Apr 06 2017

Windows 10 Creators Update available for download

The Windows 10 Creators Update—codenamed Redstone 2—will begin rolling out on April 11, 2017.
You can already download the ISO today at MyVisualStudio for example.

3D for Everyone

Microsoft is making a big bet on 3D creativity with the Creators update. This is the company that bought Minecraft, after all.
A new Paint 3D application included with Windows 10 allows you to work with and create 3D models. Windows also comes with a “View 3D Preview” app that allows everyone to open 3D models, view, rotate around, and zoom in. Currently, it supports .fbx and .3mf file types.
In addition, the Microsoft Edge browser now supports 3D content. It can be used to upload and download 3D models—including models exported from Minecraft and SketchUp—from Remix3D, a community website created by Microsoft. Windows can then print any type of 3D model to a 3D printer, which means Minecraft players can bring their creations into the real world.
Microsoft PowerPoint gains 3D models and cinematic 3D animations for transitions like Morph, so those 3D models can be incorporated into presentations. Microsoft will be adding more 3D features to Office applications like Word and Excel over the next year.

Mainstream Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Headsets

Mixed Reality—which includes Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Holographic computing, according to Microsoft—is another big focus. “Windows Mixed Reality” is the new name for “Windows Holographic”, and it works hand in hand with the 3D support. Microsoft’s own HoloLens headset, for example, is a mixed reality headset. It allows you to see through the headset to the real world, and digital images are superimposed on that image of the real world.
With HoloLens, you’ll be able to download a 3D model from Edge or create one in Paint 3D and virtually place it somewhere in the real world.
You’ll be able to create a custom space in virtual reality and decorate it with your own furniture and apps, like you would another room. Apps can be placed on shelves. There’s also a new application called HoloTour, which lets you explore locations around the world using a virtual reality or augmented reality headset.
Microsoft Edge is gaining support for WebVR, a standard that will allow websites to deliver virtual reality experiences, just like desktop applications. WebVR was originally developed by Mozilla and Google is also working on WebVR support for Chrome.

Most excitingly, though: Microsoft is partnering with Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo to create mainstream mixed reality headsets. They’ll work without any additional tracking hardware that needs to be placed in the room. “Zero need for a separate room. Zero need for a complicated setup”, as Microsoft put it. These headsets will include cameras so they’re capable of mixed reality—think Pokémon Go, but in a headset. Best of all, headset prices will start at $299, so they’ll be much more affordable than Microsoft’s own $3000 HoloLens hardware. They’re also much cheaper than the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive virtual reality headsets, which start at $599 and $799, respectively.
These headsets won’t need a very expensive PC, either. The minimum specifications are much lower than what an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive requires. These headsets will even work with Intel integrated graphics, as long as you have the Kaby Lake series of Intel graphics or newer. Here are the minimum specs Microsoft announced:

  • CPU: Intel Mobile Core i5 (e.g. 7200U) Dual-Core with Hyperthreading equivalent
  • GPU: Integrated Intel® HD Graphics 620 (GT2) equivalent or greater DX12 API Capable GPU
  • RAM: 8GB+ Dual Channel required for integrated graphics
  • HDMI: HDMI 1.4 with 2880  x 1440 @ 60 Hz;  HDMI 2.0 or DP 1.3+ with 2880 x 1440 @ 90 Hz
  • Storage: 100GB+ SSD (Preferred) / HDD
  • Bluetooth: 4.0 and above for accessories.

Microsoft plans on bringing these “Mixed Reality” headsets to Project Scorpio and other Xbox One consoles in 2018.
Windows 10 now includes a new “Mixed Reality” icon on the main page of the Settings app to manage settings for virtual reality and augmented reality devices, too. There’s also a new “Mixed Reality Portal” application included with Windows 10. This application provides a demo of Windows 10’s Mixed Reality features.

Night Light

Windows 10 now has a “Night Light” feature, which was known as “Blue Light” in earlier builds of the Creators Update.
Night Light works similarly to the venerable f.lux utility. It makes color temperatures warmer at night so it’s easier on your eyes and easier to get to sleep right after using the computer, in theory. Many operating systems have been adding this feature lately, like iOS with Night Shift.
Visit Settings > System > Display > Night Light Settings to enable Night Light mode and configure your desired color temperature. You can set Windows to automatically enable Night Light mode at sunset and enable it at sunrise, too.

Game Mode and Game Settings

Windows 10 is gaining a “Game Mode” that claims to improve the performance of games using both Microsoft’s new UWP (Windows Store) application platform and older Win32 (desktop) application platform.
To enable Game Mode, open the Game Bar by pressing Windows+G while in a game. Click the settings icon on the Game Bar and check the “Use Game Mode for this game” option.
Game Mode functions by prioritizing the game you’re playing, giving it more system resources and giving other applications on your PC less resources. Your game will be given more CPU cores and background processes will be given fewer, according to MSPowerUser. This will work better for new UWP (Windows Store) applications, but Microsoft says it will still do something for traditional Win32 (Windows desktop) games. We’re skeptical of Game Mode and its benefits when it comes to traditional Windows desktop games, but we’ll surely see some interesting benchmarks after the Creators Update is officially released.
These features are now much more accessible, too. Gaming related settings are now available at Settings > Gaming. You no longer have to open the Xbox app and sign in with a Microsoft account to disable the Game Bar or Game DVR features.

