The fourth major update to Windows 10 is almost here, promising to deliver new features big and small to Windows desktops.
Rolling out from October 17th, the headline features in the free Fall Creators Update are changes to how Windows 10 handles cloud storage, easier sharing with friends and family, better security, longer battery life and a more-intuitive design for the OS and its apps.
As with previous updates, however, don't expect massive leaps forward, more general tinkering around the edges.
How do I get the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update? You can wait for Microsoft to push it to your PC at some point after October 17th or take steps to get it sooner.
What's in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update? A variety of improvements, with standout features including streamlined cloud storage and a new social hub, as well as better security for business.
What's missing from the Fall Creators Update? Unfortunately some of the most interesting features, ranging from the ability to pick up where you left off using Timeline to a cross-device cloud clipboard.
Can I block the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update? Not really, but there are ways to defer it for a long time.
Can your computer run the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update? If it can run Windows 10 then it likely can run the Fall Creators Update, although taking advantage of some of the VR and AR enabled features will need a moderately powerful graphics card.
What are the new features?
OneDrive Files On-Demand
The most eagerly anticipated change for those who used Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage is 'Files On-Demand'.
The feature will let users see all their files stored on OneDrive from within Windows 10's File Explorer, without having to first download these files. It basically marks the return of Windows 8.1's OneDrive smart files.
Users will be able to see all their files, whether they are stored locally, are only on OneDrive, or stored on both. They can choose to download OneDrive files and folders to the device and to keep their local drive in sync with OneDrive. Files and folders stored solely on OneDrive will be tagged with a cloud icon.
SEE: Toolkit: 21 useful Active Directory scripts for Windows (Tech Pro Research)
The People hub is designed to make it simpler to stay in touch with friends and family.
The taskbar will have a People icon, which will provide quick access to your contacts, as well as to communication apps. Users will also be able to pin their three favorite contacts to the right-hand side of taskbar. Clicking on a pinned contact's face will bring up email or Skype messages from that person, and files can be dragged to that person's face for quick sharing. Pinned contacts can also trigger pop-ups of animated emoji when they send you messages.
More control over updates
Users will be able to set what percentage of the available network bandwidth is used to download updates in the background, and, if applicable, is available to upload updates to other PCs.
This option will be available via Update & Security > Windows Update > Advanced options > Delivery Optimization.
Alongside, Microsoft is also providing an activity monitor, which displays how much data has been downloaded and uploaded to the PC, including the size of Windows updates downloaded.
Better battery life
Batteries on laptops and tablets should last longer when running Windows 10, due to the new Power Throttling feature.
The performance of less important software will be squeezed to reduce battery drain, with Microsoft claiming the feature has lowered CPU power consumption by "up to 11%". The system will throttle programs running in the background and prioritize performance of apps the user is engaging with in the foreground, for example, of a video player being used to watch a movie.
Users will be able to control how aggressively performance is throttled using a power slider, accessible by clicking the battery icon on the taskbar.
A new look
With the Fall Creators Update, Microsoft has started to rethink Windows 10's design.
Major components of the OS, from the Start Menu to the Action Center, will use Microsoft's new Fluent Design System.
This design language is aiming to provide app and OS interfaces that are more visually appealing and intuitive. Building on the touch-first ethos of Microsoft's earlier Project Neon, the Fluent Design System is geared towards creating an OS that works across all sorts of Windows devices, encompassing PCs, phones, tablets, and VR and AR headsets.
The overhaul will add light, depth, motion, and the quality of physical materials to Windows and its apps, with the aim of accentuating elements of the UI that are important to the user. UI elements will also scale to remain usable across different devices, whether displayed on a widescreen monitor or a pocket-sized phone.
You can see what it looks like here. Examples of how it will be used are scrollbars that recede into the side of a window when not used, a 'Reveal' glow being added to the cursor that highlights borders and other elements of interfaces, more animated interface elements and a material dubbed "Acrylic", which has the look of frosted plastic and can be used as a background or in menus.
Working across multiple machines should be simpler, as Windows 10 now allows users to start editing Microsoft Office files, for example a Word doc, on Android or iPhones and hit a single button to continue editing them on a PC.
If you log into an Office application, such as Word, on your iPhone and Android using your Microsoft account, then you'll be able to resume working on the most recent file you were editing on your Windows 10 PC, providing this is also linked to your Microsoft account, by clicking the notification in the Windows 10 Action Center.
Microsoft Edge can talk to you
Microsoft's web browser gets various improvements, most notably gaining the ability to read web pages and e-books out loud.
Edge will be better suited to being used as an e-book reader, with improved PDF and EPUB support, including the ability to annotate documents in both these formats.
Reading progress will also be synced across devices and websites will be able to be pinned to the taskbar.
Storage Sense improvements
Windows will gain the ability to automatically manage more of your files, with Storage Sense able to automatically delete files from your Downloads folder 30 days, as well as to automatically remove previous versions of Windows once an upgrade has taken place.
SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Insert 3D objects into Office files
Rotable 3D objects created in Paint 3D or downloaded from Remix 3D, an online store of user-created 3D models, can be inserted into Office files, including PowerPoint presentations and Word documents.
Bigger and better Emojis with predictive text
The update introduces a new on-screen Emoji panel, with support for Emoji 5.0.
A new touchscreen keyboard on Windows 10 desktop also includes improved text prediction—with support for autocompleting phrases based on a single word—and the ability to transform single words into emojis in UWP apps. An alternative keyboard layout for one-handed typing will also be available, as will the option for controlling a Windows 10 PC using your eyes, using gaze-tracking hardware from Tobii.
