsoft devices. And that the only way Windows can survive in this world is if Windows can somehow make those other devices better. The result is a set of features—Timeline, Pick Up Where You Left Off, Clipboard, and OneDrive Files on Demand—that each “connects the dots” between PCs and devices.
Timeline. A replacement for Task View, Timeline lets you visually “jump back in time” to find what you were working on earlier. It’s described as a visual timeline that displays files, apps, and websites you were working on. It’s sort of a combination of Task View and the time-based navigation in File History.
Pick Up Where You Left Off. Using Cortana, you can (literally) pick up where you left off across compatible devices (Windows 10, Android, iOS). “Imagine logging off your PC and having the document you were editing pop up on your phone,” Microsoft explains. “Cortana asks if you want to pick up where you left in your app, document or website. It’s like having your PC and your phone finish each other’s sentences.”
Clipboard. Using the SwiftKey keyboard, you can copy and paste on any compatible device (Windows 10, Android, iOS) and then paste the clip on another device. “Just hit copy on what you want to grab; your photo, map link, paragraph, even an animated gif; and it is ready to paste into whatever you want, whether you’re on a Windows PC or your favorite mobile phone.”
OneDrive Files on Demand. Microsoft’s long-awaited replacement for placeholders is missing just one thing: Placeholders. This is a big enough deal that I’m writing about it separately, but the short version is that a new Files on Demand feature in OneDrive (for consumers and businesses) will allow you to access all of your cloud-based files from File Explorer in Windows 10 … assuming you have an Internet connection. But when you’re offline, you can’t see anything you haven’t synced. So it’s a replacement for placeholders, yes, but it doesn’t completely duplicate the original placeholders functionality. (That said, there are other improvements, too.)
Windows Store. While I was hoping for a lot of good news for the struggling Windows Store, Microsoft is instead offering a rather tepid argument that everything is just fine. “Windows Store is a great place for developers,” we were told, and Microsoft highlighted two new apps—SAP Digital Boardroom and AutoDesk Stingray—as proof. A few more app announcements are expected in the keynote, but there’s not a lot of there there, if you will.
Windows Subsystem for Linux. Building on the Beta support for Bash on Ubuntu for Windows in the current versions of Windows 10, the Fall Creators Update will bring SUSE Linux and Fedora Linux into the fold. These solutions will be distributed via the Windows Store, too.
Mixed reality. By the time the Fall Creators Update ships in September, Microsoft’s hardware partners will finally be ready to ship Windows Mixed Reality headsets and motion controllers (and bundles) to consumers. These solutions are basically VR with built-in marker/sensor technology, meaning that they are standalone and you won’t need to install sensors in the room you’ll be using. Acer, for example, will sell both a $300 headset and a $400 bundle that also includes a motion controller.