After years of complaining about bloated and poorly-made version upgrades, Windows 10 users are finally getting the feature update that they have always wanted. There’s just one question: Is this the new normal, or just a one-time gift?
I assume most Thurrott.com readers are familiar with the underlying problem, so I’ll be brief. To date, Microsoft has issued two major version upgrades to Windows 10, which Microsoft calls feature updates, each year. This is in addition to the normal cumulative updates, which generally provide bug and security fixes, which appear one to four times per month.
Adding to the pain, Microsoft has a bad track record with Windows 10 feature updates, which are either bloated with new features that virtually no one wants, delivered in such buggy form that they must be pulled and reissued, or arrive much later than originally promised. Or some combination of those problems.
Add it all up, and it’s clear that Windows 10 users are suffering from update fatigue. And I and others have been calling on Microsoft to lighten up on all the updates. After all, no one is clamoring for new Windows 10 features, we just want to get work done. And since Windows 10 is updated far too frequently, perhaps it could consider a less painful schedule?
This year, Microsoft acquiesced. It delivered a major new version upgrade—sorry, a feature update—called Windows 10 version 1903 in the first half of the year via the May 2019 Update. And then it developed and is poised to release a minor version upgrade—which it’s calling a feature update but packaging as a cumulative update—called Windows 10 version 1909. This will be delivered via the November 2019 Update sometime in the next month.
What Windows 10 version 1909 is is a bit hard to explain. But the benefits to this new system—which admittedly could be a one-off—are obvious.
For Microsoft, it means that it can deliver a single patch for any vulnerability or bug, and not two versions, as it normally has to. That is, Windows 10 versions 1903 and 1909 will be serviced by the same patches, not different patches (as with all previous Windows 10 versions and previous Windows versions like Windows 7 and 8.1). This gets the software giant closer to its vision for Windows as Service (WaaS), a key tenet of which is that getting as much of the user base on the same Windows version, and thus the same servicing path, will be easier, more efficient, and thus more secure for everyone.
For Microsoft’s customers, it means that Windows 10 version 1909 will be delivered as a cumulative update, and not as a feature update. Cumulative updates are far more easily, (potentially) non-destructively, and more quickly installed than are feature updates. Much less can go wrong. And that’s a good thing.
Also a good thing: Windows 10 version 1909 ships with virtually no new features for end-users, and certainly nothing one might describe as major. So the system is remaining relatively unchanged for more than 6 months for the first time in over four years, aside, of course, from the normal updates that come to the built-in apps. Instead, we’re simply benefitting from the six months of quality and security improvements that have arrived in the six months since Microsoft released Windows 10 version 1903. That’s a good thing, too.
From a review standpoint, there’s not much to say. You’ll notice very few changes when compared to the previous version of Windows 10. Key among them are:
Inline event creation in the Date/Time flyout. In Windows 10 version 1903 and older, when you displayed the Date/Time flyout by selecting the Date/Time widget in the tray notification area of the taskbar, you were able to create a new calendar event by clicking a “+” icon (for “New event or reminder”). But when you did so, the Calendar app launched to a New event view. In version 1909, you can create a Quick Event inline right in the flyout, with no need to open the app.
Inline notification management. Microsoft has made a few changes to the ways in which notifications appear in the Action Center in Windows 10 version 1909. Key among them, you can disable notifications from individual apps or services without having to navigate to Notification settings in the Settings app. The notifications settings interface for each app has been prettied up a bit in Settings as well.
Windows Search integration in File Explorer. Now, when you type text into the search box in any File Explorer window, the results will include files that are on your local PC, as before, but also files that are in your OneDrive storage, even if they’re not synced to the PC. Thanks to OneDrive’s Files on Demand functionality, you can select any of these “offline only” files in the results pop-down and, after a short wait, view them in whatever application is associated with that type of file.
Lock screen access to third-party assistants. There’s no way to test this feature right now since no third-party assistant makers (like Amazon) have updated their digital assistant apps for Windows 10 to support this feature yet. But the theory is that you’ll be able to use Amazon Alexa or other third-party assistants while your PC is locked, just as you can (optionally) do with Cortana. I can’t imagine many people will do this.
No, none of this is revolutionary or even particularly interesting. But that’s a good thing, and it’s exactly what I and countless other Windows 10 users have been clamoring for: A Windows 10 update that we don’t even notice. I hope this is the new normal—that next year’s 20H1 update is fairly major while 20H2 is another cumulative update with little in the way of new features—but Microsoft hasn’t committed to that. So cross your fingers or, better yet, send some feedback to Microsoft and tell them, yes, this is the type of update we’re looking for. It should always be this good.
Windows 10 version 1909 at-a-glance
Like Windows 7
- Easy and painless installation
- Benefits from six months of fine-tuning
- No silly new features to clutter up the system
Like Windows 8
- Doesn’t fix the big problems with Windows 10: Advertising, crapware, and data collection
- New features are so minor that few will even notice them