This month, Microsoft will begin deploying its fifth feature update for Windows 10, updating the system to version 1803. Here’s what you can expect from this release, which is a fairly minor upgrade compared to previous feature updates.
First, a quick note about names.
The official name of this release is Windows 10 version 1803. This is the sixth version of Windows 10 overall since the system’s initial release in mid-2015. New versions of Windows 10 occur via feature updates, and the feature update that will upgrade your PC to version 1803 was codenamed Redstone 4 (RS4). Its final name has yet to be announced, but I’m now told it will not be called the Spring Creators Update.
Most previous feature updates—like the Anniversary Update (mid-2016), the Creators Update (early 2017), and the Fall Creators Update (late 2017) were major releases with significant functional changes.
But the torrid pace of feature update releases, which occur twice a year now, combined with the mature nature of Windows, suggested that it was only a matter of time before Microsoft stopped pummeling users with so much change. And Windows 10 version 1803, thankfully, is that release.
There’s only one major new feature to speak of, called Timeline. But since it’s hidden in an obscure multitasking interface called Task View, it’s unlikely that most users will even find it. Which is probably just fine for the general populace, frankly.
Power users, however, will want to know about Timeline. It combines the previous multitasking functionality of Task View (sort of an ALT + TAB on steroids) with a sort of time travel. Meaning that not only can you access the applications and windows that are currently available, but you can see the applications and windows that you were using over time. And find things you were working on previously more easily. It’s a smart feature, and a nice counterpoint to the nonsense that’s been creeping into Windows 10 for years.
While Timeline will remain hidden to most users, it’s fair to say that virtually everyone who upgrades to Windows 10 version 1803 will notice the more liberal use of the Acrylic translucency effect and Reveal animations that are part of Microsoft’s evolving Fluent Design System. This attractive new look and feel is more prevalent throughout the system now, giving Windows a more modern look.
Microsoft Edge has improved enough in this release for me to recommend it to the casual users who make up the bulk of the Windows 10 user base. (Power users will want to stick with Chrome or Firefox, of course.) New in version 1803 is a redesigned Hub, by which you access your favorites, reading list, browser history, and downloads; dramatic improvements to the PDF, ebook, and EPUB reading experiences; web form auto-fill, tab muting, and numerous other enhancements.
Perhaps even more important, Microsoft Edge has been updated to support the technologies behind Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), and Microsoft is adding native PWA support to the Microsoft Store in Windows 10. This means that we should soon see a huge increase in the number and quality of Store apps.
Cortana has also been updated to focus on tips and activities. The most important of these is its ability to help you pick up where you left off, a more discoverable front-end to that Timeline feature. Cortana’s US-centricity remains a sore spot for many, of course.
Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to prevent the privacy police from crashing the Windows 10 data collection party has resulted into another round of what I call privacy theater. So the privacy tools in Settings have been updated yet again, this time to include a new diagnostic data setting where you can choose between “full” (the default) and “basic” data collection. There’s also a nice Diagnostic Data Viewer app (which you must download first) that lets you see the data that Microsoft is collecting in XML form. Perfect for that protocol droid you no doubt own.
Once you have upgraded to Windows 10 version 1803, you’ll find that subsequent feature updates will install more efficiently: They’ll still take a long time to install—about an hour—but you won’t have to wait to use the PC as long because more of the upgrade will happen while you’re still using it. The “offline” part of the upgrade—which happens when you reboot the PC—is now shorter, resulting in less downtime.
There are a ton of other smaller changes, of course. Rarely-used features like My People and Near Share have been updated, and touch and pen functionality has been fine-tuned. And others. But the features noted above are the ones that I think will impact most users. As you can see, it’s a delightfully short list.
Hopefully, the upgrade process will go as smoothly as was the case for the past two feature updates. As you may recall, the Anniversary Update was a nightmare of reliability issues, but Microsoft seems to have cleaned up its act since then. And based on my experiences with this system so far, I think this will be a fairly seamless and innocuous upgrade for most. So that’s great news.
Windows 10 version 1803 should begin deploying to end-user PCs on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.