Sometime soon, Microsoft will release the Windows 10 Fall Update, incrementing the OS to version 1511 and providing users with a number of new and improved features. Here’s what you can expect from this release.
First, you may recall that I previously revealed the branding for this first major revision to Windows 10 in Windows 10 Fall Update is Set for November Release. In this new rapid release world, the Fall Update brings Windows 10 to version 1511 (for 2015 November) and build 10586. By comparison, the initial release of Windows 10 was version 10.0 (retroactively, we can think of it as version 1507) and build 10240.
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This version/build number gobbledygook is actually important. This is the first time the Windows 10 version number has been incremented, and going forward, this version of Windows 10 will replace the initial release. Looking ahead, we can expect other quarterly or biannual version upgrades as well. What this means is that new computers will come with Windows 10 version 1511, and that Microsoft’s online Media Creation Tool will create version 1511 install media. (Likewise, when you upgrade, the PC Reset tools in Windows will reset to version 1511, not 1507/10.0.)
Windows 10 version 1511—e.g. Windows 10 with the Fall Update—aggregates four months of feature additions and other improvements. If you are in the Windows Insider program, you tested these new features over a series of several builds. But now they will be delivered to all Windows 10 users via a single update, which will work much like a build-over-build upgrade and require a time-consuming reboot with that now-familiar circular progress indicator.
What’s interesting about this update, in way, is that there are no major changes, not really, though there are many, many smaller improvements all over the place. I think this speaks to the maturity of Windows 10, in a way. Despite complaints about the July release being premature, the core OS didn’t need any major changes, just incremental updates and a bit of fit and finish work.
(The bundled apps are a different story. Virtually every app that comes with Windows 10 was updated in fairly major ways since July, some several times, and some–like Mail and Photos, most notably—were updated in fairly major ways.)
Using my posts about each Windows Insider preview build since the initial release of Windows 10 as a guide, I’ve compiled this list of what you can expect to see in this update.
Device activation improvements.
With the initial release of Windows 10, you had to successfully upgrade a PC with fully-updated version of Windows 7 or 8.1 to Windows 10 before Microsoft would let you clean install the new OS on that PC. The idea was that once you performed this magic, Windows 10 would then always successfully activate on a clean install.
Except that it didn’t work that way for many people. So with the Fall Update, Microsoft has made it much easier to activate Windows 10 on these PCs. Now, you can simply use your existing Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 product key to activate Windows 10 (if it doesn’t automatically activate).
Disable the Windows background picture in the sign-in screen
This was a big user request: Now, you can turn off the Windows background picture in the sign-in screen. To do so, navigate to Settings, Personalization, Lock screen and disable the option “Show Windows background picture on the sign-in screen.”
Updated color scheme options
In the initial version of Windows 10, most windows feature an ugly white title bar, which I feel detracts from the overall look and feel of the system. With the Fall Update, you can enable an option in Settings that applies the accent color to the title bar of most windows (as well as to Start, the taskbar, and Action Center), providing a nice bit of contrast.
More consistent context menus
Critics had a field day with the numerous different styles of menus that appear when you right-click (or tap and hold) on items in the Windows 10 UI. So Microsoft has made these menus more consistent with the Fall Update.
But they’re not entirely consistent. For example, when you right-click the desktop, the context menu that appears is light, but when you right-click the taskbar or Start, the menu is dark. For some reason.
In the initial version of Windows 10, you were limited to 3 columns of medium tiles per group in Start. But now, you can optionally have a fourth column. To do so, navigate to Settings, Personalization, Start and enable the new option “Show more tiles.”
You can also display more items in Start: Where you were previously limited to 512 tiles and other items, you can now have up to 2048.
Finally, the context menu that appears when you right-click items in Start has been updated to display new icons next to relevant items like tile sizing.
Tablet mode improvements
When you use Task view in Tablet mode, you can now snap apps left and right and even replace a previous snapped app with a new one (like you could in Windows 8.1). You can also swipe down on an app to close it now too (again, like Windows 8.1).
