If you’re tracking the Windows Insider program for Windows 10, you know that Microsoft has recently stepped up the speed at which it delivers Fast ring builds. But this week’s build is notable for another reason: It’s the first “Redstone”-era build to include notable new Windows 10 features.
The “Redstone” milestone will be the third release for Windows 10 for PCs, following the initial July 2015 RTM build (retroactively renamed to 1507) and the 1511 milestone. (Windows 10 Mobile is behind Windows 10 for PCs, so 1511 is the first public release, though even that has fallen well behind the 1511 release for PCs. Hopefully, Mobile catches up with Redstone.)
Redstone is expected to ship in mid-2016, so we’ve got some months of improvements to come. But the switchover from 1511-era builds to Redstone apparently required a bit of development rejiggering by Microsoft. So the first several Redstone-era builds—which we get via the Windows Insider program—have mostly included unseen improvements to Windows Core and ongoing bug fixes.
But yesterday’s release of Windows Insider build 14279 changes things up nicely. It’s the first Redstone-era build for for PCs to include notable new Windows 10 features. So we’re finally moving forward again from a user experience/features standpoint.
Here’s what stands out for me.
Sign-in screen can now use the lock screen wallpaper
In Windows 10, there are three places where you can see a background image, or wallpaper: The lock screen, the sign-in screen, and the desktop. With the initial shipping version of Windows 10, you could configure different images for the lock screen background and desktop wallpaper, but the sign-in screen was locked to that hideous new Windows 10 default wallpaper. Users complained, so Microsoft provided us with the ability to display a black screen or the desktop wallpaper on sign-in screen background.
In the current, shipping version of Windows 10 (1511), this option can be found in Settings, Personalization, Lock Screen, “Show Windows background picture on the sign-in screen”. When disabled, the sign-in screen simply displays a plain black background.
In Windows 10 build 14279, this option has changed to “Show lock screen background picture on the sign-in screen”. In other words, you can either use the lock screen background or a plain black background on the sign-in screen. Using the lock screen background makes more sense than the desktop wallpaper because it makes the transition between those two screens so seamless. This is a nice, if obvious, change.
(If I know Microsoft’s diverse user base like I think I do, you can expect users to now complain that the ability to use the desktop wallpaper on the sign-in screen has been removed. And that the ever-compliant Microsoft will provide that as an option as well in some future Redstone build.)
Microsoft has been improving Cortana regularly since it was a gleam in some Windows phone engineer’s eye, and of course we’ve seen steady improvements over time in Windows 10 for PCs as well. In build 14279, we get two major sets of Cortana improvements.
First, Cortana is available in more languages, which addresses the single biggest issue with this feature. For this build, Cortana is enabled for the Spanish (Mexico), Portuguese (Brazil) and French (Canada) languages. And it is customized for each language/locale as well.
Microsoft cites the following examples.
“In Brazil, Cortana is fond of pasteis which is a common food found in many regions across Brazil. And in Mexico, we added local flavor to reflect the accent and language of the country.”
Functionally, the Cortana reminders feature is subtly updated in build 14279 as well. As you may know, this feature lets you set a reminder on one Cortana-enabled device—a Windows 10 PC with some Windows 10 Mobile, Android, or iPhone handset, perhaps—and then receive it anywhere at the appropriate time.
With the current, shipping version of Windows 10, Cortana will prompt you to “complete” a reminder by specifying a due date/time if you leave it out.
But in build 114279 that no longer happens. So if you want to specify that, you can do so explicitly. Otherwise, you can just say something like, “remind me to buy milk”. And that’s enough. (You can always edit/add to a reminder later of course.)
Microsoft also hints at a future Cortana feature for Redstone: Cortana will be able to “retrieve reminders upon request, just like a real personal assistant would.” Interesting.