Windows 10’s second big update, dubbed the “Anniversary Update”, is finally here. This is a huge update that touches every corner of the operating system. It includes many, many more changes than the November update did.
The Anniversary Update will report itself as version 1607, despite the fact that it technically launched in August instead of July. If you don’t have it yet, try checking for updates in Windows 10’s Settings > Update & Security. You can also start the update manually from Microsoft’s support page here.
This post was originally written on March 30, 2016, but has since been updated with features from the Insider Previews and final release.
Arguably the biggest update is Cortana. Microsoft continues to expand on what Cortana can do, clearly trying to make it the most powerful assistant in an increasingly growing pool of competition (Siri, Google Now, Alexa, and the whole gang). This time around, Cortana comes to the Windows 10 lock screen, so you can invoke her at any time. And, she can push stuff to and from your mobile device, including notifications and text messages. (And remember, since Cortana is available on Android too, that doesn’t mean you need a Windows Phone to take advantage.)
More interestingly, though, Cortana can parse even more information about stuff it thinks you might need. For example, the on-stage demo showed us that Cortana can respond to things like “Send Chuck the PowerPoint I worked on last night”, or “What toy store did I visit at Build last year?” That’s pretty crazy. Of course, if you’re more privacy-conscious, that’s crazy in all the wrong ways–but it’s a pretty tempting set of features.
Cortana can also make proactive suggestions for you. If you receive email confirmation of flight details, it’ll add them to your calendar. If you promised Chuck you’d send him that PowerPoint in an email, Cortana will know, and remind you to fulfill that commitment later on.
Furthermore, if you add an appointment to your calendar, it’ll know if that appointment overlaps with another, and ask you if you want to re-schedule one of the overlapping events. Or, if you have a meeting during lunch it’ll ask if you want to book a table, or make a to-go order, based on the apps you have available. In short, Cortana is getting more proactive, so you don’t have to be on top of your own stuff–and isn’t that what having an assistant is all about?
Cortana on Windows 10 will now integrate with the Cortana application on your Android or Windows smartphone. You’ll just need to install the Cortana Android app and sign in with the same Microsoft account on both devices. iPhone users are out of luck, as iOS is too locked down for Microsoft to integrate with it as deeply. This just works between Windows 10 PCs and Windows Mobile 10 phones running the latest software. It now works between Android phones and Windows 10 PCs, too–just be sure you have the latest Cortana app installed from Google Play.
Cortana can mirror all your Android phone’s notifications to your PC, giving you all your notifications in Windows 10’s Action Center. You’ll also see a notification on your PC when your smartphone has low battery power, so you’ll know when to charge it. Cortana will offer a “find my phone” feature that can remotely geolocate your phone on a map or ring it if you lose it in nearby. Ask Cortana for “directions to [place]” on your PC, and you’ll see those same directions on your phone. These are just the current features, too, so you can expect Microsoft to add more.
The Windows Store is caught in a tough place right now. We want it to get more desktop apps and games, but we don’t want them limited by the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Microsoft is trying to fix that disconnect in the Anniversary Update.
Regular desktop apps are finally coming to the Windows Store–at least, as long as developers “convert” them to the UWP. This allows for the easy discovery and installation of the Windows Store, but supposedly comes without all the limitations UWP apps traditionally have. We still aren’t quite sure what this means, and which apps might be candidates for a clean conversion without limitations, but it’s an intriguing proposition.
Microsoft has released a tool that allows anyone to convert any desktop application on their computer to a sandboxed UWP application. Developers can use this to convert their own apps for uploading to the Windows Store, so Windows desktop applications will appear in the Store. You could use it to convert an old desktop application to a UWP application and sideload the application, installing it from outside the Store, if you wanted to.
Games are a big part of this. We’ve already seen that games bought from the Windows Store are missing certain features. Microsoft has already added support for disabling Vsync and enabling G-Sync and Freesync. They promise better support for multiple GPUs as well as modding, overlays, and more in the future. Microsoft also says they’ll soon support bundles and season passes in the Windows Store. But only time will tell if games get feature parity with their regular desktop counterparts.
When Windows 10 was released, it included a hidden dark theme you could enable by changing a registry setting or by pressing a secret keyboard shortcut in the Store app. You could also change your theme in the Edge browser–but just for Edge. This theme was incomplete. With the Anniversary Update, you can now choose between light and dark modes in Settings > Personalization > Colors. Its designed for Windows Store apps, but not every app will listen to this setting and obey it–some apps, especially those from third-party developers, control their own theme settings. This also means File Explorer will remain as blindingly white as ever.
