It seems as though Microsoft has been talking about its plans to release a major overhaul of Windows 10 in time for the operating system’s first birthday since its original release in July 2015.
People in the company’s Insiders Program have been getting periodic looks at planned features, and news stories about the update have been regularly published for months. But now PC owners are actually able to update their computers with the real thing.
Microsoft is providing the Anniversary Update as part of the normal Windows Update process, which means that many Windows 10 computers will get the new version over the course of the next few weeks.
However, it’s also available on demand for those who want to start using the Anniversary Update immediately. Consider doing this before Microsoft starts running automatic update for your organization’s computers, because the new version is likely to cause some support concerns.
First things first: The Windows 10 Anniversary Update shows dramatic performance improvements to the point that it may catch you by surprise. I updated the Windows 10 installation on an HP Z620 dual-processor workstation and changed what had been a slightly pokey machine into one that’s vastly faster. In fact, turning the scroll wheel on the mouse made pages fly by so fast that I had to force myself to go back and try again.
But it’s more than just the scroll wheel. Other operations are also much faster, whether they are actions performed in Microsoft Office 2016 or pages loading in Google Chrome.
But as nice as the speed increase may be, there are more important changes in the new version. For example, there are a series of new features for IT professionals working in enterprises, including Windows Information Protection, which protects your company’s information when it’s on employees’ personal mobile devices.
Also, provisioning is simplified to create and install standard Windows images. Windows Hello for Business is improved and with it a variety of identity verification methods, including fingerprints and photos. Hello for Business can be provisioned by a group policy or a mobile device management (MDM) policy. Meanwhile, MDM capabilities have been expanded.
Microsoft has improved the Windows Defender security application and added advanced threat protection, which includes behavioral sensors, cloud security analytics and threat intelligence. In addition, there’s now a rich timeline for forensic investigation and mitigation, which is intended to significantly improve recovery from a breach and for deep-threat data collection and analysis.
Perhaps the most important feature for developers in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update is the addition of the complete Bash shell, which allows you to run the Bash commands and scripts used in Ubuntu Linux.
Microsoft worked with Canonical, developers of Ubuntu, to develop the shell. And yes, when you type in “ls” you get the same type of directory display you’d see using Linux.
Windows 10 Anniversary Update Ends as a Tale of Two Computers
There are other important changes. Microsoft Edge now gets browser extensions, which will make the new browser dramatically more usable. In addition, Edge now will pause Flash displays on webpages where they’re not integral to the page itself, which means you can turn off those annoying Flash ads.
The Windows Action Center, which lived in the lower right corner of your screen but which wasn’t very useful, is now useful. Notices include more information, and the Action Center icon now includes a number telling you how many items are new, so you know when to take a look.
The calendar right next to the Action Center includes more information as well. One big change is that it includes appointments and other calendar items when you open it; in the past, all you saw was a calendar page. The information on your appointments comes from your Windows Calendar application and, in my case, it comes from the Outlook Calendar function as well. This is handy when you don’t want to open Outlook just for a quick look.
There are other improvements. Cortana is now a lot smarter. There are some new themes to change how Windows looks. You have more control over notifications, and you can tell Windows when not to perform updates.
But as I said at the beginning, this is a tale of two computers. Everything worked well on one of the two computers that I tried to update. But the updated failed on my second computer, a 3-year-old Lenovo ThinkPad. The Windows installer reported that the display wasn’t compatible with Windows 10. This was on a computer already running the original release of Windows 10. Despite long hours with Microsoft tech support, there’s no solution in sight.
But it’s not just me. Already I’ve begun hearing horror stories of failed upgrades. In a couple of cases computers wouldn’t run at all after it was installed. In other cases, after hours of work trying to install the upgrade, it simply removed itself. Considering the upgrade process takes at least two hours, it’s important to know the potential pitfalls for planning.
The potential for problems, even with computers that have been running Windows 10 smoothly, means that you must take precautions when you start your first test installs. Make sure you have a backup of your machine’s current storage disk image so that you can restore it if the install totally tanks. Also, test the update with updates to a limited number of machines. And make sure your critical applications will run and are completely functional. Don’t do a large-scale upgrade without testing.
But once you’ve done your testing and verification, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update is worth the trouble. The new features are nice and the improvements in security are much-needed. Just make sure you remember the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, and “Trust, but verify.”