The second major Windows 10 update of 2019 is around the corner. Building on the 1903 release, a longer support period makes it likely to be the 2019 Windows update for many businesses. Microsoft describes it as a “scoped set of features”, with a focus on improving performance and adding new enterprise features.

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It’s important to put 19H2 in the context of Microsoft’s Windows support lifecycle. Last year Microsoft announced that it was changing the support window for its semi-annual releases of Enterprise and Education versions of Windows 10. The H1 releases, xx03 (where xx is the last two digits of the release year), will get 18 months of servicing, while the H2 releases, xx09, will get 30 months of support. It’s a change that makes things more predictable for business, as it allows you to plan to keep Windows releases in service for longer, taking major updates annually or even every other year. If you choose to install 19H2, you should get support until the late spring of 2022.

H2: the annual business update

It’s not surprising, then, that many businesses are taking the H2 Windows 10 release as their annual update. H1 releases are being treated as consumer-focused, where new features are delivered and then refined over six months of cumulative updates. While some organizations will adopt H1 releases, they’re going to be delivered to a smaller group of users, including application testers, internal Insider teams, and developers who need to be able to target the latest Windows 10 SDKs in advance of wider upgrades.

We’re seeing that shift in emphasis reflected in the way Microsoft is building and deploying its 19H2 release of Windows 10. It’s not being treated as a full update for 19H1 users — instead, it’s closer to a cumulative update, using the same servicing channels. New users, who are coming to it from a 2018 or 2017 release, will get the full update experience, as they’re installing a combination of both 19H1 and 19H2.

If you’re a consumer, it’s not a big update

If you’ve been running 1903 on any of your machines you shouldn’t expect to see too much of a change with 19H2. Most of the updates it contains are under the hood, and either focus on specific features for developers or tooling that improves system management and security. And with release slated for sometime in the next few weeks, we’re not expecting any surprise new features.

So, what’s in the next Windows release? Microsoft won’t be releasing a full list of features until it rolls out the update, but there’s a comprehensive changelist on the Windows Insider blog. There’s a definite focus on tweaking performance, including improving pen performance on tablets and two-in-one devices.

Improving performance and security

That focus goes down to the silicon, with support for modern processors’ favored cores. As part of processor testing, cores with more overhead for Turbo Boost can be encoded using fuses in the CPU itself. These can be read by Windows, and it’s now able to schedule workloads appropriately so it can take advantage of the increased performance in the favored cores. Using these scheduler changes can make application performance more consistent and reliable, as well as getting the most out of your CPU.

ARM64 devices get a security boost with support for the Windows Defender Credential Guard virtualized logon service, making it as hard to steal credentials from Windows ARM devices as from Intel and AMD hardware.

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If you’re using Azure Active Directory and a mobile device management tool you can now use key-rolling to securely update keys used to manage Windows encryption, reducing the risk to BitLocker and other encrypted services if there’s a breach. By rolling keys regularly, it’s harder to accidentally disclose a valid BitLocker recovery key, reducing the risk of an attacker breaking into a stolen or lost device.

One useful update for businesses and schools using S-Mode to protect devices and control how software is installed is support for deployment of Win32 apps from Microsoft Intune. By having a private store for trusted apps, you can use legacy applications on new hardware without rewriting your code or packaging it with the Desktop Bridge.

Fine tuning user experiences

Microsoft is slowly removing the emphasis on its Cortana voice assistant, as we’ve seen in the Fast Ring Insider builds where Cortana is now a separate application. The 19H2 release doesn’t go quite that far, but it does allow third-party voice assistants to operate on the Windows lock screen, so you could use voice commands with, say Alexa, without logging into Windows. Microsoft has added tools for managing your notifications, with a link from the notification pane to settings and the option of right-clicking in a specific notification to quickly change an app’s notification options.

Another useful search feature is the switch to Windows Search in File Explorer. Instead of searching the local file system you can search files stored in OneDrive, with search auto-completion in the Explorer suggestion box. Click to open the file or right-click to open its location. With Microsoft encouraging use of OneDrive for file protection as well as storage, search for both local and cloud-based files makes a lot of sense.

A nice tweak is support for adding calendar events from the taskbar. Where you used to have to open either Outlook or the Windows Calendar to add new events, you can quickly pick a date and time from the Calendar flyout and add events without leaving your desktop. It’s a useful shortcut, and one that’s handier than asking someone to hold on while you open your calendar in the middle of a phone call.

A change in the way Windows is delivered

Microsoft is still fine-tuning its Windows-as-a-Service delivery model. Two big releases a year seems to have been too ambitious for its corporate customers, so a shift to a big release in spring and a refinement in autumn makes a lot of sense. That change makes even more sense when linked to a longer support window for autumn releases. If you haven’t installed the 1903 release, then you can think of it as one big release that combines all the 1903 releases with the 19H2 improvements and tweaks. That way, your users will be getting a significant upgrade to last year’s 1809.

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