Microsoft released their latest desktop operating system to general availability a little over three months ago, although many of us in the tech industry had been using the tech preview versions for quite some time. This version of Windows has been met with generally favorable reviews from most quarters, unlike its immediate predecessor, the much-maligned Windows 8 and its slightly-less-hated sibling, Windows 8.1.
Windows 10 retained the important security and performance improvements that were introduced in Windows 8, while bowing to customer demand and bringing the desperately-missed Start menu back to the taskbar, albeit in a modified form that incorporates the tile interface that was once-upon-a-time known as Metro.
Many companies and individuals who took a pass on Windows 8.x and stuck with Windows 7 have now upgraded to Windows 10 or are seriously considering doing so. Many others, however, are more cautious. I’ve had many readers tell me that they like the looks of Windows 10 but want to wait until the early adopters work all the bugs out. These are the same people who have traditionally held back on upgrading to a new operating version until Service Pack 1 came out.
Service packs were Microsoft’s standard way of making security, performance, reliability and feature enhancements to its operating systems for many, many years. Windows NT saw seven service packs released over its lifetime, but the idea of these large cumulative collections of updates has been on the decline: there were four for Windows 2000, 3 for XP, 2 for Vista and only one for Windows 7. Beginning with Windows 8, the concept of service packs was discontinued altogether, to be replaced by OS updates more resembling Apple’s OS X updating process.
Microsoft appears to be taking a new approach with Windows 10. Back in January, VP Terry Myerson made some statements that implied in the future Windows will be delivered more as a service, with continuous automatic updates that add not just security vulnerability patching but new features and capabilities as well.
The first of these Windows-as-a-Service (WaaS?) updates is, according to most reports, right around the corner. The Windows 10 Fall Update, which is also known as Threshold 2, has been reported to be coming soon to a computer near you – with “soon” meaning on this month’s Patch Tuesday, November 10. What new and exciting changes can you expect after your computer goes through the Patch Tuesday cycle? Well, don’t expect too much; most of the modifications are said to be subtle.
According to the article referenced above, one of the major under-the-hood changes is the incorporation of Skype into the operating system, making it a part of Windows. If done right, this could result in a big improvement to the user experience. Many folks struggled with the confusion caused by Skype’s split personality in Windows 8.x, often encountering both a modern UI version and a desktop version installed on the same machine. This summer, Microsoft dumped the modern app in favor of the old tried-and-true desktop application, making many of us happier. Integrated Skype messaging, calling and video makes sense.
We’re also hearing that there will be some improvements to the new Edge web browser. I’m glad to hear that, as I have tried hard to like Edge but I find myself going back to IE most of the time. Edge seems faster and I know it’s built to be more secure (which for me is the main attraction). It also has some interesting features such as the annotation overlay. However, I still run into a number of sites that won’t work in Edge (due to the lack of support for ActiveX). Some of those I can just avoid, and some I can’t. The more compelling reason that brings me back to IE is the interface. Minimalism is all the rage now when it comes to web browsers, but I’m not a minimalist kind of person (as anyone who has seen my home can quickly figure out). I want my menu bar, my command bar, my status bar. At least they left me my Favorites bar, although it’s not on by default. I’m hoping some of the Edge improvements will include a little more usability for a browser that is undeniably fast. As far as I’ve heard, though, tab preview is going to be the big news for Edge this time around, with added ability to synchronize the Favorites and Reading List.
Cortana is reportedly getting better in the Threshold 2 update, too. I’ve been impressed with “her” abilities on my Surface Pro 4, although I couldn’t get the feature to work well at all on my upgraded desktop. I suspect the proper hardware makes a big difference. We’re hearing, though, that she’ll now be able to understand inked notes. As someone who likes to use her pen a lot, I am looking forward to that.
Most of the other changes in the update that have been reported or speculated upon appear to be either minor or targeted at specific problems that affect only some users. We’ve heard that the UI is being tweaked to look and feel better, but I’m not hearing about any really significant changes there, although there are a few I’d like to see (such as the option to bring back Windows 8’s right-left swipe for task management when in Tablet mode, and the ability to add some quick tap shortcuts to the ones that appear now at the bottom of the action center pane. Oh, well. Maybe next time.
I’m thinking that this “first big update” to Windows 10 may turn out to be a little anti-climactic. Who knows, though? Microsoft could surprise us – as they did with the unexpected unveiling of the Surface Book. However, given that the Windows Insider Preview program presumably puts all of the new features out there for testers before they roll out in Windows Update, and Build 10586, which was released to members of the program just a week before the expected release of the Threshold 2 update, is presumably the code that we’ll see in that update, I wouldn’t count on it. We’ll be finding out soon enough.