Last week, Microsoft finally began broadly deploying Windows 10 version 1803 to the public. Obviously, it’s time to look at the next version.
Codenamed Redstone 5 (RS5), that next version is currently scheduled for completion in September (and will likely be named Windows 10 version 1809). It is the successor to the current Windows 10 version, which was codenamed Redstone 4 (RS4).
I’ve been playing around with my approach to testing future Windows 10 versions of the past year. Because I’m continually updating my e-book the Windows 10 Field Guide to address changes in each version, and because I’ve been much been behind in doing so from day one, I didn’t move most of my PCs to RS4 until very late in development. This time around, however, I’m going back to my usual methodology, and I will maintain a mix of RS4 and RS5 PCs so I can keep up better on the next version too.
(I’ll have a book-related announcement soon, but I think I’m going to keep updating the Windows 10 Field Guide through at least the end of 2018 and to include RS5. So existing customers will have received at least three years of updates. More on that soon.
In any event, testing the next version of Windows 10 is easier than ever: Just open the Settings app (WINKEY + I) and navigate to Update & Security > Windows Insider Program and enroll the PC in “Active development of Windows” and then “Fast,” and reboot. Then, check Windows Update to receive the latest pre-release RS5 build.
(Caution: Doing so is a one-way street, at least until the “magic window” opens this September. That means that you will not be able to leave RS5 development and return to the shipping version of Windows 10 without blowing away your Windows install—along with your data and installed applications—and resetting the PC from scratch.)
As noted, Windows 10 version 1803—RS4—was just released. So in many ways, it’s still early days for RS5. But thanks to a relatively new wrinkle in the Insider program’s ring system called Skip Ahead—it debuted late last summer–Microsoft is actually able to publicly test two versions of Windows 10 at the same time. So there is some overlap towards the end of one release as testing begins on the next.
Such has been the case with RS5: Microsoft released the first RS5 build to Skip Ahead way back in February, and it has released a total of 11 RS5 builds—11!—since. 9 of those builds, by my count, were provided to those who opted in to Skip Ahead. But with Windows development transitioning to RS5 with the release of Windows 10 version 1803, the last two have been provided to the Fast ring. We are on the RS5 train now.
So. What’s new? (By which I mean, what’s coming soon in RS5?)
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you know that the Windows organization in Microsoft has been split asunder and its leader has been cast out of the company. Core OS development heading to the Azure group and end-user experiences heading to a new Experiences & Devices group. You know that Windows 10 has, in effect, been demoted at Microsoft and is no longer a top-level concern. And that this means that Windows 10 development will, in effect, slow down with regards to superfluous new features like those it had added in previous upgrades.
That sounds like bad news. But I’m working on the theory that this change in leadership and direction is, at least in some ways, good news for Windows 10. That future versions of Windows 10, including RS5, will focus more on the productivity heart of Windows and less on those nonsense features that I’ve complained about over the past few years.
Well, cross your fingers, folks. what I see in RS5 so far bears this out.
Sets. Sets brings tabs to most Store apps and some desktop applications and other windows, and it is arguably one of the major changes coming in RS5. As such, I’ll be paying a lot of attention to this feature, with an eye on multitasking (in particular with keyboard shortcuts, which appear to be evolving), drag and drop, and settings. (UPDATE: Microsoft has since removed Sets from Windows 10 Redstone 5 and may now include this feature in a future release.)
Timeline cross-device support. Today, Timeline works across your PCs, but with RS5, Microsoft is adding Timeline support to mobile devices too. This will take various forms: Via Microsoft’s productivity apps on both Android and iOS, via Microsoft Edge on both Android and iOS, and via the Microsoft Launcher on Android.
Your Phone. A new app called Your Phone will replace the Phone settings functionality in the Settings app and provide a front-end for your (Android) phone integration, including the ability to send and receive text messages, copy photos, and manage notifications. Microsoft hopes to integrate this with the iPhone as well. But since they haven’t even asked Apple about this yet, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
New Clipboard experience. First revealed at Build 2017, the new Clipboard experience will finally debut in RS5, providing Windows 10 users with a cross-PC roaming clipboard history, pinned items support, Timeline, and Sets support, and more. There are some limitations—it only supports clipped content under 100 kb in size, and works with plain text, HTML, and small (<1 MB) image files—but this could be very useful. It will likely improve over time.