Game Broadcasting for Windows 10 and Xbox One

Microsoft’s Game DVR feature, which already can record a video of your gameplay in the background and upload it to social services, is gaining a “Broadcast” button. It’ll be able to stream your gameplay to Xbox Live in real time, and your Xbox Live friends will receive a notification that you’re broadcasting. This will be built into both the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. It’s powered by Beam, a service Microsoft purchased in August.
However, this feature can only stream to Microsoft’s own Xbox Live service. It’ll likely be popular on the Xbox One, but alternatives like Twitch and YouTube are very popular on PC, and Microsoft’s built-in feature doesn’t support them.

Other PC Gaming Improvements

Augmented reality and broadcasting aren’t the only gaming improvements arriving with Windows 10.
Microsoft is partnering with Dolby to bring Doly Atmos positional sound to PC and Xbox One. You don’t even need hardware that supports Atmos—Windows 10 will allow you to create virtual Dolby Atmos positional sound with “virtually any pair of headphones”. Microsoft’s blog post uses Overwatch as an example, promising a tactical advantage when you can more easily hear where other characters are in the game world.
Games you download from the Windows Store now contain bundled display drivers, ensuring people who choose to buy games from the Store will always have the minimum required driver for the game to perform well.
The Game Bar supports many more full-screen games, including Fallout 4, Dark Souls 3, Overwatch, Starcraft II, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Terraria.
The Xbox app is gaining support for custom tournaments. Create a tournament and your friends can join it, playing on either Xbox One or Windows 10 PC if an Xbox Live-enabled game runs on both platforms.
Other features include Windows Display Driver Model 2.2 (WDDM 2.2), which is reportedly tailored for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality scenarios. Windows 10’s Creators Update will also feature high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color gamut support for PC games and media.
Many of these details were announced at a PC Gaming WinHEC session.

Microsoft Edge Improvements

Edge now offers a tab preview bar that shows you a visual preview of every tab you have open. Click the little down arrow icon to the right of your tabs to view it. It looks a little similar to the tab bar in Windows 8’s “Modern” version of Internet Explorer. Another new tab management feature allows you to “set tabs aside” for later and view tabs you’ve set aside and even “Share” them to other apps on your PC. Two new buttons for this are located at the left side of the tab bar.
Microsoft Edge has always been a multi-process web browser, but Microsoft redesigned its architecture. Long story short, Edge should be more stable, more responsive to input, and more resistant to slow or frozen web pages.
Edge will now prefer HTML5 content when available as well, blocking Flash by default. You’ll be able to choose whether you want Flash to load or not. Avoiding Flash will improve battery life, security, and browsing performance. This decision follows similar announcements from Google, Mozilla, and Apple.
Microsoft also added web payments support that uses the “Payment Request API”, which is designed to make online payments faster by more easily providing the credit card details and shipping address stored in Microsoft Wallet. You won’t be able to use this feature until websites add support for it.
Edge has received a lot of little improvements, too. Edge’s taskbar icon now offers jump list support, so you can right-click or swipe up on the Edge icon on the taskbar to get quick access to tasks like opening a new browser window. Edge can now read EPUB format eBooks right in the web browser, too. Click an EPUB file and it will be displayed in Edge, just like how PDF files are currently displayed in Edge today. Edge now allows you to export your favorites to an HTML file and allows you to import data from other browsers on your PC.
The file download experience has improved to match what was possible in Internet Explorer. When downloading a file, you can choose to “Run” a download without first saving it or use a “Save As” button to choose exactly where you want to download the file.
Internally, Edge now supports Brotli compression. It promises better compression ratios and decompression speeds, which means websites that take advantage of this feature can load faster. This compression scheme is also supported in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, so it’s a cross-browser solution that should make the web better for everyone.