There’s also now a separate “Show color on title bar” option here, allowing you to only apply your color of choice to the window titlebars and continue using a black Start menu, taskbar, and action center.
Microsoft Edge was originally supposed to launch with browser extensions when Windows 10 was released, but it didn’t happen. This is a big reason MIcrosoft Edge felt so half-baked and lost so many users. With the Anniversary Update, Edge will finally support browser extensions.
Edge uses Chrome-style extensions, and Microsoft will provide a tool that helps developers quickly convert Chrome extensions to Edge extensions. (Firefox is also moving to Chrome-style extensions, too.) These Edge extensions are already available in the Windows Store, which is where you’ll install them.
At launch, the Windows Store offers the Adblock, Adblock Plus, Amazon Assistant, Evernote Web Clipper, LastPass, Mouse Gestures, Office Online, OneNote Web Clipper, Page Analyzer, Pin It Button (for Pinterest), Reddit Enhancement Suite, Save to Pocket, and Translate for Microsoft Edge extensions.
Setting the Flash plug-in to click-to-play can help you avoid Flash’s security holes and battery-draining behavior. Edge currently doesn’t offer much control over Flash, with only a single browser-wide “Use Adobe Flash Player” option in its settings.
Microsoft has announced that, with the Anniversary Update, Edge will automatically pause Flash content that isn’t integral to the page and you’ll have to click it to play. Games and videos on web pages should work normally, but Flash advertisements won’t automatically play. Google Chrome already made this change, so Edge is following in Chrome’s footsteps here, too.
Edge allows you to pin tabs, like other modern browsers do. Just right-click or long-press a tab and select “Pin.” The tab will turn into a small icon at the left side of your tab bar, and it’ll always appear when you open Edge. This is ideal for websites you always want open, like email and social-networking sites.
Microsoft is also adding support for web notifications. When you visit a website, it can ask you to allow notifications. That website can then deliver notifications to you and they’ll appear in your Action Center–all without you installing an app. This feature is already enabled, and works in Skype for Web. Click the notification and you’ll be taken directly to the website that displayed it.
If you have a touch screen, you’ll be happy to hear that a useful feature from Windows 8’s “Metro” version of Internet Explorer has now returned to Edge. Edge now allows you to swipe to navigate. Swipe anywhere left or right on a page to go back or forward. It’s more convenient than tapping those small “Back” and “Forward” buttons with your finger.
Fingerprint sensors have been a huge convenience on phones and tablets, and Windows currently supports it for logging into your laptop too via Windows Hello–provided it has the necessary hardware. But in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Windows Hello will support Windows apps and Microsoft Edge, so you can securely log into apps and web sites using your fingerprint as well–not just Windows itself.
This actually uses the Fido U2F standard, which various other sites and browsers are implementing in different ways. For example, you can use a physical USB key to log into your Google account in Chrome.
Developer documentation reveals the new “Companion Device Framework” for unlocking your PC. Windows Hello–which currently supports unlocking your computer with your face or fingerprint–will allow you to unlock your PC with “companion devices.” For example, this could include a Microsoft Band fitness band or any type of smartphone.
Microsoft suggests a number of examples. You could insert a USB security token into your PC’s USB port and press a button or tap a device on an NFC reader. Your phone could be already paired with your PC over Bluetooth and your PC could send a notification to your nearby phone, which you could use to unlock your PC. A fitness band that can authenticate its wearer could unlock your PC when you clap nearby.
Touch screen laptops are more useful than they seem, and Microsoft is pushing that forward even more with Windows Ink: the ability to draw and annotate with a pen in all kinds of useful ways. For example, you can jot down notes in the Sticky Notes app, which on its own is mildly convenient. But Windows 10 is smart enough to recognize words like “tomorrow”, turn them into links that Cortana can use to set reminders or perform other tasks. This works with other words too, including places that Bing can point to on a map.
Windows Ink is built into plenty of other apps, too, like Maps (which lets you measure distances between two points by drawing a line) and Microsoft Office (which lets you highlight text with your pen or delete words by striking them out). And, of course, it’s built for artists as well, which can use a pen for digital drawing in plenty of different apps. There’s a virtual ruler complete with a compass to help you draw straight lines at the correct angles.
