Another Season, Another Windows Update

Windows 10 Spring Creators Update

Microsoft will soon begin distributing the Spring Creators Update for Windows 10, likely starting on Patch Tuesday, April 10. The update will bring Windows 10 to version 1803.

Hey, calm down. Sure you’re excited. We’re all excited. But there’s no need for pushing and shoving. We’ll all get it eventually.

Here’s a recap in case you’re having trouble keeping up, then I’ll tell you about the exciting new features in the upcoming update.

•  For thirty years, Microsoft released major new versions of Windows roughly every three years, each one with a new name – Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.

•  In 2015, Microsoft announced that it was going to follow Apple’s lead with OS X and pick a name – Windows 10 – and stick to it forever.

•  Microsoft periodically released “Service Packs” for versions of Windows through Windows 7. But not Windows 10! Windows 10 is an organically evolving, always up to date operating system, so it doesn’t get service packs. Instead, it evolves through periodic new builds, which are called “updates.” Or periodic updates which are called “builds,” I forget which.

•  The first major Windows 10 update was the Anniversary Update, released in July 2016 when Windows 10 was one year old. That went very badly, so Microsoft puzzled everyone by announcing that Windows 10 would thereafter get two major updates every year. The Creators Update was released in April 2017, called that because it had nothing in it for creators. It was followed by the Fall Creators Update in September 2017, and now the Spring Creators Update in April 2018. Microsoft is continuing to use the Creators name because each update still has nothing for creators.

•  Only dedicated Microsoft watchers know the name assigned to these updates. It never appears onscreen. You have to look deep even to find the version number running on your computer. (Look in Settings / System / About / Windows Specifications.) You’re probably running version 1709 now.

To be fair, you’re not supposed to be aware of these updates; Microsoft wants you to know that you’re running Windows 10 without thinking about the magical process that keeps it up to date. It’s the right approach for our mobile world, where updates are handled constantly and invisibly. Grab your phone, go to the app store, and you’ll see a steady stream of updates that have been installed recently without your knowledge. I have fourteen apps on my phone that have received updates in the last three days. And there’s not a non-technical person alive who knows what version of Android or iOS is running on their phone; we just know that every so often we have to restart the phone and it takes a while to finish restarting while it installs a system update. That’s how Microsoft wants the Windows update process to work.

Microsoft is trying to get past a difficult problem, though. We trust updates on our mobile phones to go smoothly and not muck things up. We don’t trust Microsoft to update Windows without causing problems.

The release of the Anniversary Update in July 2016 was a disaster. Microsoft rolled the update out broadly and immediately worldwide reports came pouring in of crashed computers, dead devices, and painful delays to install the update at inconvenient times. After that experience, Microsoft improved its processes to make sure systems are compatible and the next two updates have been rolled out slowly (very, very slowly) but with fewer issues. It’s taken six months but 90% of Windows 10 computers have now installed last fall’s update to version 1709, which is actually quite impressive.

Microsoft has been trying to adjust the update system to avoid disrupting your work when the computer restarts to install each update, and is trying to shorten the time it takes to do the installation during the restart. It has improved its compatibility checks and it is now more likely than ever that everything will work after the next update.

With luck, then, you will get the Spring Creators Update at some point in the next few months and it will be No Big Deal™.

What do you have to look forward to?

 


Exciting new features in Windows 10 Spring Creators Update

An empty room. A void. Blank space.

 

 


Other changes in Windows 10 Spring Creators Update

Windows 10 Task View icon

There is a button on your taskbar that you’ve never used. It brings up Task View, a visual display of all your running programs. You can also get the same view by swiping in from the left side of a laptop with a touchscreen. I think it’s one of the best new features in Windows 10 but almost no one uses it.

When the Spring Creators Update is installed, that button will change to a slightly different button that you’ll never use. Timeline will display the same thumbnails of running programs, but it will also let you scroll through a history display of the programs and files you were working with at times in the past. You’ll be able to resume browser sessions or go back to work on files that you were using earlier. The information will be synced online, so you’ll also be able to access that history from other computers and Android and iOS devices.

Some people find the prospect to be very exciting. A particularly hyperbolic article in The Guardian says “Timeline is a potentially game-changing addition to Windows that looks to embrace the multi-device life with greater integration between mobile and PC.” Yeah, I dunno. Leaves me kind of cold, but different strokes and all that. Maybe that idea makes you tingle.

As always with Microsoft, though, there are some pretty serious caveats that make me expect this to be a non-starter even for the people who are enthusiastic for the promise. Support for Timeline has to be built into programs, so initially it will be limited to the Office programs, the Edge browser, and a few Microsoft apps that you don’t use. Microsoft’s announcement of Timeline features a screenshot to show the convenience of returning to where you left off earlier today in the Windows 10 News and Sports apps. Only twelve people use the News and Sports apps and even they don’t think that’s a very pressing need.

Microsoft will do its cheerleading dance to entice developers of other programs to buy into Timeline. They won’t. And Microsoft will have no more luck drawing attention to Timeline on your phones than it has when it has tried to convince you to use Cortana or Edge on your phones. You didn’t know Microsoft wants you to use Cortana and Edge on your phones, did you? That’s my point.

The Spring Creators Update has minor updates to Cortana and Edge, by the way, so we may again have to unpin the icons from the taskbar, because the improvements will not make them good enough to want to use them.

Let’s look past the snark for a minute. These Windows updates are important. Microsoft has been engaged in a successful long-term effort to make Windows 10 more secure, stable, and compatible with an ever-expanding universe of devices and peripherals, old and new. The architecture of Windows 10 is dated but it is solid and Microsoft continues to improve it, when you look past the surface annoyances. In the scheme of things, it’s frustrating but not important that Microsoft fills up the Windows 10 Start menu with tiles for stupid games. What’s important is, for example, that Windows Defender has been completely redesigned and has become one of the most effective antivirus solutions available, beating the competitors in effectiveness, ease of use, and of course, price.

When you are prompted to install the Spring Creators Update, sigh deeply and install the update. With luck, it will be No Big Deal™.