New Cortana Features

Microsoft’s virtual assistant knows some new voice commands in the Creator’s Update. Cortana can now turn off your computer, restart your PC, lock your screen, or put it to sleep with just a voice command. It can also raise or lower your system volume. Cortana now supports voice playback controls for the iHeartRadio and TuneIn apps. You can also ask Cortana what song is playing, and it will tell you.
App developers can add Cortana commands to their applications—for example, you can use Cortana voice commands to play movies in Netflix. If you type an installed app’s name into Cortana—like “Netflix”—you’ll see a list of suggested commands. Here’s a list of apps that offer Cortana voice commands.
Cortana is gaining a new full-screen mode, too. When your PC is unlocked and idle, you can say “Hey Cortana” and Cortana will appear in a full-screen interface, allowing you to read the screen from across the room. To try this, enable “Hey Cortana”, don’t use your PC’s mouse or keyboard for at least teen seconds, and then say “Hey Cortana”.
Reminders in Cortana have gotten more flexible. You can set reminders to recur “every month” or “every year” if you want a reminder about  something that happens once a month or once a year.
Cortana is now integrated into the “Windows Out-Of-Box-Experience”, the setup wizard you see when setting up a new PC. You can go through this experience just by talking to Cortana.
Microsoft is also working on a new Cortana feature that will prompt you to synchronize apps between your devices. When you switch computers, Cortana will display links in the Action Center to direct you to websites you had open in Microsoft Edge and cloud-based documents you had open. For example, Cortana would prompt you to open a PowerPoint presentation you have saved in SharePoint or OneDrive if you switch PCs while working on a presentation. It’s similar in concept to Apple’s Continuity feature, which works between iOS and macOS.
Developers at Microsoft are quietly working on new Cortana features that haven’t been officially announced, too. Cortana appears to be gaining a new “Universal Clipboard” that allows you to synchronize your clipboard between devices running Cortana. It appears you’ll be able to use the “Copy To” voice command to copy content from one device’s clipboard to another.
Notification sync also looks set for a big improvement. Not only will Cortana be able to show notifications from your phone on your desktop PC, but it will be able to go the other way. Cortana will be able to push notifications from your desktop PC to a smartphone with the Cortana app, so you can get your PC’s notifications on your phone.
There’s also a feature that appears to allow unlocking your PC with a phone. Perhaps you’ll be able to use a phone running the Cortana app along with Windows Hello to unlock your PC.

More Control Over Windows Update

Windows Update will see some huge changes, with Microsoft adding options many Windows users have been begging for.
You can now pause updates for up to 35 days. You’ll find this option at Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > Advanced Options > Pause Updates. This setting is only available on the Professional, Enterprise, and Education editions of Windows 10—not Windows 10 Home.
You can also choose to avoid driver updates when updating Windows, preventing Windows Update from messing with your drivers. You’ll also find this option at Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > Advanced Options > Pause Updates. Again, it’s only available on the Professional, Enterprise, and Education editions of Windows 10—not Windows 10 Home.
If you do have the Home edition of Windows 10, there are a few new changes that can prevent Windows 10 from rebooting to install updates when you’re using it. When there’s a new update, you’ll see a prompt and you can choose to “pick a time” when the update is convenient to install or “snooze” it for up to three days. You don’t have to restart and install the update immediately if you’re using your PC.
You can now set up to 18 hours of the day as your Active Hours, so Windows 10 won’t restart for updates during those hours. Previously, the maximum was 12 hours. Windows Update also attempts to detect whether the PC display is being used for something—projecting, for example—before automatically restarting the PC.
Unfortunately, the ability to set a connection as “metered” to avoid receiving all automatic updates is going away. You can still set a connection as metered, and Windows Update will still respect that setting—but only partially. Now, Windows 10 will automatically download “updates required to keep Windows running smoothly” on metered connections. Microsoft told Winsupersite that they “don’t plan to send large updates over metered connections, but could use this for critical fixes if needed in the future.” It’s unclear how frequently Microsoft will push updates over metered connections, and how much data they’ll consumer.
A new Unified Update Platform makes Windows Update faster when searching for available updates. Microsoft expects the size of a new major update like the Anniversary Update or Creators Update should be about 35% smaller, leading to faster downloads and reduced data usage.
And finally, you can now set wired Ethernet connections as metered from Settings > Network & Internet > Ethernet. This prevents Windows from automatically downloading all updates and using other unnecessary data on a connection with limited data. This previously required a registry hack. However, it may be less useful with Microsoft forcing some updates over metered connections.

Changes to Privacy Settings

Microsoft is finally trying to allay some of the concerns about Windows 10’s privacy settings. First, there’s a new Your Privacy page for your Microsoft account. This page allows you to see the information stored about you and delete it, if you like. It provides more information about what information Microsoft is collecting and why.
The Windows 10 setup experience you see when setting up a new PC is changing, too. The “Express” setup option that encourages you to be hands-off and select the default settings is gone. Instead, there’s now a “Choose privacy settings for your device” page that provides information and encourages you to make choices.
Windows 10’s telemetry levels are also being simplified. You can now choose between either “Basic” or “Full” diagnostic and usage data, with the “enhanced” level in the middle being removed. The amount of data Windows 10 shares with Microsoft when you select the “Basic” level is also being reduced.