A new “Ink Workspace” also arrives in Windows 10. Press a button on your pen–if your pen has a button–and you’ll see a list of apps that support ink input so you can quickly start writing or drawing without fumbling through desktop windows. You can also click or tap the pen button that will automatically appear in your taskbar’s notification area. If you don’t have pen paired with your device, you can right-click the taskbar and select “Show Windows Ink Workspace” to enable it manually. More Windows 10 apps will gain inking support, too.
The Pen settings page at Settings > Devices > Pen now allows you to choose what happens when you press the button on the pen–for example, you could open the OneNote app directly. You can also choose to ignore touch input on the screen while using the pen, ensuring you don’t accidentally tap anything while drawing.
Microsoft has removed the controversial Wi-Fi Sense feature that allowed you to share Wi-Fi network and their passwords with your Facebook, Outlook.com, and Skype contacts. Microsoft never did a good job of explaining this feature–perhaps it would have been more popular and less controversial if Microsoft had. Either way, Microsoft says very few people actually used this feature, so it wasn’t worth the effort to keep it around.
Wi-Fi Sense isn’t completely gone, but it now connects you only to public hotspots. It won’t connect you to a private Wi-Fi network and no longer offers a way to share your Wi-Fi credentials with others. You can find what remains of Wi-Fi Sense under Settings > Network and Internet > Wi-Fi.
In the current version of Windows 10, the Windows Defender anti-malware application automatically disables itself if you install another anti-malware program.
In the Anniversary Update, however, Windows Defender receives a new “Limited Periodic Scanning” feature. It can automatically turn itself on and scan your system occasionally, even if you have another antivirus program installed. Windows Defender gives you a second layer or protection, or a “second opinion” on whether your computer is infected.
Just head to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Defender and turn on the “Limited Periodic Scanning” feature to enable this. This option will only appear if you have another antivirus program installed, and it isn’t on by default. If you’re only using Windows Defender as your antivirus, it’s already scanning your computer–both with scheduled and real-time scans.
Windows 10’s Anniversary Update makes more room for advertisements in the Start menu on new installations. The amount of Microsoft app tiles pinned to the Start menu by default will be reduced from 17 to 12. The amount of “suggested apps” that appear here will increase from 5 to 10.
Uninstall the app–or unpin the tile if it’s not downloaded yet–and that advertisement will be gone forever. But, as easy as these advertisements are to remove, new PCs will have a more cluttered Start menu with more ads. Neowin noticed this information in a presentation directed at device manufacturers.
Cortana also includes new reminder features, including “photo reminders.” For example, you could take a photo of a product you want to buy the next time you go shopping, and tell Cortana to remind you with the photo the next time you’re at the grocery store.
If you have the Groove Music Pass–that’s Microsoft’s version of an unlimited music streaming service like Spotify, Apple Music, or Google Play Music All Access–Cortana can now play music you request. Just say “Hey Cortana, play [song name]”, “Hey Cortana, play [artist name]”, “Hey Cortana, play [Groove Music playlist]”, and “Hey Cortana, pause” to control this. This only works if you’re using the US English region at the moment.
Cortana can also now set and control timers, which is convenient. Say things like “Hey Cortana, set a timer”, “Hey Cortana, set a timer for 10 minutes”, “Hey Cortana, how much time is left?” and “Hey Cortana, cancel my timer” to work with timers.
Despite all these powerful features that require Microsoft accounts and personalization, Cortana is becoming more friendly to people who haven’t set it up yet. You’ll be able to ask Cortana simple questions and get answers without actually setting up and personalizing Cortana first.
The downside is that there’s no easily accessible option for disabling Cortana anymore. You can make Cortana not remember your personal information if you’re concerned about privacy, but you can’t fully disable it without a hidden registry hack or group policy setting.
With Windows 8 and 8.1, Microsoft offered both “Skype for Windows” and “Skype for Windows desktop” applications. The “Modern” Skype for Windows application ran in the full-screen interface and was pretty flaky. Microsoft abruptly discontinued the Modern version of Skype a month before Windows 10 was released, announcing it was refocusing development attention on the desktop version of Skype Windows users actually used.
Windows 10 launched with a Get Skype application that encouraged you to download the desktop application. Windows 10’s first big update, the November update, added a few beta applications–Messaging, Phone, and Video–apps that worked with Skype. These are separate applications for text messages, audio calls, and video calls.
