With Windows 10 version 1809 (“Redstone 5”) almost certainly feature-complete, we now have a full picture of the improvements we can expect from this release.
And I have good news to report: This release of Windows 10 has tracked according to my hopes and expectations. As with the previous release, Windows 10 version 1803 (code-named Redstone 4 and often incorrectly called the April 2018 Update), this version focuses almost exclusively on productivity-focused improvements and across-the-board refinements. This is exactly the way that Microsoft should treat a product like Windows, which is both mature and transitioning to a new role in its customers’ lives.
If you’ve been following along in this series, you may know that I first explored what’s coming in Windows 10 version 1809 in Hands-On with Redstone 5: The Early Days in mid-May. By that time, this Windows version had been available publicly to Windows Insiders for three months, and that article covered 11 builds worth of new features. The most notable, interestingly—Sets—has since been removed and may appear in a future release.
Six weeks later, in early July, I checked in again on Windows 10 version 1809 in Hands-On with Redstone 5: The Future Comes Into Focus. That article focused on the 6 builds that Microsoft had since shipped.
Today, it is about six weeks later again. And with 10 more builds of Redstone 5 behind us, we now have what I believe to be a complete—or, at the very least, a very nearly-complete—view of this next version of Windows. After all, the latest build, 17735, arrived Friday night with no new features at all. Windows 10 version 1809, from what I can tell, is feature complete.
(It’s hard to know for sure, of course, as Microsoft is not transparent about key milestones like feature-complete and the final release. But I don’t anticipate any changes, major or otherwise, going forward.)
So what have we seen over the past 10 builds? Nothing but tons of good news, and none of the superfluous nonsense that dogged the “Creators Update” releases of which we will speak no more.
Without further ado, here are the Redstone 5 features for individuals (as opposed to businesses) that we’ve learned about in the past six weeks.
Updating improvements. In what is perhaps the new marquee feature of this release, Windows 10 version 1809 uses “updated reboot logic” to help ensure that the system never reboots at an inconvenient time in order to install an update.
Your Phone. The other leading contender for the most important new feature is Your Phone, a new app that helps you easily access the notifications, messages, and photos on your Android-based handset. There are two qualifiers to this. As I write this, only photos integration exists. And it’s unclear how well this app will work for those with iPhones.
Microsoft Edge improvements. In addition to the changes we saw earlier in this versions development, Microsoft Edge has received completely redesigned Settings and more menu and Settings pane, a customizable toolbar, the ability to control whether web-based media can play automatically on page load, improved Learning tools (including definition lookups), Autofill data improvements, various Fluent design system tweaks, PDF reader improvements, PDF toolbar improvements, and a new PDF icon. Microsoft Edge has improved so much in this release, in fact, that I now feel like most people could happily use it instead of Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.
Skype for Windows 10 improvements. With Microsoft set to kill off its Classic Skype desktop client, Skype for Windows 10 is improving in leaps and bounds. This version picks up an improved call experience, more flexible group calls, snapshotting, easy screen sharing, a new layout, customizable themes, and more. Microsoft is even looking at supporting multiple windows, my key concern, in a coming update.
Fluent design system improvements. Microsoft’s Fluent Design system is coming to more user interface surfaces in Windows 10 version 1809. For example, context menus, flyouts, auto-suggest box dropdowns, combo box dropdowns, date and time picker flyouts, and media playback flyouts and overflows all use the Acrylic material now.
File Explorer improvements. While Windows 10’s support for a “dark theme”—which the system actually calls a “dark app mode” since “theme” is a legacy feature that does something else—is haphazard at best, Microsoft is slowing improving things. And in Windows 10 version 1809, that support extends to File Explorer. But not other legacy Win32 system applications and windows.
Game bar improvements. Microsoft has completely redesigned the Game bar in version 1809 and it now allows you to customize far more features on a per-game basis. You can also access Game bar from a new Start menu shortcut too. I’ll be writing more about the new Game bar soon.
Display improvements. Belatedly addressing a huge problem with Windows 10, Microsoft has (re)added the ability to scale on-screen text separately from the rest of the system. This is such a big deal that I wrote about it separately in Hands-On with Redstone 5: Display Improvements. The system is also picking up a Windows HD Color settings interface for those with HDR-capable displays.
SwiftKey features in the Touch Keyboard. The Touch Keyboard in Windows 10 finally gets SwiftKey functionality such as gesture writing and improved auto-corrections and predictions.
Windows Mixed Reality improvements. Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality platform gets two substantive upgrades in this release. First, it no longer requires a physical display to be connected to your PC. And second, a new feature called Mixed Reality Flashlight brings the, ahem, mixed to mixed reality by letting you see into your physical environment using the headset’s camera. You can also stream audio to both the headset and the PC speakers simultaneously now.
More search improvements. Previously in the Redstone 5 development process, Microsoft improved the search preview functionality in Start search to be auto-expanded and support web results, recent documents and files, tasks, and Bing-based quick answers. Since then, it has added search preview support for software downloads too.
Notepad improvements. In addition to the support for UNIX-style line endings that was added earlier, Notepad has picked up support for wrap-around find/replace, on-the-fly text zooming, the ability to display line and column numbers when word-wrap is enabled, and more. Yes, really.
Registry Editor improvements. The decades-old Registry Editor is updated with a drop-down auto-complete capability to help with those long registry paths.
Windows Ink improvements. All modern Store apps now support embedded handwriting capabilities so that those with smartpens can write in search and other text boxes.
Storage improvements. Storage Sense now integrates with OneDrive and can automatically change any downloaded files to online-only if you haven’t used them in a configurable number of days (in Settings > System > Storage > Storage Sense).
Locale improvements. A new Region page in Settings > Time & Language lets you override the Calendar, First day of the week, Dates, Times, and Currency defaults for your locale. Additionally, you can now install new Local Experience Packs via Settings > Time & Language > Language to add new display languages to Windows. These Local Experience Packs download from the Microsoft Store.
Privacy improvements. If you disable microphone access in Settings > Privacy > Microsoft, Windows will now prompt you whenever an app or service needs to use that device. A new Diagnostic Data Viewer shows you what data Windows collects, albeit in a human-unfriendly XML format.
Leap second support. Every 18 months, a leap second adjusts the official time by one second to account for variations in the earth’s rotation around the sun. So Windows 10 now supports that automatically.
Accessibility improvements. Microsoft continues to improve key accessibility experiences such as Narrator.
Emoji improvements. Windows 10 version 1809 supports Unicode 11 and its 157 new emoji characters. Microsoft has also tweaked some existing emoji.
That’s a lot of stuff, especially when you add it to the new features I covered back in May and back in July. More important, it’s all high-quality changes, too, and not nonsense. And on that note, Windows 10 version 1809 is looking to be the most solid Windows 10 release yet. And I could not be happier about that.
Given its state of near-completion, I’ve upgraded all of my daily-use PCs, including my desktop computer, to Windows 10 version 1809 and will switch over to this version for all of the upcoming chapter revisions in the Windows 10 Field Guide. It’s time to move forward.