Geek Stuff

  • A Location Bar in the Registry Editor: The Registry Editor finally includes a location bar, allowing you to easily copy-paste addresses rather than being forced to painstakingly navigate to them.
  • Bash on Ubuntu on Windows 10 Updates: The Windows Subsystem for Linux now supports Ubuntu 16.04. In the Anniversary Update, it only supports Ubuntu 14.04. Windows applications can now be launched from the Bash shell, too, making it more flexible.
  • PowerShell Is the Default: PowerShell is now the default shell. When you right-click the Start button, you’ll see options to open PowerShell instead of Command Prompt. When you hold Shift and right-click in a folder or click the File menu in File Explorer, you’ll see an option to open PowerShell instead of Command Prompt. Despite this, Microsoft insists that the Command Prompt is not dead and will not be removed from Windows until almost no one uses it.
  • Control Panel Is Harder to Get To: You can no longer right-click the Start button and select “Control Panel” to easily launch the Control Panel. It’s been removed from this menu and replaced with a link to “Settings”.
  • Symbolic Link Improvements: You can now create symlinks without elevating the Command Prompt to Administrator. That also means that developers, software tools, and projects can now take advantage of this useful feature without requiring Administrator access.
  • Hyper-V Display Scaling: A new “Zoom” option in the View menu allows you to set your preferred display scaling for Hyper-V virtual machines, overriding your default display scaling settings. You can set it to either 100%, 125%, 150%, or 200%.
  • Quick Virtual Machine Creation: If you’re using Hyper-V to create virtual machines, you’ll see a “Quick Create” button in Hyper-V manager. This is a simplified wizard that allows you to create a new virtual machines in just a few clicks.
  • Hyper-V Virtual Machine Connection Windows Are Resizable: You can quickly resize a Hyper-V virtual machine connection window by dragging the corners of the window. The virtual machine will automatically change its display resolution to adjust. You have to be signed into the guest operating system and using Enhanced session mode for this to work.
  • Improved High DPI Support for Desktop Apps: If you have a high-DPI display, fewer desktop apps will appear blurry. In particular, Microsoft has made the Device Manager and other Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap ins look better. Microsoft has previously written about its difficulties in improving high-DPI support, so it’s good to know these are finally improving.
  • More High DPI Scaling Options: If you have a super high-res display, you know how annoying DPI scaling can be. Microsoft has enabled improved high-DPI scaling for some included Windows desktop applications, and you can now enable it for other applications. Right-click a program’s .exe file, select Properties, and you’ll find a new “System (Enhanced)” Setting for DPI scaling on the Compatibility tab. This new feature forces an application to be scaled by Windows, so it can help fix blurry applications—but it only works with applications that use GDI, the Windows Graphics Device Interface.
  • Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection Improvements: Improvements to Windows Defender ATP will allow network administrators to better detect new threats on their organization’s PCs. ATP’s sensors can now detect threats that just persist in memory or the Windows kernel.
  • Windows Hello for Active Directory: Organizations that use an on-premises Active Directory will now be able to use Windows Hello to unlock their PCs, if they like.
  • Green Screen of Death: If you’re using an Insider build of Windows 10 and Windows crashes, you’ll now see a “Green Screen of Death” instead of the usual blue screen of death. This helps identify that the problem may have occured because you were using an Insider build of Windows with bugs.

Other New Features

The Creators update includes a variety of other important features:

  • Store Apps Only (Optional): A new option can force Windows 10 to only run apps from the Windows Store. It’s similar to Gatekeeper on macOS. Software from anywhere else is blocked. it’s disabled by default, but could be a useful way to block malware and other dangerous software if the Store becomes more useful.
    More Built-in Advertisements: In every major update, Microsoft adds new advertisements. In the Creators Update, you’ll see Office 365 advertisements and other notifications in the File Explorer and “suggestion” notifications in your action center. You can disable all these build-in ads, if you like.
  • A New Share Menu: Microsoft has redesigned the current Share feature, replacing the old sidebar design introduced in Windows 8 with a new pop-up Share interface that shows a list of applications you can share to. The applications you share to most frequently listed first. The old Windows+H hotkey that used to open the share bar has been removed. You’ll need to find the share icon in an app to share something.
  • A New Screenshot Hotkey: Windows 10 gains yet another screenshot tool. Press Windows+Shift+S to capture a region of your screen and copy it to your clipboard. This feature was originally part of OneNote 2016, but has been added to Windows itself.
  • Accessibility Improvements: Windows 10 is gaining braille support. The Narrator is now available in the Windows installation and recovery tools environments. The Narrator hotkey is changing from Windows+Enter to Ctrl+Windows+Enter to make it harder to trigger accidentally.
  • Storage Sense: Windows 10 can now automatically free up disk space, although this feature is off by default. Enable the Storage Sense feature under Settings > System > Storage and Windows will automatically erase your temporary files and empty your recycle bin to free up space.
  • Dynamic Lock: Windows 10 can now automatically lock your PC when you step away. Pair a Bluetooth-enabled phone and enable Dynamic Lock under Settings > Accounts > Sign-in Options. If you step away from your PC for 30 seconds and take the phone with you, Windows will automatically lock your PC. Microsoft’s blog post says this is for “Bluetooth phones”, but it appears it may work with other devices, like Bluetooth-enabled wristbands.
  • Troubleshooters in the Settings App: The troubleshooters built into Windows can find and automatically fix common system problems. They’re now accessible at Settings > Update & security > Troubleshoot.
  • Settings Changes: Microsoft has streamlined the Settings app yet again. App-related settings have moved from the System category to a new category named Apps. You’ll find more information about related settings at the bottom of every settings page. The Devices > Bluetooth & Other Devices page provides a single place to manage your connected devices. The System > Display page has been reorganized, and now lets you change the display resolution without visiting the Control Panel first.
  • A New Windows Defender Interface: Microsoft has overhauled Windows Defender’s interface in the Creators Update, replacing the old desktop application with a modern “Universal Windows Platform” app that looks more at home on Windows 10. The Refresh Windows tool, which downloads a new Windows system from Microsoft and wipes any manufacturer-installed bloatware, is being incorporated into Windows Defender.
  • Improved PIN Login: When signing in with a numerical PIN, you don’t have to worry about pressing the Num Lock key. The PIN field will behave as if the Num Lock key is always enabled. No more fighting with Num Lock!
    Windows Remembers Which Built-in Apps You Don’t Want: When you uninstall built-in apps like Mail and Maps, they won’t automatically be reinstalled when you upgrade Windows. Windows will now respect your choice. You can always reinstall those apps from the Store, if you want them.
  • Compact Overlay Windows: UWP applications can now use a “compact overlay window” that works like picture-in-picture mode on a televisions For example, video streaming or video chat apps could display a video in an always-on-top thumbnail in the corner of your screen. Microsoft will update the Movies & TV app and Skype Preview app with this feature.
  • Wi-Fi Control Improvements: When you disable Wi-Fi, you can configure it to automatically turn on in one hour, in four hours, or in one day. By default, it will be kept disabled until you manually re-enable it.
  • Action Center Improvements: Quick Action icons for quickly controlling settings have been improved. In addition, you’ll find volume and brightness sliders directly in the Action Center, making it easier to adjust these settings. Developers can now group their app notifications and override the timestamp displayed for notifications if it makes sense to do so. Notifications can now have progress bars. You’ll now see a progress bar in the “Downloading” notification while downloading an app from the Windows Store, for example.
  • Start Menu Folders: Windows 10 now allows you to group the tiles on your Start menu into folders. Drag and drop a tile onto another tile to create a tile folder that can contain two or more tiles. Click or tap the tile folder and it will expand to display its contents.
  • Start Menu Customization: A new option at Settings > Personalization > Start allows you to hide the All Apps list, which always appears at the left side of the Start menu in the Anniversary Update.
  • More Interface Color Options: The Personalization screen now has a color picker, allowing you to choose any interface and window title bar color. On the earlier versions of Windows 10, you can just select from a handful of available colors. It also shows a list of recent colors, so you can quickly choose between your favorite colors.
  • A Virtual Touchpad: Windows 10 already contains an on-screen keyboard, and it’s getting an on-screen touchpad. Press and hold on the taskbar and you’ll be able to select “Show touchpad button”. You’ll then get a touchpad button next to your touch keyboard button. Microsoft says you can use the virtual touchpad on a tablet to control the mouse cursor on a connected external display, for example. You don’t need a mouse, or even a physical touchpad.
  • Smoother Window Resizing: It’s minor, but Microsoft has improved performance when resizing application windows so it will look smoother. This applies to both new UWP apps and desktop applications—but only desktop applications that use the Windows Graphics Device Interface, or GDI.
  • Theme Management: You can now manage and select desktop themes from Settings > Personalization > Themes. This previously required the Control Panel. Themes are now available in the Windows Store, too.
    Desktop Icon Placement Improvements: Windows now more intelligently rearranges and scales desktop icons when you switch between different monitors and scaling settings, seeking to preserve your custom icon layout rather than scrambling them.
  • Quicker VPN Access: When you open the network menu from your notification area, you can now connect to VPNs directly from the menu rather than needing to open the VPN Settings screen first.
  • Multiple Account Sign-in Improvements: If you have multiple accounts, you’ll appreciate the new sign-in dialog that appears when you need to provide a Microsoft account in apps. It shows any Microsoft, Work, and School accounts you’ve added to the system and gives you the ability to add new accounts to Windows.
  • Lunar Calendar Support in the Taskbar: You can now see the simplified or traditional Chinese lunar calendar in the taskbar calendar. To enable this feature, head to Settings > Time & Language > Date & Time and use the new “Show additional calendars in the taskbar” menu.
  • Office Hub: There’s a new version of the “Get Office” app, which originally just pointed you at the Office 365 website. Get Office 2.0, also known as “Office Hub”, is much more capable. This app still guides you through how to sign up to Office 365, but it also provides direct download links for Office applications, a list of Office documents you’ve recently used, and other useful features.
  • Photos App Improvements: Keeping with the “Creators Update” theme, Microsoft is improving the Photos app. You can now use a stylus or your finger on a touchscreen to draw directly on your photos or videos. Write on a video and what you’ve scribbled will appear when you get to that place in the video. The Photos app offers a new set of filters and redesigned editing interface for better photo editing, too. Microsoft is also releasing a Photos app for the Xbox One, so you can view those same photos in your living room. There’s also a new light theme for the app, so you don’t have to use the old dark theme if you’d prefer a brighter look.
  • Sticky Notes Insights: The Sticky Notes app offers more “Insights”. For example, it can detect stocks, flights numbers, email addresses, web addresses, phone numbers, and times and automatically provide more information. This now works for many more languages. Sticky Notes also received various performance, reliability, and interface improvements.
  • Books in the Windows Store: The Windows Store now offers eBooks in a “Books” section that appears alongside Apps, Games, Music, and Movies & TV at the top of the Store window. Windows 10 doesn’t contain an eBook reader app, however, so these eBooks open in Microsoft Edge after you buy them. Tap the menu button in Edge and you’ll see a new eBook library section alongside your favorites, downloads, and history. Edge can also read eBooks aloud.
  • Windows Ink Improvements: Windows Ink, introduced in the Anniversary Update, has seen quite a bit of polish. Screen sketches can now be resumed and the cursor will be hidden while you’re drawing on the screen. A new rounded protractor combines the protector and compass into a single tool, making it easier to draw a complete circle or an arc. The protractor can be resized with a two-finger pinch. The ruler also shows the numerical value of the angle it’s positioned at. You can now erase only parts of an ink stroke. The pen, pencil, and highlighter control menu now visually indicates which colors you have selected.
  • Surface Dial Settings: If you have a Surface Dial, you can customize its settings from Settings > Devices > Wheel. The options here allow you to set custom shortcuts for specific apps. You can set the wheel to send custom keyboard shortcuts to quickly perform actions in apps.
  • Cross-Device Experience Settings: There’s a new settings pane at Settings > System > Cross-device Experiences. App developers can use Microsoft’s new “cross-device experience” tools to create experiences that use apps across multiple devices, but you can disable those features here, if you like.
  • Battery Life Improvements: Microsoft is experimenting with “throttling” traditional Windows applications running in the background to save battery life. This change is only live on some Insider PCs.
    As usual, there are many other smaller changes and bug fixes. We’ll keep watching the Insider Preview builds and updating this post as Microsoft adds more new features.