Microsoft has now changed its mind again and will discontinue those three separate Skype applications on the desktop. Instead, Microsoft will create a new universal Windows app version of Skype that will eventually replace the traditional desktop application when it has enough features. The Skype Preview application is now available.
A new feature in the Skype application will enable “messaging everywhere“. Use Skype on an Android phone or Windows Mobile phone and you’ll be able to send and receive SMS messages from your Windows 10 PC. They’ll just be routed through your phone via the Skype application. This feature was supposed to be implemented in the “Messaging” application in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, but Microsoft changed its mind and removed the feature late in the development process so it could be added to Skype.
In between all the developer talk, Microsoft announced something pretty huge: A true Bash shell in Windows 10. This is not a port like Cygwin, or a virtualization. It’s a full Ubuntu command line running natively right in Windows, built in partnership with Canonical. It comes with apt-get to download command line binaries, and all the built-in tools you’d expect from a Linux shell, like
ls to browse your filesystem. This is mostly a tool for developers, but cross-platform power users may find this particularly useful as well.
This is actually the full Ubuntu userspace running on Windows. Think of it like the reverse of Wine–Windows is gaining the ability to run Linux binaries natively on Windows. This is big news for developers, but it won’t support server software or graphical applications. It’s just a Bash shell, complete with support for the exact same binaries you’d run in a Bash shell on Ubuntu Linux, on Windows. You should eventually be able to launch more shells from the Bash shell, too–the release notes now say the popular Zsh shell is now functional. Check out our guide for info on how to set it up.
Microsoft is experimenting with a new tool that allows you to get a clean Windows 10 system. The “Reset your PC” option just resets your PC to its manufacturer default settings, and many PC manufacturers include a lot of junk on their PCs. You can always reinstall Windows 10 yourself, but you have to download installation media. Most PC users wouldn’t want to bother with that.
To make getting a clean Windows 10 system easier for everyone, there’s a new “Learn how to start fresh with a clean installation of Windows” option at Settings > Update & Security > Recovery. This currently links a Microsoft Answers forum thread where you can download a tool that walks you through the Windows 10 reinstallation process.
Microsoft has changed the way Windows 10’s Start menu works. The “All Apps” option is now gone–you’ll just see a full list of installed applications at the left side of your Start menu. Your most frequently used and recently added applications will appear at the top of this list. It’ll show the three most recently added applications instead of a single one, and you can expand this list to see more applications sorted by when you installed them.
Important buttons like the File Explorer, Settings, and Shut Down buttons are now always located at the left side of the Start menu.
OneDrive users will be happy to know that they can now search all their files–both files on the PC and files stored online in OneDrive–from the Start menu.
You can now pin windows in the Task View interface, making them always appear on every virtual desktop instead of a single virtual desktop. Right-click a window in the Task View interface and select “Show this window on all desktops” to pin it. For example, you may want to pin a messaging or music application to all desktops for easy access.
There’s now a new touchpad gesture for switching between multiple desktops, too. Just place four fingers on your touchpad and swipe left or swipe right. This requires a certified “precision touchpad,” so it won’t work with all touchpads. And yes, this is the same touchpad gesture Apple uses on Macs.
Tablet Mode sees some helpful improvements that will make Windows 10’s Tablet Mode function more like Windows 8’s full-screen “Metro” interface.
When your system is in Tablet Mode, the All Apps list will now appear in full-screen mode–just like on Windows 8. You can toggle between the tiles view and list of apps with options at the left side of the screen.
You can also choose to automatically hide the taskbar while in tablet mode. These options are available under System > Tablet Mode in the Settings app. With auto-hide enabled, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to show or hide the taskbar. The entire screen will be reserved for the app you’re currently using.
The Windows taskbar sees some important improvements, too. The taskbar clock is now integrated with your calendar, so you can click or tap the time and see a list of the calendar events you have scheduled for today. Tap an event–or tap the “+” button to add an event–and the Calendar app will open.
The sound panel is also more useful. You can click or tap the speaker icon and switch between multiple output devices–like speakers and headphones–if you have more than one connected.
Taskbar settings are now integrated into the new Settings app, and you can access them at Settings > Personalization > Taskbar. You can also just right-click the taskbar and select “Settings” to open this new screen.
