Hands-On with Redstone 5: The Future Comes Into Focus

Posted on July 3, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 63 Comments

Six weeks after my first exploratory look at the next version of Windows 10, I’m happy to report that my initial impression still stands. Microsoft, very clearly, is going to focus on core productivity features in “Redstone 5,” and has—at least so far—ignored introducing more of the type of nonsense that dogged the previous two feature updates.

That said, there has been one major step backward: Microsoft has apparently decided that the Sets feature—which adds tabs to application windows—won’t reach an appropriate level of quality in time for Redstone 5. And it has removed this feature from testing, at least for now.

That’s interesting mostly because Sets was going to be the only major new feature in Redstone 5. You can see what I mean by reviewing the list of Redstone 5 features I documented in Hands-On with Redstone 5: The Early Days.

Today, over seven weeks later, we’re at an interesting juncture. At the time of that first write-up, Microsoft had released 11 Redstone 5 builds. But since then, it has released 6 more, by my count. And we’re at roughly the halfway point between that first write-up and the time at which Redstone 5 will become feature complete. So this is a great time to step back and see what else we’ve learned about this next release.

Here are the Redstone 5 features we’ve learned about in the past six weeks.

SwiftKey functionality in the virtual keyboard. Satisfying a longtime customer request, Microsoft is finally bringing SwiftKey capabilities to the virtual keyboard in Windows 10, in English (United States), English (United Kingdom), French (France), German (Germany), Italian (Italy), Spanish (Spain), Portuguese (Brazil), and Russian.

More Setup improvements. While Windows Setup has remained largely unchanged, technically, since at least Windows Vista, Microsoft has dramatically changed some of the steps that users see in the Out Of Box Experience (OOBE) in Windows. Those upgrading to Redstone 5, for example, will now see links for setting up Windows Hello when available, linking their phone, configuring Office 365, and more.

More Microsoft Edge improvements. Microsoft Edge is always a big focus with each Windows 10 version, and in addition to the changes I noted back in May, Microsoft’s browser will receive several other improvements. These include more Fluent Design System elements, the ability to disable auto media playback in web pages, completely redesigned “Settings and more” menu, Settings, and Hub, the ability to customize the Edge toolbar, top sites in the Edge jump list, better organizational features for tabs you’ve set aside, and a more functional Downloads pane.

More Skype for Windows 10 improvements. Skype for Windows 10 is getting a big overhaul in this release to bring it more in line with the level of functionality we expect and received from the desktop version of the app. Improvements include new calling features, call snapshots, easier screen sharing, a new layout, customizable themes, and more.

Display improvements. Fixing a regression from the first version of Windows 10, Microsoft is finally making it possible to adjust the size of text in the UI again. And a new video playback mode, called “Adjust video based on lighting,” will help improve the visibility of videos when played outside or in bright environments.

More Fluent design. Continuing its trend of pushing the new Fluent Design System to more of the OS, Microsoft is adding Acrylic material in many more system controls and backgrounds.

Storage improvements. Storage Sense is being improved with OneDrive Files on Demand integration: Now, any On Demand files you’ve not used in a configurable number of days will be automatically made Download Only.

Search improvements. Microsoft is expanding the use of search previews in Start Search to include official download pages for Windows software.

Game bar and Game Mode improvements. The Game bar is getting new audio controls and performance visualizations. Plus, Game Mode is being improved for even better performance.

Mobile broadband (LTE) connectivity improvements. With Windows 10 Redstone 5, Microsoft is updating the core networking stack for the first time in 20 years. And one of the improvements is new and improved Mobile Broadband USB class driver for those PCs with integrated cellular connectivity capabilities (like Always Connected PCs).

Windows security changes. Starting with Windows 10 Redstone 5, antivirus products will need to run as a protected process to register. “Products that have not yet implemented this will not appear in the Windows Security UI, and Windows Defender Antivirus will remain enabled side-by-side with these products,” Microsoft explained back in May.

Wireless projection improvements. The wireless projection experience in Windows 10—where you connect to an external display wirelessly—is being updated to support a configuration toolbar similar to the one in Remote Desktop Connection.

Improved locale experience. In Redstone 5, you will be able to override default regional format settings such as Calendar, First day of the week, Dates, Times, and Currency in Settings.

More Narrator improvements. Narrator is being bolstered with selection commands in Narrator Scan Mode, a new keyboard layout, automatic dialog resizing, and more.

Task Manager improvements. This is a seemingly small change, but it’s important: Going forward, the main memory column Task Manager’s Processes tab will not include memory used by suspended UWP processes. “This is to more accurately reflect the OS behavior in which the OS can reclaim memory used by suspended UWP processes if needed,” Microsoft explained.

Windows Mixed Reality improvements. Windows Mixed Reality no longer requires a physical display, which is useful for backpack gaming PCs. And you can now capture images of the mixed reality world using the system capture experience, plus stream audio to both your headset and the PC’s speakers simultaneously.

RSAT improvements. In the past, Microsoft would stagger release a new version of its Remote Server Administration Tools sometime after each new Windows version. Now, these tools will be updated in lockstep with each new Windows 10 version and those who install them will automatically get the latest version on upgrade.

There are a few other minor changes, but two things stand out to me when viewing this list and, especially, when adding it to the list I made back in May.

First, that is a lot of stuff. No, no major new features, but then that’s not what Windows needs today. Instead, this is a steady drumbeat of refinement and I really appreciate that. It kinds of flies in the face of the general consensus about this release.

Second, the quality of these updates is high. There is no fluff in Redstone 5, at least not that I’ve seen. And I really appreciate that. For those who have been losing the faith a bit with Windows, this is a welcome step in the right direction.

More soon.


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