The Future: Redstone 3 and Beyond

Some other features that Microsoft is working on, but which won’t be ready for the Creators Update. These features are slated for “Redstone 3”, the next update after the Creators Update (which is codenamed “Redstone 2”).

  • Full Office in the Windows Store: Microsoft will reportedly bring the full Microsoft Office suite to the Windows Store via the desktop app converter sometime after the release of the Creators Update. As part of this, Microsoft will shift its focus away from the Office Mobile UWP apps for desktop PCs, which are currently available in the Windows Store. This news comes from MSPowerUser.
  • x86 Emulation for Windows on ARM: This will allow Windows on ARM to run traditional Windows x86 software. Microsoft could then launch a new version of Windows RT on ARM hardware, one that actually supported the desktop software Windows users want to run. Windows Phones with Continuum would also be able to run traditional Windows desktop software. Microsoft has showed off a video of Windows 10 on ARM running desktop applications like Photoshop.
  • Adaptive Shell: Microsoft is reportedly working on an “adaptive shell” that will work across every device, from HoloLens and Xbox to PCs, tablets, and phones. This will provide a single interface shared across all Windows 10 devices that can automatically adjust to the situation. It’s also known as “Cloud Shell”. “Composable Shell”, or “CSHELL” and it will be able to dynamically switch between different interfaces according to Windows Central. This feature may not show up in Redstone 3, but Microsoft is working on it and pieces of it should appear over time.
  • Project NEON: According to Windows Central, Microsoft is working on a new design language, known as “Project NEON”. It’s designed as an updated look for Windows 10’s new applications, one that will also work well in holographic and augmented reality. A source described the new design as “Very fluid, lots of motion and nice transitions.” MSPoweruser has reportedly obtained official Project NEON concept art from Microsoft. The concept art features quite a few transparent effects, and calls to mind Windows 7’s Aero glass in some ways.
  • Home Hub: Home Hub is designed to take on Amazon Echo and Google Home. It’s not hardware—just software. Home Hub will provide a shared “Welcome Screen” and “Family Desktop” designed for family PCs so people don’t have to juggle different accounts. Cortana will always be listening on the welcome screen. In other words, Microsoft wants you to have a shared PC with a screen instead of an Amazon Echo or Google Home. It will be always listening, just Amazon and Google’s devices, so you can shout a question or command across the room. Expect PC manufacturers to design streamlined all-in-one PCs to compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home. This feature should partially arrive in Redstone 3, with improvements arriving in Redstone 4 afterwards.
  • Windows Defender Application Guard for Microsoft Edge: This feature may or may not be ready for the Creators Update, and is just for Enterprise editions of Windows. When an employee browsers to a website that an organization doesn’t trust, Application Guard uses Hyper-V virtualization to create a new Windows operating system instance at the hardware level, running the website in Microsoft Edge in a separate instance of Windows. Even if the browser were exploited, the main Windows operating system would still be safe.
  • Windows Cloud: Microsoft is reportedly about to unveil a new edition of Windows. “Windows 10 Cloud” will be designed to compete with Chromebooks. It will only allow you to install applications from the Windows Store, sort of like Windows RT. You won’t be able to install or use traditional Windows desktop applications. Unlike Windows RT, Windows Cloud will allow you to upgrade to Windows 10 Professional for a fee to make your device more useful.

Oct 12 2016

System Center 2016 RTM available on MSDN

You can now download the RTM version of the System Center 2016 Suite on MSDN.

Oct 12 2016

Windows Server 2016 RTM available on MSDN

You can now download the RTM version of the Windows Server 2016 on MSDN.

Aug 02 2016

Windows 10, Version 1607 (Updated Jul 2016) available

you can now download the newest Version of Windows 10 at MSDN.

