What’s New in Windows 10 Version 2004

Posted on February 13, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 26 Comments

It feels like ancient history, but last April, almost one year ago, Microsoft confused us all by beginning external testing of Windows 10 version 20H1 six months ahead of the normal schedule.

The confusion was two-fold: Normally, the firm would have then begun testing the release it expected to ship that fall, version 19H2, now called Windows 10 version 1909. But it was mum on that release while being equally vague about why it needed to start testing 20H1 so soon. As bad, for Windows Insiders, Microsoft also mucked up how the Insider ring system, which had been in place since October 2014, worked in order to accommodate 20H1.

It was just … weird, mostly because Microsoft never explained why they began testing 20H1 so soon, and almost one year later we’re still wondering. The initial assumption, logically enough, was that 20H1 was such a major upgrade, with so many new features, that it warranted the extra testing. And since then, the emergence of Windows 10X, previously codenamed Windows Lite, added another layer to this speculation: Perhaps that system, which won’t ship until late 2020 as version 20H2, would so dramatically change the underpinnings of Windows 10 that more extensive testing was required.

And so like many of you, I watched as Microsoft has released 20H1 build after 20H1 build throughout 2019, waiting for that one major push, so common in previous Windows 10 versions, in which we were suddenly flooded with new features. But it never happened. So with Windows 10 version 1909 in the can, so to speak, and the Windows 10 Field Guide updated to match, I finally transitioned my most-often-used PCs, including my NUC, over to 20H1, which is now called Windows 10 version 2004. And since doing so, Microsoft has finalized the release, and it has begun updating it with cumulative updates, like the one we saw this week, ahead of its public launch.

Thanks to the passage of time and some additional information—Microsoft has never publicly admitted to any of this—I think we can finally explain the six-month-long “delay,” or perhaps the year-long gestation is a better term, for Windows 10 version 2004. It is a combination of the underlying Core OS modularization work required to bring Windows 10X to market, as I originally guessed, and a need for Microsoft’s engineering teams to put Core OS on the same release schedule as Azure, as first reported by Mary Jo Foley; the same groups create both platforms together.

It’s vaguely satisfying to understand that there is some rationale behind the elongated schedule, for sure. Less satisfying, perhaps, is the realization that the additional time didn’t result in many meaningful changes to Windows 10. Version 2004, as it turns out, is a fairly minor release, and while it will still be delivered as a traditional—meaning potentially disruptive—feature update, and not as a cumulative update as was version 1909, it has much more in common with that latter release than it does with previous Windows 10 feature packs.

But yes, there are new features and other changes. Here are the ones that stick out most to me, and I will be updating the Windows 10 Field Guide soon to address these additions plus, of course, the new Microsoft Edge.

Reset this PC improvements. In addition to the previous “Reset” and “Refresh” options, Reset this PC has been improved to include a new cloud-based Reset in which the install image is downloaded from Microsoft instead of using the on-disk version. Despite this, it works like the previous version in that it will reinstall whatever version of Windows 10 that is currently installed (and not, say, the version your PC originally came with.)

Notification improvements. It’s now possible to turn off app notifications inline in the notification toast by clicking the settings gear and choosing “Turn off all notifications for application-name.”

Your Phone improvements. While these changes probably aren’t tied to 2004, the Your Phone app is being improved rapidly and now supports making and receiving phone calls in addition to accessing photos, text messages, and device notifications.

Windows Subsystem for Linux 2. WSL 2 is a major upgrade in which Microsoft is, for the first time, shipping a real Linux kernel inside Windows 10, improving performance (especially in file system access) and compatibility. (Previous versions used an emulator.) The changes to WSL are dramatic, and they warrant a new chapter in the Windows 10 Field Guide.

Cortana. Microsoft’s digital assistant has been decoupled from Windows Search and the search bar that’s available by default on the Windows 10 taskbar. Now, it’s a standalone Store app, still in beta, and it has its own taskbar button that launches a new speech-based interface that also supports typing if you prefer that. Microsoft says that this change is “part of evolving Cortana from a general digital assistant to a personal productivity assistant that helps you in the Microsoft 365 apps.” But bigger change, perhaps, is that Microsoft can now more quickly update this app since it is no longer tied to the 6-month Windows 10 update cycle.

Tip: Type WINKEY + C to launch the new Cortana interface.

Windows Search. With Cortana now stripped out of Windows Search, it is perhaps not surprising that Microsoft has likewise overhauled that latter interface as well. The redesigned Search home experience features quick access to your most-used apps and recent documents, tabs for filtering a search to Apps, Documents, Email, Web, and other more, and there are now four quick searches—for Weather, Top news, Today in history, and New movies—at the bottom. Additionally, there are new inline web previews for things like the weather when using Windows Search.

Tip: Type WINKEY + S to open Search home. Or, just tap WINKEY and start typing your search as before.

File Explorer search improvements. The Search box in the File Explorer application is now powered by Windows Search and offers search suggestions in a drop-down and results from OneDrive files that are not synced to the PC.

Virtual Desktop improvements. With Windows 10 version 2004, you can now name virtual desktops inline, right in Task View. And your virtual desktops—and their customized names—are retained on reboot.

Simpler Bluetooth pairing. Microsoft added support for Bluetooth Quick Pair in a previous release, but it only supports a limited number of devices, including some of Microsoft’s keyboards and mice. In Windows 10 version 2004, Bluetooth Quick Pair has been renamed to Swift Pair and is further streamlined so that all pairing occurs in notification toasts, without the need to open the Settings app.

