The Windows 10 Anniversary Update: Cortana gets a bump in IQ and other welcome changes

The Microsoft Windows 10 Anniversary Update brings with it a host of tweaks and improvements.

Microsoft’s largest update for Windows 10, the Anniversary Update, should start hitting your devices from today. For most of you, the update will be pushed to your system (if you’re on Windows 10 Home) and there’s not a thing you can do about it. If you’ve already updated to Windows 10 however, the update should be very welcome as it brings with it a whole host of tweaks and improvements.

Windows 10 has been installed on over 350 million devices since launch and until 29 July, you could get Windows 10 for free provided you already had a licensed copy of Windows 7/8/8.1.

The much-awaited Anniversary update incorporates tonnes of feedback from millions of Windows Insiders (beta testers). Here is as thorough a list of changes as we could compile.

Visual and functional tweaks

The most noticeable changes will come in the form of slight visual and functional tweaks to many staple Windows features.

  • The Start Menu now has a column with icons for Settings, Explorer, etc. It’s like a little quick-access menu of sorts.
  • The volume control now shows a volume slider and list of audio devices when clicked.
  • The date and time and calendar options will appear on every display in a multi-monitor setup.
  • Calendar integrates multiple calendars and can show appointments, reminders, etc. when clicked.
  • Password input screen on the lock-screen uses the lock-screen background.

Action Center: Actionable notifications

The Action Center is getting far more useful in this update. There’s now a dedicated notification button on the right of the clock in the taskbar and it will display the number of notifications received, much like iOS.

The Action Center itself will now start functioning like a phone’s notification system. You can prioritise notifications, restrict the number of visible notifications, reply to, say, Skype messages, and more.

While the Messaging Anywhere feature is yet to arrive, the Action Center will sync notifications and messages across devices and even let you reply to messages from within the UI.

Cortana: It lives!

 The Windows 10 Anniversary Update: Cortana gets a bump in IQ and other welcome changes

Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, is now much smarter. Cortana can actually read and understand your reminders and appointments now. Like Google Now, Cortana also integrates with Maps to let you know when it’s time to leave for an appointment.

If you use the iOS or Android app for Cortana, notifications and messaging will sync with your Action Center. This will only happen to a limited extent, however.

Cortanta also gets the ability to remember random facts, just like a notepad. The assistant is also enabled on the lock screen, but will, apparently, refrain from ponying up private information unless otherwise specified.

Ink: Finally, a replacement for paper. Maybe

Ink is Microsoft’s solution to a problem that’s been plaguing stylus input on Windows since at least Windows XP. It finally makes the stylus useful again. Though I’d assume that this feature is very relevant to a very small audience that already uses a Surface –like device and actually spent money on a stylus.

Ink adds a whole bunch of features to the regular stylus, including a scale and context-sensitive input options. That was good enough in itself, but Microsoft threw in Ink Workspace as well. It’s an area that you can access either by tapping on the stylus input button or by tapping the Bluetooth button on the Surface Pen or similar device.

The Workspace is essentially a shortcut to Ink-ready apps like OneNote and Sticky Notes. With Ink, Windows will be able to read and interpret your handwriting. As ArsTechnica points out, writing $MSFT in Sticky Notes will be interpreted for what it is. Microsoft will treat it as a URL to the share stock price for Microsoft. URLs and reminders will also be similarly interpreted.

Edge is edgier

microsoft edge

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft Edge, is, well, better now. Extensions have arrived and they’re reportedly as useful as they are on Chrome. Edge is also demonstrably better than Chrome when it comes to battery life. Whether this is enough to warrant a switch from Chrome is something only time will tell however.

The Anniversary Update brings improved battery life, pinned tabs to Edge (which Chrome already has) and Edge notifications will now pop up in the Action Center.

UWP is in trouble, Project Centennial saves the day

Universal Windows Platforma UWP Microsoft Windows

UWP isn’t being adopted quite as fast as Microsoft is hoping, but in the meantime, they’re offering the Desktop App Converter. It’s a simple tool for converting Win32 apps into Store apps. Win32 apps are the regular Windows apps that you use. Store apps are those found on the store.

The App Converter makes minor changes to an app and ensures that it’s treated differently from Win32 apps. In effect, it partially virtualises the app, relying on an application specific virtual registry and file system. This ensures that the app has no lasting impact on your system and when it’s uninstalled, it does so cleanly.

Apps converted in this fashion can be published and updated via the Windows Store. Such apps are not as safe as Store apps, but they are, in theory, safer than regular apps.

Microsoft Lindows 10

Image: Microsoft

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft promised Linux integration at Build 2016 and they’ve now delivered. You’ll need to enable Developer Mode in Settings, but once enabled, you will be able to access Linux APIs and install Linux binaries (.deb files in this case) directly on your system. Many Linux Terminal commands will also work in CMD prompt.

As a whole, the list of changes is quite large. For the average user however, the changes will mostly appear to be cosmetic. If you’ve been holding out on Windows 10, the Anniversary Update isn’t going to change your mind anytime soon.

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