Jun 03 2016

SQL and SharePoint Server 2016 available for download

with today SharePoint Sever 2016 and SQL Server 2016 are available for download from MSDN and other known Microsoft sources.

So what’s new with SQL 2016?

Query Store
One common problem many organizations face when upgrading versions of SQL Server is changes in the query optimizer (which happen from version to version) negatively impacting performance. Without comprehensive testing, this has traditionally been a hard problem to identify and then resolve. The Query Store feature maintains a history of query execution plans with their performance data, and quickly identifies queries that have gotten slower recently, allowing administrators or developers to force the use of an older, better plan if needed. The Query Store is configured at the individual database level.

Polybase
Hadoop and Big Data have been all the rage in the last several years. I think some of that was industry hype, but Hadoop is a scalable, cost-effective way to store large amounts of data. Microsoft had introduced Polybase, a SQL Server connector to Hadoop (and Azure Blob Storage) to its data warehouse appliance Analytics Platform System in 2015. But now Microsoft has incorporated that functionality into the regular on-premises product. This feature will benefit you if your regular data processing involves dealing with a lot of large text files — they can be stored in Azure Blob Storage or Hadoop, and queried as if they were database tables. A common scenario where you might use this would be an extract, transform and load (ETL) process, where you were taking a subset of the text file to load into your database.

Stretch Database
One common idiom in recent years, is how cheap storage is. While it may be cheap to buy a 3TB drive from Amazon, if you are buying enterprise-class SAN storage or enterprise SSDs, you will know that storage is still very expensive. Microsoft is trying to help reduce your storage (and processing costs) with a hybrid feature called “Stretch Database.” The basics of Stretch Database are that some part of your tables (configurable or automated) will be moved into an Azure SQL Database in the cloud in a secure fashion. When you query those tables, the query optimizer knows which rows are on your server and which rows are in Azure, and divides the workload accordingly. The query processing on the Azure rows takes place in Azure so the only latency is for the return of the rows over the network. As an additional enhancement, you are only charged for the SQL Database in Azure when it is used for queries. You do, however, pay for the Azure Blob storage, which, generally speaking, is much cheaper than enterprise storage.

JSON Support
In addition to supporting direct querying to Hadoop, SQL Server 2016 adds support for the lingua franca of Web applications: Java Script Object Notation (JSON). Several other large databases have added this support in recent years as the trend towards Web APIs using JSON has increased. The way this is implemented in SQL 2016 is very similar to the way XML support is built in with FOR JSON and OPENJSON — providing the ability to quickly move JSON data into tables.

Row Level Security
A feature that other databases have had for many years, and SQL Server has lacked natively is the ability to provide row-level security (RLS). This restricts which users can view what data in a table, based on a function. SQL Server 2016 introduces this feature, which is very useful in multi-tenant environments where you may want to limit data access based on customer ID. I’ve seen some customized implementations of RLS at clients in the past, and they weren’t pretty. It is hard to execute at scale. The implementation of RLS in SQL 2016 still has it limits (updates and inserts are not covered), but it is good start on a much-needed feature.

Always Encrypted
It seems like every month, we hear about some company having a major data breach. Encryption works, but many companies do not or cannot implement it all the way through the stack, leaving some layer data available for the taking as plain text. SQL Server has long supported both column-level encryption, encryption at rest, and encryption in transit. However these all had to be configured independently and were frequently misconfigured. Always Encrypted is new functionality through the use of an enhanced client library at the application so the data stays encrypted in transit, at rest and while it is alive in the database. Also given Microsoft’s push towards the use of Azure, easy encryption makes for a much better security story.

In-Memory Enhancements
SQL Server 2014 introduced the concept of in-memory tables. These were optimally designed for high-speed loading of data with no locking issues or high-volume session state issues. While this feature sounded great on paper, there were a lot of limitations particularly around constraints and procedures. In SQL Server 2016, this feature is vastly improved, supporting foreign keys, check and unique constraints and parallelism. Additionally, tables up to 2TB are now supported (up from 256GB). Another part of in-memory is column store indexes, which are commonly used in data warehouse workloads. This feature was introduced in SQL 2012 and has been enhanced in each version since. In 2016 it receives some enhancements around sorting and better support with AlwaysOn Availability Groups.

Apr 27 2016

Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 5

Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 5 is available for download on MSDN and the other know Microsoft sources.

Im Addition Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2016 Technical Preview 5 is also available.

 

 

Mar 07 2016

Windows 10, Version 1511 (Updated Feb 2016) available

An updated image of the Windows 10 Build 1511 is available for download on MSDN.

Windows 10, Version 1511 (Updated Feb 2016) includes all updates released for Windows 10 since Version 1511 (Released Nov 2015) including security and non-security updates.

Nov 12 2015

Windows 10 – Build 1511 – available for Download

Microsoft has been testing a fresh update to Windows 10 for the past few months, and now it’s ready to release it to everyone. More than 110 million machines are now running Windows 10, and they’ll all be offered the update today. The update includes a number of fixes and UI changes that were originally planned for the final version of Windows 10.

