Hands-On with Redstone 5: The Early Days

Posted on May 12, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 36 Comments

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.


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Comments (36)

36 responses to “Hands-On with Redstone 5: The Early Days”

  1. mmcpher

    I am looking forward to trying out the your phone app. Do we know when it will be operational on the skip ahead releases? I'm also looking to more fully investigate sets and timeline.

    • ChristopherCollins

      In reply to mmcpher:

      I'm interested in that app too. I stay on a MBP now, as the messaging and phone integration just improves my workflow tremendously. I run Windows 10 via Parallels, but only for one app at this point. Now that O365 is nice on OS X, I'm pretty comfy with this setup.

      Lack of mobile integration in Windows hurts that platform more than I think they know OR they know and can't really do much about it. Dell has some type of Phone app too.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to mmcpher:

      For some reason I have "this summer" in my head, but I can't track down where that's from. Possibly my own personal fantasy.

  2. hrlngrv

    return to the shipping version of Windows 10 without blowing away your Windows install—along with your data and installed applications

    Not entirely accurate.

    Don't store your data under %USERPROFILE% (C:\Users\your_account_name_here).

    Dunno about games, but PC relatively packed with other types of software usually needs less than 120GB for C:. Better to split a 500GB or larger drive at least in half into 2 volumes, and store data on D:. If you can use BitLocker on C:, you can also use it on D:. Also possible to set up permissions on D: to restrict other accounts' access to personal files, just like under %USERPROFILE%. Then if you need to reset C:, you'd still need to reinstall software, but data files wouldn't be affected.

    IMO, one of the stupidest things MSFT has done to PC users is the monolithic C: drive with everything on it. Simplicity at the cost of robustness.

  3. LuxuryTravelled

    Transferring book content to Thurrott Premium?

  4. madthinus

    I would love to see more depolyment inprovements. They have to make it easier and faster for their enterprise customers to deploy Windows 10. Also moving some of the legacy bits to container based apps like UWP. That container do support win32 apps as well.

  5. dallasnorth40

    There is some good stuff in this release. I'm really looking forward to it.

  6. Dan1986ist

    So, in my personal usage of the latest RS5 builds on a couple of my computers, I found the cross-device clipboard sync settings don't appear if using a local account but sign into stuff with your MSA. In that case, only thing that appears is the option to enable the Windows Key + V keyboard option to callup the clipboard. The cloud clipboard only fully works when logged as a MSA. Those in the RS5 Fast Ring can check this for yourselves, if you want to.

  7. MacLiam

    These all seem like reasonable additions to 1803 in the march toward 1809. I wasn't in the Skip Ahead program, so it's only in the last few days that I have been able to put Fast Ring builds of RS5 on any of my Surface devices. I was surprised the first time I opened the store and saw it as a tab in an untitled window; doesn't seem like the store is anything that would need to be incorporated in a set. I doubt I will use Sets much, but I don't object to their presence if this is the kind of thing that others will find of value. At least it's a customizable and even switch-selectable feature.

    Character recognition of pen input seems to be broken in the evolving 1809. Apps that permit pen character entry like the NY Times Crossword and Microsoft's own Sudoku app let you draw characters in a few squares, but then freeze without converting the characters or numerals to the app font, followed by an immediate crash back to the start screen. I've posted to Insider Hub about this. This problem does not exist on Surfaces that I kept on 1803. Inking itself seems not to be a problem -- just the character recognition.

    Other than that, my normal uses seem to function as well as they did in 1709 and 1803. I'm looking forward to taking new features out for a ride as time goes by. Maybe some will be more useful to me than I expect.

  8. davidl

    "the Calendar app will finally provide a Search box"

    I have the calendar search box now in 1803/RS4 on my home and work desktops and my home and work laptops. Calendar updates independent of OS as far as I know. I can see several calendar updates via the Microsoft Store.

  9. jchampeau

    "Your Phone" is also ponderously named. If I had a nickel for every time Microsoft made a poor naming choice, I'd have a large pile of nickels.

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  12. RR

    I agree with @ChristopherCollins on the premium comment. "Your Phone" could be huge (finger's crossed on Microsoft implementation!). I use WhatsApp which has a sort "Your Phone" view, and I never want to use it on the actual phone. The real estate on PC's just can't be beat, then add your second monitor, no way any mobile device can compete with that if you are @location.

    I think they are sort of dreaming that Apple would play ball though, obviously Apple did not accidentally lock people into their ecosystem. I suspect one of the reasons Surface Laptop isn't selling is the difference in just these sorts of integrations. Only way Apple plays is by force (same way Microsoft was forced to put apps on mobile). For that to happen they really need to make the App really wow! (essential but not by itself sufficient).

    Please please please I'm begging ya, Joe. Do not put out a lame Edge type fiasco launch. Just this once, please ...

