Windows 10’s November 2019 Update, also known as version 1909, is the best update to Windows 10 yet. It’s a small update that’s quick to install, doesn’t add any crazy new features, and isn’t breaking many things.
Windows 10 Gets Big Updates Every Six Months
Since Windows 10’s release, Microsoft has issued a major new update to the operating system every six months, starting with the first November Update in 2015.
These updates have often been packed with major new features that needed more time in the oven, like My People, Paint 3D, and the Timeline. They make major changes to Windows 10, leading to incompatibilities with software and drivers. Some updates remove or move useful settings.
They’ve required a large multi-gigabyte download and a long reboot to install the update. Microsoft would install these feature updates on its own schedule—up until recently, as Windows 10 now finally gives you the choice of when (and whether) to install them.
The November 2019 Update Is Small and Polished
Against this backdrop, the November 2019 Update is a breath of fresh air. It’s a small download that installs just as quickly as a typical monthly update package for Windows 10. It doesn’t change very much, either. The update makes a few visual tweaks and adds a few helpful features to the notifications, calendar, and File Explorer, but it’s mostly focused on under-the-hood improvements.
Typical once-every-six-months feature updates are like an entire operating system upgrade. They use the same mechanism that Microsoft used to upgrade from Windows 7 to 8 or from Windows 8.1 to 10, complete with a Windows.old folder that contains the files from your “previous Windows installation” before the update was installed.
Unlike typical feature updates, the November 2019 Update is more like a classic service pack.
Why Is the November 2019 Update So Different?
Rather than the usual process of cramming in as many features as possible, testing them for a few months with Windows Insiders, and then releasing the update to users, Microsoft slowed down for this update.
Microsoft took Windows 10’s May 2019 Update—the successor to Windows 10’s October 2018 Update, which was the buggiest update in Windows 10’s history—and improved on it, fixing issues, optimizing things under the hood, and making other small changes. Microsoft then tested this update and focused on fixing bugs.
Compared to other Windows feature updates, the November 2019 update saw a much longer period of “boring” work involving bugfixes and performance improvements. It’s basically the May 2019 Update with another six months of polish.
Microsoft’s John Cable called this a “less disruptive” update. It’s delivered via “servicing technology (like the monthly update process)” if you’re already running the May 2019 Update.
A Major Update Comes Next
Microsoft hasn’t given up on major updates to Windows 10, of course. Windows 10’s 20H1 update is scheduled for the first half of 2020 and is now called Windows 10 2004. Expect it around May or April 2020. This update features major changes and new features like a new Cortana experience, Cloud Download for reinstalling Windows, and a new Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL 2) featuring a built-in Linux kernel.
In fact, Microsoft made 20H1 development builds available before November 2019 Update development builds. Both updates were developed side-by-side. Major feature changes were made to 20H1 rather than 19H2, which was the codename for the November 2019 Update when it was under development.
Now, Microsoft already seems to be done with major changes to 20H1—way ahead of schedule. Microsoft says it isn’t done yet, but even this bigger update is getting a much longer period of polish without major features before its release. Maybe it’s all about stabilizing Windows 10X, but it’s good news for all Windows users.
Microsoft Says This is a “Pilot Program”…
This all sounds great to us, but it isn’t necessarily the new normal. Microsoft hasn’t committed to delivering a big update, followed by a small update each year.
As Ghacks spotted in a presentation on Mixer, Microsoft says Windows 10’s November 2019 Update is part of a “pilot program”:
Q: Will we see this cycle for every year? Major feature update in H1, more minor feature update in H2, one cumulative update for both?
A: Delivering the 19H2 feature update via cumulative update and an enablement package is a pilot program. There isn’t a formal plan in place to deliver future releases in the same way. We are closely monitoring feedback and hoping to learn from this type of release to help influence our future plans
…But Hopefully, It’s Permanent
We can only hope Microsoft sees the positive feedback around this update and decides to keep developing Windows 10 this way.
After all, Google’s Android, Apple’s macOS, and Apple’s iOS all get major new version updates once per year. Ubuntu releases new versions twice per year, but a new super-stable LTS version every two years.
There’s no reason that Microsoft needs to rush out major upgrades with new features every six months. Switching to a major update once per year, followed by a minor update six months later, would be welcome to many people. With Windows 10 now even letting you skip updates, anyone could choose to skip the major update and get it when it’s extra-stable six months later.
There’s No Point in Rushing Features
From what we’ve seen, most Windows users and businesses want well-tested stable updates and can wait a few extra months for any big shiny features Microsoft wants to add.
Even the November 2019 Update isn’t perfect. For example, some people are seeing problems with File Explorer’s search box. The update did add online results from locations like OneDrive to File Explorer’s search box, so that’s not a huge surprise. If anything, that’s an argument that the November 2019 Update should have changed even less, pushing a change like this off until the next major update.
Other big features, like My People, have been rushed out only to stagnate and be axed. With some extra development time, Microsoft could have made My People more attractive to developers—or just pulled My People rather than launching it.
Instead of adding half-baked features like My People, we wish Microsoft would start removing many of the pointless features in Windows 10.