Microsoft heard user complaints, and your email address will no longer appear on your lock screen if you sign in with a Microsoft account. This helps preserve your privacy. You can re-enable this from Settings > Accounts > Sign-in options > Privacy, if you like, displaying your email address directly on your lock screen.
The lock screen now features built-in media controls, which appear at the bottom-right corner of the screen along with album art for any playing music. You can control music playback without unlocking your PC.
Cortana can now be used on your lock screen, too. Head to Cortana’s Settings, find the “Lock screen options” section, and activate the “Let me use Cortana even when my device is locked” option. With “Hey Cortana” enabled, you can talk to your computer even while it’s locked. For sensitive tasks, you’ll be asked to unlock your PC first.
The Battery Saver screen under Settings > System was renamed Battery.
Its detailed screen now offers easy per-application settings for controlling whether an application can run in the background. Aside from “Always allow in background” and “Never allow in background,” there’s a new “Managed by Windows” option. Windows will try to be smarter, temporarily turning off applications if they’re using a lot of resources in the background and you don’t appear to be using the applications.
Under Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update, you can now set your “active hours,” which are the hours when you’re most actively using your computer. Windows Update will avoid restarting to automatically install updates during those hours.
There’s also a new “Use my sign in info to automatically finish setting up my device after an update” option under the advanced Windows Update settings. Normally, whenever you install a major update, you have to sign in before Windows 10 finishes the setup process. Enable this option and you won’t have to enter the password during the setup process.
It’s easier to get to the Action Center. The Action Center button is now located at the far right corner of the taskbar, making it easier to find. It’s no longer mixed in with the other system tray icons. Notifications are now grouped by app in the Action Center. They’ll take up less screen space, and you can see more notifications at once.
You can now quickly dismiss notifications in the Action Center by middle-clicking them. Middle-click an application’s name in the Action Center and Windows will dismiss all notifications associated with that application.
These notifications are now more customizable, too. Under Settings > System > Notifications & Actions, you can now choose whether an application’s notifications are considered “Normal,” “High,” or “Priority” in the Action Center. You can also choose how many notifications can appear at once for each application. Each application can display three notifications at a time by default.
Moreover, the Quick Actions at the bottom of the Action Center are finally customizable. Head to Settings > System > Notifications & actions and you’ll be able to customize exactly which quick action buttons appear here. The Wi-Fi quick action will now take you to a list of available networks rather than toggling your Wi-Fi on or off, something Microsoft says confused a lot of people.
Windows 10 now allows universal apps to be associated with websites. For example, if you navigate to a TripAdvisor web page in Microsoft Edge, Windows 10 could instead open the TripAdvisor app displaying that page.
This feature isn’t completely functional yet, as universal apps have to be updated for it. However, you’ll find a settings page for controlling which apps are associated with websites at Settings > System > Apps for Websites.
Microsoft is also making a big push for a unified app store across platforms. That means developers can easily make their Windows Store apps work on the Xbox. The Xbox is also getting Cortana, which comes with some new gaming-related features, like game recommendations and tips. The Xbox will support background music, multiple GPUs, and the ability to turn off Vsync as well.
Microsoft is updating the entire set of emojis included in Windows 10. As Microsoft puts it: “We are updating the entire set of font-based emoji in Windows 10 that aligns with the Microsoft Design Language with a distinct visual style as well as the Unicode standard. These new emoji are designed to be detailed, expressive, and playful. Their larger size takes full advantage of every pixel and the two-pixel outline allows for emoji to appear on any color background without loss of fidelity.” You can also choose different skin tones across the emojis that represent people.
This application also enables a “Project to PC” feature. PCs with Miracast can also use the Connect application to mirror their displays on other PCs.
Continuum, which allows you to power a Windows desktop experience from a Windows Phone (but only with universal apps), is the big, unique feature Windows 10 Mobile offers. We’re not surprised to see Microsoft focusing on it.
Windows 10’s Anniversary Update includes many more changes than these, with small enhancements and bug fixes everywhere. Here are some of the most interesting smaller changes:
That’s a lot of changes, but even this list isn’t complete. Microsoft has changed many other smaller things, updating icons and fixing bugs. Most of the apps included with Windows 10 have also been updated on an ongoing basis through the Windows Store, and they now include many new features and tweaks they didn’t have when Windows 10 was released a year ago.
Image Credit: SparkFun Electronics on Flickr