  13. davidblouin

    People will always find something to complain about whether;

    -They release 3 build per year or only one every two years.

    -They add lots of new features in every build or just fix and improvements.

    -They try to have a go at The Next Big Thing early or adopt a wait and see approach.

    Here's to complaining to everything that's new and missing it when they take it away.

    Cheers Windows Fan.

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to davidblouin:

      You forgot about:

      Complaining about how the new, unfinished features in an early beta don't look mature

      Complaining that a beta build doesn't have any new features to complain about

      Complaining that a beta build isn't stable enough to release to the general public

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to davidblouin:

      Welcome to the Internet. Now everyone can have a voice! ;)

      • davidblouin

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        The problem isn't that everyone has a voice it's that they use that voice to complain

        about everything and its opposite (pardon my french). They complain for years that Microsoft shouldn't have implement solution A , that B is the better solution and when Microsoft finally do scrap solution A in favor of implementing solution B , people complain that solution A was the way to go and that solution B is the worst possible solution they could have come up with.

    • Tony Barrett

      In reply to davidblouin:

      MS made their own problems here by committing to a 6 month upgrade cycle - it was there choice, nobody asked for it. A 12 month cycle would be more sensible, like the rest of the industry, but for something as big and complicated as Windows, even that must be a stretch. The devs in Redmond must all be going grey and living on Prozac!

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to ghostrider:

        So you're demonstrating the very first two lines of the post you're replying to.

        "People will always find something to complain about whether;

        -They release 3 build per year or only one every two years."

        Going for the "irony" vote.

        Got it.

      • davidblouin

        In reply to ghostrider:

        People would have complain about a 12 month cycle being too long.

        Funny you complain about Windows being too big and complex i would like to know your opinion on WinRT and Windows 10 S.

  14. longhorn

    These are sane improvements. Microsoft should put Windows 10 on a sane release schedule (at least 2 years between stable builds) so that normal people can return to the platform. 2 stable builds per year is just insanity. Normal users won't tolerate that in the long run. The current release schedule is for Windows geeks only.

    The thing to understand is that a PC is not a smartphone. There is basically no data on a smartphone (everything is synced to the cloud) so if an iOS or Android upgrade break the phone not much data is lost. The PC is very different. It's a place where people store data so a failure is much more costly. A smartphone is comparable to a Chromebook; You can easily replace it. A PC setup may take days to recreate if you don't have a recent back-up. I also feel that the role of a PC is to provide some form of stability in an ever changing digital world. A PC is your digital home/base and you don't want it rearranged twice a year.

    Maybe Nadella wants to put Windows in the cloud. People will not let go of local computing unless local computing is gradually transformed to cloud computing. It has to happen gradually. That’s why we see the crazy Windows release schedule (Windows as a Service). That’s why we see users losing control over updates, bloatware being installed and settings being changed. And don’t forget the ads. It’s almost like we are using Windows in the cloud already. The rest is just an implementation detail when the technology is ready.

    • Alastair Cooper

      In reply to longhorn:

      It can be done though. I have everything synced in a mixture of Office 365 and Dropbox (ironically I disable OneDrive which is not what Microsoft want) and it works extremely well. The only stuff I don't sync. mostly, is virtual machines and TV/movie recordings.

    • Saxwulf

      In reply to longhorn:

      "Maybe Nadella wants to put Windows in the cloud."

      You think? Everything will be in the cloud. Not today, not next week but it's coming. 5G will, of course, accelerate the move.

  15. will

    The funny thing about the eGPU improvements, they do not work on any of the current generation Surface products as they do not have Thunderbolt 3. Hopefully by the time RS5 is launched later this year we will get to see some revisions to the Surface line with Thunderbolt 3.

    Personally I think that a Surface branded eGPU based docking system would be a big win. Plug in your Surface and you get power, USB ports, DisplayPorts, Gig Ethernet, and a powerful GPU or some combination of the items.

  16. Daniel D

    Obviously, it’s time to look at the next version...

    I would have thought its time to ask how all this constant OS changes is actually making any difference, or is this just shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic? I honestly don't think the overwhelming majority of Windows customers would care in the slightest if Microsoft left the OS alone for a couple of years and focussed on something else. The obsession of Microsoft on constant never ending change to Windows while its competitors move on in other spaces, is the real story.

    • Tony Barrett

      In reply to Daniel_D:

      MS seem to think this 6 month update cycle is what people want, but it's not. As you say, if MS put the breaks on for 12 months and said were just going to squash bugs and improve reliability, nobody would have a problem with that. Infact, it would only be a good thing, but MS seem to think features are what everyone wants, and to hell with QC. That's why Windows 10 will never, ever be as stable or reliable as previous versions. Ever.

  17. peterh_oz

    I thought Vista had a new network stack, which is the main reason Steve Gibson stayed on XP for a few years (he doesn't trust "new" until it's had a few years of patches and real world experience).