It’s a year since Microsoft released Windows 10, its operating system released to overcome the disappointment of Windows 8. It got off to a good start, adopted quickly and now running on 350 million machines. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Microsoft gave it away free to all Windows 7 (or later) private users, in an offer that came to an end on Friday.
It also found the right balance between the app-focused interface ideal for tablets and the more traditional desktop PC, reinstating the Start menu that Windows 8 had abandoned.
The anniversary update is out from tomorrow, Tuesday 2 August and will be downloaded automatically to Windows 10 users over the next days and weeks. Like Windows 10 itself was, the update is free.
The Independent saw the new update last week and it has some cool additions. Like Windows Ink, which lets you make the most of the touch-sensitive screens on many Windows tablets and computers.
How much do you use a pen? Apparently, 75 per cent of us use one for an hour a day or more. We all still need to write things and research shows we’re more likely to remember something once we’ve physically written it down.
So scribbling on as screen could be a useful thing. There are lots of apps which support a pen interface and Windows Ink pulls them together, such as Sticky Notes. This is especially good with the update: write a flight number on screen as easily as you might have done on paper and the program recognises it, promptly turning the writing blue. Tap or click on it and it’ll display information on the flight, including whether it’s on time.
Start writing a list and it’ll recognise this, too, sorting each entry separately, so you can adjust the order afterwards, for instance. It’ll also recognise when your scrawl is a website address. Touch it and it’ll take you to the URL. These are all subtle but useful time-savers.
The Sketchpad app is designed for drawing, obviously, but you can now create perfect straight lines thanks to an onscreen ruler. Apple has already introduced something similar to its Notes app and in both versions it becomes a cool and very useful extra feature.
For all these apps you can configure how your Windows Stylus works, so a click of the pen top is all you need to launch Ink-friendly apps.
There’s also an improved version of Cortana in this updated version of Windows. Of course, Apple’s voice interface, Siri, is heading to the Mac this autumn, but Windows has had Cortana for a while now.
This time around you’re able to operate it without logging in to your computer, which is handy. It means you can tell your laptop to start playing music from your desk while you laze on the sofa across the room.
You can send text messages from your lock screen. You can even ask Cortana to try and respond only to you, though this is not yet quite guaranteed. Of course you can turn off Cortana’s lock-screen capabilities if you don’t want other people taxing your virtual personal assistant’s brain. There are over a thousand apps which support Cortana so this is an increasingly versatile tool, and the relevant apps are found corralled together in the Windows Store.
There are plenty more improved features in this update, including a redesigned Windows Store that builds the Xbox Store in, so gamers can find titles easily. And Tablet mode, which kicks in if you separate the screen from the keyboard on a hybrid computer, now lets you hide the taskbar automatically. There’s a Dark Mode which opts for a black background and white text, which some people prefer. More extensions are now available for the Edge browser, to give greater versatility to apps. Already compatible are 1Password and EverNote but more apps will join shortly. And with the anniversary update, you can finally enable automatic time zone switching – something Apple Mac users have had for years.
This is not the radical overhaul that last year’s Windows 10 release was. It’s not meant to be, and that’s a good thing. There have been so many revolutionary changes to Windows since Windows 7 that some continuity is needed. But there are lots of neat extras and some smoothing out of the way the interface works. It’s a welcome addition.