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Microsoft Edge browser extensions and other improvements
Extensions are small programs that can be downloaded to add new functionality to a web browser, and are already found in Chrome and Firefox, among others.
Windows 10’s Edge browser will gain support for extensions with the release of the Anniversary Update.
Supported extensions include AdBlock, Evernote, the LastPass password manager, Microsoft Translator, which automatically translates pages into more than 50 different languages, an extension to augment mouse gestures support, and the Reddit Enhancement Suite.
Another extension will allow users to create, edit and view Office files from inside the Edge browser, without having to install Microsoft Office.
Outside of extensions, the Edge browser will allow users to pin tabs for their favorite sites and web apps, so they always have a tab open in the browser.
That said, when using a test build of Windows 10 released to Windows Insiders, I still found Edge to be noticeably slower to load webpages than its competitors.
A new(ish) look for the Start Menu
The Start menu is also changing — whether for better or worse depends on your perspective.
The broad design of the Windows 10 Start Menu will stay the same, with the familiar list of application shortcuts on left and the menu of tiles on the right.
However, there are changes. The new look Start menu makes the ‘All Apps’ list visible by default on the left-hand side. At the top of this permanently visible ‘All Apps’ list, are a selection of the user’s ‘Most used’ and ‘Recently added’ apps. Microsoft says the change should reduce the clicking and scrolling needed to access apps.
The menu’s Power, Settings and File Explorer links have been squashed into the far left of the menu, and now appear as icons on a left-hand rail, rather than an icon and a label.
The look of the Start menu in tablet mode has also been overhauled, turning the ‘All Apps’ list into a fullscreen menu, reminiscent of the Windows 8.1 Start screen.
A change that is unlikely to be popular is the decision to put more adverts in the Start Menu. For new installs of Windows 10 following the Anniversary Update, the number of promoted apps — tiles that link to the Windows Store or to apps that have been automatically installed on your PC by Microsoft — will double, from five to 10.
Taskbar tweaks and lockscreen changes
Microsoft have also tinkered with the design of the Taskbar. Clicking the clock will now show upcoming events in your calendar. Similarly, click on the volume icon on the Taskbar, and you will be able to select multiple audio outputs you want to use.
When using Windows 10 in tablet mode you will now be able to hide the Taskbar.
In a nod to greater personalization, the lock screen will also allow you to set it to display the same image as the sign-in screen.
Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana gets various upgrades, making it both more capable and easier to use.
The voice-controlled aide will be accessible from the Windows 10 lock screen, with users able to make a note, play music or set a reminder without unlocking their PC. Those concerned about security can restrict access to Cortana from the lock screen, however.
It looks likely that Cortana will be upgraded so users can ask questions or issue commands without spelling out every detail. Microsoft has demoed an unreleased version of Cortana that was able to respond to the command “send the PowerPoint that I worked on last night”. Cortana was able to follow the command as it knew which PowerPoint document the user had worked on the previous evening, as well as understanding it should be sent to a colleague who had been mentioned earlier in the conversation with the user.
Windows Hello extended to the web
Windows 10’s Hello feature already lets you log into the OS using your face, iris or fingerprint.
This biometric log-in will be extended to Windows apps and websites accessed via Microsoft Edge.
Another new feature will allow users to unlock a PC running Windows 10 Enterprise Edition by tapping a Windows Hello-enabled phone, although Microsoft has said the feature will only be available on “select premium phones”.
New hub for digital pens
Using digital pens to draw or to hand write messages on a touchscreen computer is a niche use, so these features will likely appeal to a minority.
Nevertheless, the update will introduce a bevvy of new features designed to make it easier to use digital pens with Windows 10. Clicking the pen icon in the notification area of the Taskbar will bring up the Windows Ink Workspace, a sidebar that links to apps that allow you to write messages or draw by hand. These apps include Sticky Notes, Sketchpad and screen sketch — which lets you draw on a screengrab of your desktop. Reminders of upcoming events scrawled on Sticky Notes can be automatically placed in your calendar.
Within apps that support it, an on-screen ruler will also allow users to draw straight lines using their digital pen.
The update will make it easier to use digital pens in general apps, such as Microsoft Office, Maps and the Edge browser. For example, when using the pen to highlight text in documents in Office, Windows will tidy up your freehand highlighting so it neatly aligns with the text.
But while Microsoft’s Surface line of tablets support hand written input and come with a digital pen, the demand for this feature is still unproven.