Xbox Game Bar improvements. The Xbox Game Bar now includes optional FPS and achievement overlay panes.

Tip: As before, type WINKEY + G to quickly access the Xbox Game Bar at any time.

Kaomoji. With Microsoft having fully infected Windows 10 with emoji, it has moved onto adding support for Kaomoji—Japanese emoji, basically, but I think of them as text-based expressions—in version 2004. For example, a Brad Sams classic:


Tip: Type WINKEY + . (period) to access the Emoji, Kaomoji, and Symbols pop-up from anywhere in Windows 10. (WINKEY + ; also works.)

Many Settings changes. There are many, many small changes throughout Settings.

Tip: As always, you can type WINKEY + I to launch Settings.

Windows Ink Workspace improvements. The Windows Ink Workspace interface—which I think of as sort of a Start menu for Ink apps—has been significantly streamlined in this release, with access to the Microsoft Whiteboard app now front-and-center.

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Comments (33)

33 responses to “What’s New in Windows 10 Version 2004”

  1. glenn8878

    Seems like Cortana is always in beta.

  2. Intara

    These ugly UWP apps. And I would assume that Cortana still cannot be deinstalled.

  3. c3po2

    love the new Cortan UWP

    "Windows Ink Workspace improvements. " looks exactly like now

  4. paradyne

    The changes to the search window and the ink workspace, are already in 1909 exactly as pictured and not new for 2004.

  5. justme

    Now if only they would replace the stock Mail & Calendar app with the Outlook mobile app.

    For me, the biggest change in this bunch is that WSL is now using a real kernel. This makes me wonder if we'll ever see a Microsoft Linux ever released (call it Mubuntu, or Moobuntu, if you prefer).

  6. wright_is

    It sounds like there are two absolutely huge changes in 2004. Moving it over to Core OS and moving WSL to a "real" Kernel in a virtual environment will have required major changes to the underlying structure of Windows. That these alone were tested over a year makes me happier.

    You seem to be concentrating on visual changes in the user interface and apps and complain that it is only a minor update, yet discuss the real reason it is a major update and then dismiss it out of hand.

  7. Joshua Hudson

    I seem to have Kaomoji in 1909 when I hit Win + .

    I did learn a new shortcut today though :)

  8. Craig Hinners

    How is the new capability of Reset to download the Windows image from the cloud an improvement over using the image on disk? Both methods return me to the same virgin install of whatever version I had when I did the Reset, no? In which case it seems like this new method just adds a lot of download bits and wait time for no apparent gain.

  9. SWCetacean

    From my experience, W10 2004 runs smoother than 1909. My main gaming desktop is running it and I found that the small hitches I was getting when running The Division 2 in DirectX 11 mode are gone, and now the game feels very smooth to play. In 1909, I could get similar smoothness by using DirectX 12, but TD2 with DirectX12 on Nvidia GPUs is pretty unstable and crashes randomly. 2004 also fixed the issue I was having for a long time where after I install a new Nvidia graphics driver, I cannot open the start menu until I restart the Start process. So while this update doesn't have any big features, it does seem like solid technical work was done on the OS core.

  10. mattbg

    Those are some rather significant improvements, actually!

  11. thejoefin

    Windows updates are so confusing. I'm running 1909; of the features listed below I can see:

    • Notification improvements
    • Windows search
    • File Explorer search improvements
    • Xbox Game Bar improvements
    • Kaomoji
    • Windows Ink Workspace

    Is this Microsoft updating some of these components outside the normal update?

  12. eric_rasmussen

    WSL2 and the virtual desktop enhancements are awesome for me as a software developer. It feels like this release is finally a nod to developers, with features that bring it more on par with MacOS. Aside from publishing iOS apps to Apple's store, Windows 10 can now do everything a MacBook can and more. Using Azure AppCenter you can publish iOS apps and using Adobe XD you can get a similar experience to Sketch. Plus, when I'm not working I can actually play a game, something the Mac is not particularly good for. :)

    I say this every release, but Windows 10 2004 is what Windows 10 should have been in its first release.

  13. clintonfitch

    Thanks for the overview Paul. I have to admit, since moving back to Windows 10 from MacOS, the whole update cycle is hella confusing. :-) At least with MacOS, it was pretty clear what was coming next and they had a reasonable nomenclature to the update versions, names, etc. It seems with the naming conventions of Windows 10, the engineering company side of Microsoft comes out more than the consumer side.

    I suspect (hope?) I'm not alone....

    • Dan1986ist

      In reply to clintonfitch:

      It's confusing when microsoft refers to let's say April 2020 Update and Windows 10 Version 2004 in their blog posts and stuff being the same thing, even though it should be April 2020 Feature Update to Windows 10 Version 2004. Not to mention, the now five digit build number which they also refer to in reference to Windows 10, all interchangeably.

  14. Dan1986ist

    just me, or does any else get a can't find program error with cortana when asking cortana to open something such as notepad? for example, I type: open notepad in cortana, type enter, and cortana comes back with: sorry can't find notepad, but opens it up anyway.

  15. mdrapps

    Foot off the gas pedal and coasting now. Not a bad thing since Windows 10 is fine as is. I wish Microsoft would get going on more Mobile innovation and not just give up.

  16. Lauren Glenn

    I'd use the Your Phone app if it didn't hang up my calls if the app crashes or is closed. After I found that out, I just never use it anymore for that. I just use it just to get text messages on the PC and for caller ID. Just avoid using it for calls, I guess.

    Still a nice set of features. Hopefully Zune still works on it. :)

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