Install apps to external storage
As you may recall, Microsoft removed the ability to install apps to external storage from the initial version of Windows 10. Well, it’s back in the Fall Update: You can now install apps to an SD card as God intended.
Skype messaging, calling and video experiences
With the Fall Update, Windows 10 picks up three new universal apps–Messaging, Phone and Skype Video—that provide in-box access to Skype functionality. These apps let you call and message other Skype users on PCs and phones, over cellular or data networks, and if you’re using Windows 10 Mobile—and who isn’t?—you’ll pick up additional integration features there as well.
Microsoft Edge improvements
While Microsoft wasn’t able to complete the planned add-in capabilities for Edge in time for the Fall Update, there are still a few important improvements to its web browser.
The big one is the ability to sync Favorites, Reading list items, and settings from PC to PC. How such a basic feature was left out of the initial release is unclear.
Edge also picks up tab previews, another feature that was originally planned for the initial Windows 10 release. Now, you can mouse over tabs in Edge and see a preview of the web page that will display if you select it.
Microsoft has also added the ability to cast media from Edge which means that you can now use the browser to send video, picture and audio content from your browser to any Miracast or DLNA device. (It does not mean that you can use a Chromecast. And of course protected content will not cast.)
Finally, Edge also picks up real-time audio and video communications via a technology called Object RTC.
Cortana receives a number of improvements with the Fall Update.
First, you can now use Cortana with local accounts as well as with a Microsoft account, a big user request.
Cortana can also help you keep track of your leisure time, thanks to movie and event reminders. “Cortana will keep track of your bookings for movies and ticketed events through your email confirmations,” Microsoft notes. “Two hours prior to the event start time, you’ll get helpful information to be sure you know where to go and get there on time, including an option to book and track an Uber ride directly from Cortana.”
The Ask Cortana feature now works in PDF documents: Just highlight a word in a PDF file, and right-click to “Ask Cortana” to find more information about the selected topic. (A less powerful version of this feature, called Bing Lookup, was available in the initial version of Windows 10.)
Finally, Cortana can now understand your inked notes and digital annotations. So she can set reminders based on hand-written locations, times and numbers.
Windows 10 (and Windows Server 2016) can now run Hyper-V instances inside of Hyper-V, a feature called nested virtualization. This change exposes hardware virtualization support to guest virtual machines. This allows you to install Hyper-V in a guest virtual machine (under Hyper-V only), and then create more virtual machines “within” that underlying virtual machine.
No, it won’t impact most users. But this will be a big deal to developers, software testers, tech trainers, and speakers.
Memory manager improvements
Historically, Windows has kept items in memory to improve performance but has cached items as needed to disk when memory runs out. The Windows 10 memory manager includes a new component called the compression store, which is a sort of middle man between these two states: it lets the OS compress items in memory when memory is running out, and before caching them to disk.
“This reduces the amount of memory used per process,” Microsoft explains, “allowing Windows 10 to maintain more applications in physical memory at a time.”
Starting with the Fall Update, the Windows Feedback app is now part of Windows 10. This will allow all users—not just Windows Insiders—can take advantage of it.
Additionally, the app now has a Share option so you can share your feedback with others. You can also copy your feedback to the clipboard so you can paste it elsewhere.
Text input panel improvements
The text input panel will now expand as you write, and it no longer opens automatically when you are not in Tablet mode (or have an external Surface keyboard attached). Microsoft has also added additional punctuation to the suggestions bar and has improved suggestions to be more relevant.
New Control Panel icons
I’m not sure why they’re bothering with this, but Control Panel picks up some new icons.
Default printer improvements
With the Fall Update, you can now configure Windows 10 always configure the most recently-used printer as the default printer. To do so, navigate to Settings, Devices, Printer & Scanners and change the option “Let Windows manage my default printer” to On.
Additionally, the ability to set the default printer by network location has been removed.