One of the noticeable differences is a new colored title bar for desktop apps. All apps now feel a little more similar to the ones designed specifically for Windows 10, and Microsoft has also improved the context menus throughout the OS to make them a little bigger and darker to match the general theme. Another big change is the introduction of Skype integration with dedicated Messaging and Skype Video apps. They’re both available from the Windows Store, and they’re designed to offer basic access to messaging, audio, and video calls without having to download the full version of Skype.

Most other changes are fairly minor, including improved system icons. Microsoft is allowing Windows 10 users to now install apps to external storage, and some tablet mode improvements allow you to swipe down to close apps and snap apps more easily. Microsoft is also improving its Edge browser and Cortana in the Windows 10 Fall Update. Edge now syncs favorites, settings, and the reading list, alongside a new tab preview feature. Cortana will now work without a Microsoft Account, and the digital assistant can now understand inked notes in the Windows 10 Fall Update. The update is rolling out today from Windows Update.

You can also download a new ISO image from MSDN now.

Oct 02 2015

Exchange 2016 RTM

Exchange Server 2016 is here and available to download starting today!

Exchange 2016 builds on and improves features introduced in Exchange 2013, including Data Loss Prevention, Managed Availability, automatic recovery from storage failures, and the web-based Exchange admin center. Here are a few of the favorite new capabilities:

  • Better collaboration: Exchange 2016 includes a new approach to attachments that simplifies document sharing and eliminates version control headaches. In Outlook 2016 or Outlook on the web, you can now attach a document as a link to SharePoint 2016 (currently in preview) or OneDrive for Business instead of a traditional attachment, providing the benefits of coauthoring and version control.
  • Improved Outlook web experience: New significant updates to Outlook on the web. New features include: Sweep, Pin, Undo, inline reply, a new single-line inbox view, improved HTML rendering, new themes, emojis, and more.
  • Search: A lightning-fast search architecture delivers more accurate and complete results. Outlook 2016 is optimized to use the power of the Exchange 2016 back end to help you find things faster, across old mail and new. Search also gets more intelligent with Search suggestions, People suggestions, search refiners, and the ability to search for events in your Calendar.
  • Greater extensibility: An expanded Add-In model for Outlook desktop and Outlook on the web allows developers to build features right into the Outlook experience. Add-ins can now integrate with UI components in new ways: as highlighted text in the body of a message or meeting, in the right-hand task pane when composing or reading a message or meeting, and as a button or a dropdown option in the Outlook ribbon.
  • eDiscovery: Exchange 2016 has a revamped eDiscovery pipeline that is significantly faster and more scalable. Reliability is improved due to a new search architecture that is asynchronous and distributes the work across multiple servers with better fault tolerance. You also have the ability to search, hold and export content from public folders.
  • Simplified architecture: Exchange 2016’s architecture reflects the way Exchange is developed in Office 365 and is an evolution and refinement of Exchange 2013. A combined mailbox and client access server role makes it easier to plan and scale your on-premises and hybrid deployments. Coexistence with Exchange 2013 is simplified, and namespace planning is easier.
  • High availability: Automated repair improvements such as database divergence detection make Exchange easier than ever to run in a highly available way. Stability and performance enhancements from Office 365, many of which were so useful that they were shipped in Exchange 2013 Cumulative Updates, are also baked into the product.

Sep 23 2015

Office 2016 available for download

The full Office for Windows 2016 suite includes new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Project, Visio and Access.

There are not a lot of major new features in this release. Microsoft’s main focus with the new version of Office for Windows has been on adding team-collaboration functionality. Among some of the new features in the suite are coauthoring for Word, PowerPoint and OneNote; real-time typing in Word; new integrated Power BI publishing functionality in Excel; and updated search and navigational capabilities in Outlook.

Users who subscribe via Office 365 consumer and/or business plans which include rights to the Office apps also get additional, supplemental services and features, including Microsoft’s Sway digital-storytelling app/service; new Office 365 Groups functionality; and more.

As is the case with Windows 10, Microsoft is planning to fill out some of the partially baked Office 2016 features in the suite with regular updates in the coming months. Microsoft is still working on improving and syncing its OneDrive online-storage service. The promised new sync clients for Windows and Mac are due later this year. Built-in coauthoring for the other Office 2016 apps beyond Word is also still in the works. And Enterprise Data Protection, a security feature that Microsoft has promised for Windows 10, also will be coming for Office 2016 for Windows in early 2016, and the Office Mobile apps later this year, company officials said.

Starting with the Office 2016 for Windows release, Microsoft is moving to a new servicing model for Office 365 which is similar to the one it has put in place for Windows 10, with different servicing “branches” providing users with new Office features and fixes on a regular basis.

While on the subject of dates, here’s what Microsoft officials are saying in terms of availability for Office 2016 for Windows (and other related Office apps and services).

The Office 2016 apps are available in 40 languages starting today. Office 365 subscribers can choose to download manually the new Office 2016 apps as part of their subscription starting today. Automatic updates of the Office 2016 apps will begin rolling out to consumer and small business subscribers in October 2015, and to commercial customers early next year. Office 2016 is also available today as a one-time purchase for both PCs and Macs.

You can download the Office 2016 ISO Image on MSDN right now!

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