Yet another way to take screenshots. Windows 10 already supports several ways to take screenshots, but RS5 is adding yet another with a new snipping experience that supports keyboard shortcuts, Screen Sketch support for editing, Pen support, and more. You can even replace the old Print Screen behavior with the new snipping experience if you’d like.
Search previews. Start search queries will now display a search preview pane so you can see within a document, Outlook meeting, OneNote quick comment, Setting, or web search result list right in the search pane. This functionality will be expanded over the course of RS5 development, so it’s something to keep an eye on.
File Explorer dark theme. While UWP apps and experiences in Windows 10 can automatically take on a light or dark theme based on the user’s preferences, desktop applications are a different animal. But Microsoft is adding dark theme support to File Explorer, which should go a long way to solving the visual inconsistencies when users do choose a dark theme.
Cortana improvements. Like Microsoft Edge, Cortana improves by leaps and bounds with every Windows 10 version and RS5 is no different. So far, Cortana has picked up a feature called voice queries, so you can more easily find system features. (For example, “Hey Cortana, update my PC” or “Hey Cortana, show me how to add a printer.”) I expect many more additons by the time RS5 development wraps up.
Calendar improvements. It’s unbelievable that this wasn’t available previously, but the Calendar app will finally provide a Search box so you can “find past or future events by searching for the name, location, people included or words in the event body.” That’s the good news. The bad? This still won’t work with Exchange Server, Gmail, Yahoo, or IMAP calendars.
Notepad improvements. This one won’t impact normal users, but the Notepad desktop application has been updated to support Unix/Linux line endings (LF) and Macintosh line endings (CR)—in addition to normal Windows line endings (CRLF)—which will make it more useful to those who use the Windows Subsystem for Linux. Notepad is also being updated to support a “Search with Bing” feature that could, in fact, be useful to normal people: Just highlight a word or phrase in Notepad and choose File > Search with Bing.
More Fluent. As it has over the previous two Windows 10 versions, Microsoft is adding more Fluent Design System UX flourishes in RS5, and my hope is that the whole system will finally be more visually cohesive by the time RS5 ships. Right now, you can see additional Fluent elements in the Windows Defender Security Center, Task View and Timeline, Sets, and more.
Start folder naming. Today, you can drag tiles in the Start menu on top of each other to create folders. But what you can’t do is name them. So Microsoft is adding this capability in RS5.
Mobile Broadband (LTE) connectivity UX improvements. Windows 10 finally is moving to a modern networking stack after 20 years (!) on the old version. And that includes a new Mobile Broadband (MBB) USB class driver for eSIM/SIM cards and USB cellular modems. Those with Always Connected PCs like the HP Envy x2 will have a simpler experience getting up and running, at least eventually. But it’s early in the testing period and the onboarding experience right now is not final. There is, however, a new Data Usage experience in Network & Internet settings. (Plus, I’ve loaned my Envy x2 to Mary Jo so I can’t look at it right now anyway. It’s sort of odd that I don’t have any other SIM-based PCs, but I don’t.)
Windows Security. The ponderously named Windows Defender Security Center is being renamed to the more sane Windows Security, and it will function as before.
Sound settings. Microsoft started moving some of the system’s sound-related settings from Control Panel to Settings in RS4 and it may actually complete that work in RS5.
High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) support. Popularized by Apple’s recent iPhones, HEIF is a more efficient container for image files than JPEG that also supports video, audio, and HDR. It will be supported by the Photos app in RS5.
External GPU improvements. External Thunderbolt 3-based GPUs revolutionize the PC experience by turning pedestrian laptops into full-powered gaming PCs. These external GPUs work in RS4, but in RS5, Microsoft will provide a new safe remove experience that displays which apps are using the external GPU before you detach it so you can avoid data loss. I’m looking forward to testing this feature.
Focus assist improvements. Introduced in RS4, focus assist is picking up gaming-related improvements in RS5 so that it will be enabled automatically any time a game is played full-screen.
Looking over this list, you will see a distinct lack of nonsense features. And that, folks, is a good thing.