A customizable Action Center
Users will have more control over which PC and mobile app notifications pop up in the Action Center, how many notifications they see, which notifications are given priority and more.
Notification tiles within the Action Center will also be able to display larger images and animations.
The list of quick action buttons at the bottom of the Action Center can also be customized from the Settings app, adding or removing buttons and dragging them into preferred positions.
Notifications of missed calls, voicemail and from apps on Android devices will also be able to show on Windows 10 PCs.
Any notification on the Android notification panel can, via the Cortana Android app, also appear as a notification on a linked Windows 10 desktop.
In apps that support the feature, the number of unread notifications for each app will also show on the Taskbar, with a counter appearing next to the icon for each application you have running.
The Action Center button now sits at the far right of the Taskbar, next to the time. The button will show the total number of unread notifications, as well as rotating through the icons for apps with pending notifications. In general these new features can be disabled.
More control over when updates happen
Windows 10 Home users won’t be able to defer updates but they will have more control over automatic reboots of their machine.
The Active Hours feature allows users to set the hours during the day when you typically use your machine. During this time Windows 10 won’t automatically reboot to install an update.
The maximum period that Active Hours can be set to is 12 hours. Active Hours is found within the Update & security page within Settings app.
Improved Settings app
Windows 10 still splits its configuration options between the Settings app and Control Panel, an approach criticised as confusing.
But with the Anniversary Update more features have migrated from Control Panel to Settings, particularly under the Network & Internet category, which has a status page with a troubleshooter option for resolving connectivity problems. Similarly, the customization options for the Taskbar will get their own page in the Settings app.
The Settings app as a whole gets a cleaner, easier to navigate design — with the search box for finding settings now in the center of the page.
Quick Assist remote help
The Quick Assist app allows one Windows 10 user to request assistance from another, by allowing them to offer remote access to their system and screen. Designed as a replacement for the Remote Assistant found in earlier versions of Windows, it is designed to be easier to use and to offer better connection stability, although early versions available to testers in the Windows Insider program reportedly still suffer from connection issues.
Activating Windows is necessary to prove your copy of Windows is genuine.
However, there have been numerous reports of Windows 10 users struggling to Activate their copy of Windows.
With the Anniversary Update, resolving these difficulties should become easier, thanks to the addition of an Activation troubleshooter under the Update & security page of the Settings app.
One recurring complaint when it comes to Activation is from users who upgrade their PC hardware and are no longer able to validate their copy of Windows 10 as genuine.
To help resolve that issue, Microsoft is adding a new feature that allows users to link a Microsoft account to the Windows 10 digital license stored on the device, after upgrading their machine.
Enterprise customers will gain access to new security features. Subscribers to the Windows 10 Enterprise E5 edition, the more expensive of the two Enterprise editions, will have gain access to Windows 10 Defender Advanced Threat Protection (WDATP), a service for detecting online threats and attacks.
While Windows 10 already includes the Windows Defender antivirus, this new service will attempt to spot emerging threats by analysing large amounts of security data and suggest responses to breaches. WDATP has been tested by 300 enterprises ahead of launch.
Another long-awaited addition to Windows 10, Enterprise Data Protection, will arrive in the update, having been renamed Windows Information Protection.
Designed to protect against accidental data leaks, the feature uses containerisation file techniques to keep personal and enterprise data separate, as well as imposing various controls over who can access which data.
Access to Linux command-line tools
The update will allow Windows 10 to run a variety of Ubuntu Linux software without the need to run a virtual machine or third-party tools.
A universal Windows app will provide access to the command-line interpreter Bash running on Ubuntu 14.04.
Having access to the Bash shell offers users a host of command line tools that allow power users to automate complex chains of commands.
The Bash shell can also be used to install and run other command line applications for Ubuntu. Some users have even hacked together ways of running Ubuntu apps with graphical interfaces, even the Unity desktop, although Microsoft only officially recommends running command-line apps.
Microsoft says Ubuntu software should run just about as fast in the Windows app as it does natively, thanks to a Windows 10 software subsystem for handling Linux system calls.
Native support for Hyper-V containers
Following the update, native support will be added for containers running on the Hyper-V hypervisor.
Containers are a lighter-weight form of virtualisation, which package together an app and all of its software dependencies on top of a shared OS kernel. As well as the small resource footprint, they can be more easily deployed.
These Hyper-V containers on Windows 10 will support the Nano Server, which is Windows Server stripped down to its smallest footprint.