The Windows Insiders program which, for a good many years, has provided a way for the product team to develop aspects and features of Windows with the help of millions of early testers, announced some changes in its focus recently. The distinction between Dev and Beta channels will blur to some degree, with A/B testing of new experimental features showing up in Dev before some may make it into future releases.
The path to how new features for Windows 11 will be rolled out is changing a little too. Having previously said that there would be only one Feature Update each year, rather than the spring/fall update cadence that has been with Windows 10 for some time, there are going to be intermediate feature experience packs which will deliver some updates, like the forthcoming Android subsystem which will allow Windows 11 users to install and run a subset of Android apps and games on their PC.
If you’re outside of the US, don’t get too excited about the Android apps – the initial preview needs both your PC region to be US and you need an Amazon account in the US, in order to use the Amazon Appstore (which is the home of the subset of available apps). Enterprising tinkerers have found ways to install the software without meeting said requirements – if you choose this rocky path, however, you’re on your own.
If you want some groovy new features for your PC without grubbing around in the command line or waiting for a future update to arrive, do check out the recently-refreshed PowerToys package. The tl;dr history is that PowerToys started as a collection of side projects built during the Windows 95 days, shipped as freebies for power users to play with. The name was dusted down a couple of years ago to collect up similar skunkworks projects for Windows 10 (and now, 11), and has been updated fairly regularly – though the release version is still way off v1.0.
The New PowerToys comprises a collection of addons which will be of varying interest to your average Windows user, but some are so neat on the occasions you need them that you’ll be glad of having installed the package. Image Resizer, for example, is a File Explorer extension to kick off resizing a large picture to a more manageable size – handy for the kind of website where you need a thumbnail or a profile picture that’s of restricted dimensions. There are other file-related tools like Power Rename, as well as power usage, window-handling and a whole lot more.
Of particular interest (and most recent) are utilities to do with your mouse – how many times have you tried to find the location of your pointer (especially if you have multiple screens) by waggling the mouse or tickling the trackpad? Press CTRL key twice to Find My Mouse and the screens go dark, except for a spotlight that shines on the current pointer location. There’s a Mouse Highlighter which – when activated via a configurable shortcut key – leaves a little short-lived blob on-screen where you clicked the mouse; great if you’re recording a training video or doing a demonstration.
Finally, there’s the somewhat more dramatic Mouse Pointer Crosshairs, which puts a big cross centered on wherever your pointer is, and follows it around. This might be hugely distracting to leave it on all the time, but fortunately, a quick press of the shortcut key will turn it off.
The PowerToys use a lot of different shortcut keys – some configurable – and also have a handy Shortcut Key guide, which displays common Windows shortcuts; none of those used by the PowerToys themselves, though.
Last week, the latest set of changes to Windows 10 started to become widely available. The 21H1 update – following the naming convention established in October 2020 with 20H2, rather than using a version number like 1903 – is now rolling out.
There are few major visible changes in 21H1; it’s mostly an under-the-hood arrangement, with a few minor features involving things like having multiple Windows Hello capable web cameras (in case you decided to splash out on a better camera for your online meetings, to better highlight your carefully curated backdrop?) Even some of the latest Surface devices only have a 720P front-facing camera, so if you want to upgrade your visuals with a 1080P one, there are plenty available for not much outlay. There’s even a new Microsoft Modern Camera which might be great for Teams, but unfortunately doesn’t support Windows Hello. Maybe that one needs a reboot.
A few legacy bits of technology have been removed from 21H1 – like the “original” Edge browser, ie the “Project Spartan” one that was launched with Windows 10 before being replaced with the Chromium-based version we enjoy today. For a preview of what is next for the block, check out the list of deprecated features – things that are still there but being tolerated rather than enhanced.
Having tried to “simplify” Windows previously with WinRT and then Windows S Mode, the latest turn is to do a “Cairo” by deciding to bring some of the planned features into a different release schedule, ie the mainstream one.
The next frontier for visible Windows enhancements might be the 21H2 update which logic would suggest should be with us midway through the fourth quarter of 2021. Reportedly codenamed “Sun Valley” and bringing a fresh new UI sheen, this next big update is expected to be announced soon – maybe something else is to follow?
2004 was a momentous year in many respects. The first crewed private spaceflight took place, NASA flew a Scramjet at nearly 10x the speed of sound, there was an election in the US and an Olympics took place. Not entirely like 2020, then. Windows XP was the world’s most-used operating system, and Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing (TwC) initiative brought forth Windows XP SP2, which added a ton of security updates brought forward from the Longhorn project.
In a tenuous segue, this leads us to Windows and 2004 in the year 2020 – namely, the release of “2004” build, otherwise known as the Windows 10 May 2020 Update. This is the 10th major update of Windows 10 – updates which, not unlike the service packs of old, roll-up the fixes of known issues while introducing new features and improving existing ones.
There are quite a few new features and lots of incremental improvements in the May 2020 update; some are fairly minor, others could be more significant – like the many accessibility improvements or improving security with the PUA-blocking feature which could stop the end user from unwittingly installing an app which is not exactly legit but is not exactly malware.
UK users – after installation, you’ll need to wait for an app update to arrive via the Store, as the Cortana app initially says it’s not available in the UK – though ironically, one of the examples asks for the weather and gets the answer for London… in Fahrenheit…
It might take a little while for 2004 to arrive via Windows Update – it’s a staged rollout, and there have been some reported issues with incompatible drivers, so it may be held back from certain machines until the drivers are updated. See more info on blocked machines.
If you want to force the update to 2004 rather than wait for Windows Update, you can go to the Download Windows 10 page and hit the Update Now button. You might find that the update process goes through a load of downloading and processing, only to tell you that your machine is in a “compatibility hold” because of known driver issues. So you’ll just have to wait…