A (slightly) smarter Cortana
The Cortana virtual assistant gets a minor bump to its abilities, and will be able to shut down, restart and lock PCs, as well as to sign out users.
More detailed system information
The About area in the Settings section has been redesigned to offer a wider range of information about the health of a system.
Elsewhere in the Settings section there is a new Video Playback page under Display, with options related to configuring video playback to maximize battery usage or video quality, alongside options related to High Dynamic Range within the Display settings, for those using HDR screens.
The Cortana virtual assistant also now has its own area in Settings.
A notable security improvement that could help in the battle against ransomware is Controlled Folder Access, which prevents applications from making any changes to files and folders in locations you specify.
Most enhancements will be to Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP)—Microsoft's threat detection and protection service that is part of Windows 10 Enterprise, and which bundles together Defender Application Guard (WDAG), Windows Defender Device Guard, and Windows Defender Antivirus.
WDAG is designed to help protect firms against online threats by adding container-based isolation to Windows 10's Edge browser, allowing it to safely contain malware so it can't spread within a company's network.
An extended version of Microsoft's Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit will be built into the Windows 10 core and called Windows Defender Exploit Guard. Exploit Guard will spot and neutralize potential threats and intrusions, including zero days, using intelligence from the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph. Windows Defender Antivirus will also pull information from analysis of the billions of data points available via Microsoft's Intelligent Security Graph, to better identify threats and improve protection.
Admins will be able to more easily manage these features using Intune and System Center Configuration Manager, according to Microsoft, with these orchestration tools also being updated to make it easier for companies to audit the security configuration and patch status of devices across their IT estate.
Windows Mixed Reality
With the release of the Fall Creators Update, Windows 10 users who are lucky enough to own a VR headset will be able to try out Windows Mixed Reality.
The built-in VR and AR platform will give Windows users the chance to use VR headsets to navigate through a virtual 3D home, with applications situated in themed settings, for instance the Films & TV app located in a virtual cinema.
The new Mixed Reality Viewer will also allow users to see 3D objects superimposed onto their real-world surroundings through the camera on their Windows 10 device.
The Fall Creators Update will also coincide with the launch of Windows 'Mixed Reality' headsets—basically virtual reality headsets—from Asus, Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo, which start selling from $399.
Easier access to Linux
The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), a feature that lets users run a wide range of Linux software inside Windows 10, will be easier to access.
WSL, which lets users run the Bash command line on top of various Linux-based operating systems, will no longer require Developer Mode to be active in order to run. It supports various Linux-based OSes including Ubuntu and openSUSE, with Fedora due soon, and other distros due to be added over time.
Link your phone to your PC
Android phone owners will be able to link their phone to their Windows 10 PC, which will display notifications showing who's calling, with the option to decline the call or text the caller back from the PC, alongside missed calls.
iPhone and Android owners who link their phone to their PC will also be able to use their handset to open a site they are browsing on their phone in the Edge browser on their Windows PC, via the Share option in the phone's browser.
The Photos app will have a Story Remix section that allows users to create quick video clips, easily adding text, transitions and music.
Start menu tinkering
The Start menu gets some minor changes, and will now use the Acrylic backdrop and allow users to resize it diagonally.
The Action Center also undergoes various small alterations, with a new Action Center UI featuring Fluent Design, an Acrylic backdrop, and subtle tweaks to the look of Toast notifications.
Which features didn't make the cut?
Some particularly promising additions weren't ready for the Fall Creators Update, including the Timeline feature that builds a web browser-style History into Windows 10 and a snazzy tool for creating 2D-3D video mash-ups using Story Remix.
Getting the upgrade
How to get the Fall Creators Update early
While the Fall Creators Update will begin rolling out next week, it could take months for Microsoft to upgrade your machine.
If you're impatient to try it out, it's already possible to get your hands on the update by following our step-by-step guide.
How to delay upgrading to the Fall Creators Update
If the opposite is true and you want to steer clear of the Fall Creators for the time being then you also have options.
Can your machine run the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update?
Microsoft lists the same official specs as for the base version of Windows 10:
- Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor or SoC
- RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit
- Hard disk space: 16 GB for 32-bit OS or 20 GB for 64-bit OS
- Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
- Display: 800x600
However, Microsoft expert and ZDNet columnist Ed Bott recommends a minimum of a 4th generation Intel Core processor, 4GB RAM and, for comfortable use, 128GB of SSD storage. Taking advantage of the VR and AR features in the Mixed Reality platform will also require a powerful integrated GPU or modest discrete GPU.
Older budget laptops may also not be eligible to receive the updates, with affected PCs including those running on Intel Atom Z2760, Z2580, Z2560 and Z2520 processors, such as the HP Envy X2 laptop.
More on Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
- What is Windows 10 Fall Creators Update? Everything you need to know about Microsoft's big upgrade
- How to get the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update early
- How to delay upgrading to the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
- Windows 10 Fall Creators Update: How to use OneDrive Files On-Demand
- Gallery: What's new in Microsoft's Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
- How to throttle peer-to-peer updating bandwidth use in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
- How to protect your Windows 10 PC from ransomware with the Fall Creators Update
- How to turn on One-click Communication in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
- Windows 10 Fall Creators Update SDK is available: Promises better looking, easier-to-use apps
- See Windows 10's new look: Microsoft's Fluent Design System in action
- Video: Top features in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
- What to expect from the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (ZDNet)
Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.