Released on 29 July 2015, Windows 10 has now seen three major updates with a fourth imminent:
- Anniversary Update, August 2016
- Creators Update, April 2017
- Fall Creators Update, October 2017
- Spring Creators Update, April 2018
- Redstone 5, October 2018
Although everyone is calling it the Spring Creators Update, the official name is the unimaginative 'April 2018 Update'. It will start rolling out on 30 April, and you should see a notification pop up when it's ready to download. Unlike previous updates, this one should not download automatically, so it won't hog your internet connection and eat through your bandwidth or use up space on your hard disk without your consent.
There are a few headline features in the update including Timeline, which allows Windows 10 devices to resume apps and activities - exactly where you left off - even if you pick up a different device. There's also Focus Assist and updates to the Edge browser, plus more updates to the Dictation service.
Redstone 5, the next update which will be released around October time, is tipped to include new features such as Cloud Clipboard, Windows Sets (which works like tabbed browsing but can also group apps, and which you can see demonstrated in the video above), and a redesigned Control Centre and Windows Search. We might well hear more about these at Microsoft Build 2018, which you can watch live online.
We'll come back to some of these features in more detail below.
Timeline is the major new feature in the Spring Creators Update. It's part of the existing Task View feature. When you click on the Task View button you'll see not only the current apps and windows you have open, but you can scroll down to see the stuff you were working on previously that day, or up to 30 days ago.
This will also work across your Windows 10 devices because the information is stored in Microsoft Graph. This is what Microsoft calls an "intelligent fabric that helps connect dots between people, conversations, projects, and content within the Microsoft Cloud".
In practice, it means you can do whatever you need to do no matter which device you happen to have picked up. Here's how to use Timeline.
Focus Assist is fantastic when you want to get things done without being distracted by a notification from Facebook or Twitter. You can turn it on manually or set it to turn on automatically at certain times. When it turns off, or when you turn it off, you'll get a summary of what happened while you were working. Focus Assist also lets you choose specific people whose communications will still get through while it's turned on.
The April 2018 update also brings changes to the Settings app, a new Cortana Notebook and Lists app and Nearby Share. The latter lets you send links, documents, photos and more to nearby devices via Bluetooth. There's also a new reading mode in the Edge browser.
How to get Windows 10 Updates
Assuming your PC is already running Windows 10, you should receive all updates, even the major ones, automatically when they are released. Whenever a big update is available, you should see a pop-up notification in the bottom right corner of your screen saying a Windows Feature Update is ready, along with options to install it now, schedule a time to install it later or remind you in a few days.
However, you can check for updates manually by going to Start, Settings (the cog icon), Update & security, Check for Updates. The Creators Update will be available in the same place.
You can start installing the update manually. To do this download and run Microsoft's Update Assistant. This will walk you through the process, including checking if your system is compatible.
Alternatively, you can use the download tool from Microsoft. Choose Create installation media for another PC, then select the language, edition and whether you want 32- or 64-bit. You can then use the tool to copy the files to a bootable USB drive or a bootable DVD. Once this is complete you can boot from the drive or disc and follow the on-screen instructions to install the Windows 10 update.
Be the first to test new Windows 10 features
New features are being tested all the time by 'Windows Insiders' who have opted in to receive beta versions of Windows 10 before they're released to the general public. You too can sign up to the Windows Insider Program. Just bear in mind these versions could contain bugs.
But you'll also get to try out new features and let Microsoft know if you like them or not. One feature Microsoft is experimenting with is Sets, which you can see demonstrated in the video above. It's one of the most radical shake-ups to multitasking for over two decades. Put simply, Sets means apps have tabs so you can group things together and - in theory - manage them more easily.
Windows Mixed Reality headsets
The Fall Creators Update made Windows 10 ready for the new generation of so-called Mixed Reality headsets. These cost around £399, the same price as the Oculus Rift.
They're made by Dell (the visor is shown above), Asus, Acer and other well-known PC brands. You'll can play VR games on them, but thanks to cameras, you'll also see elements of the real world depending on the game or app you're running.
Controllers that let you interact with the virtual world will cost around £100, or you'll find bundles with both headset and controllers for £450 (ish). The Dell Visor with controllers is currently £314.99 direct from Dell.
Read more about Mixed Reality.
More Windows 10 news
These are the new features you can expect to see in future Windows 10 updates.
In the April 2018 update, Microsoft has concentrated on improving Windows 10's accessibility features. It also makes them a lot easier to find and groups them according to their function: hearing, vision, interaction.
Here's an example of what it looks like with sections for 'make everything bigger' and 'make everything brighter':
Cortana, meet Alexa
Soon the virtual assistant built into Windows 10 will be able to communicate with Alexa, Amazon's assistant built into Echo and Fire devices.
The two companies are working together so that you'll be able to use the capabilities of both assistants regardless of whether you're using a Windows or Amazon device. For example, you'll be able to access Cortana to check and schedule meetings through an Amazon Echo, or turn on your smart lights when sitting at a Windows 10 PC, via Alexa.
No more forced updates
After a court battle in Germany Microsoft has promised it will stop the practice of downloading many gigabytes of Windows upgrade files without the user's consent.
This was one of the controversial practices it employed in the run up to the original launch of Windows 10. Even if you didn't want to upgrade, up to 6GB of installation files were downloaded to some PCs and laptops without the owners' knowledge. For some this used up their monthly data allocation, for others it filled up their hard drive leaving no free space.
This will do a similar thing to Memories on an iPhone, in that it will automatically create edited videos from your photos and videos. But on top of this, you'll be able to use Windows Ink (if you have a touchscreen device) to draw or write on the video, and even anchor your scribbles to a person or object so it automatically moves with it.
There's mixed reality too, so you could - as in Microsoft's example above - turn a football into a fireball using the same anchor and tracking mechanism.
Pick Up Where I Left Off (PUWILO)
Continuing on the same theme, this feature will use Cortana (and the cloud) to let you carry on doing something on another device. This will even extend to Android and iPhones / iPads - assuming app developers build in the functionality.
OneDrive Files On-Demand
Not quite a return of Placeholders, but this change means you can see which files are in your OneDrive without actually having them stored locally on each Windows 10 device.
Currently, you have to choose which OneDrive folders and files are synced, and it means that those you don't sync aren't shown when you browse your OneDrive folder on that PC or laptop.
WindowsCentral spied a screenshot on the official Windows blog before it was removed, and it shows what looks like a revamped Action Centre.
It has shortcut toggles to common features as the Action Centre does right now, but also includes things like a brightness control.
Rumour has it that the Action Centre will remain, but be dedicated to notifications: the 'Control Centre' will be new and separate.
We all use the clipboard for copying and pasting, but with this new feature you can copy and paste things between connected devices, whether you’re on a Windows PC or your phone. Basically, it's a cloud-based clipboard.
Sadly, it didn't make it into the Fall Creators Update and will likely be added in an update in 2018.
Part of the update will be some graphical changes, and these are called Fluent Design (previously codename: Project Neon).
The changes won't be major, but will introduce blurring (called "Acrylic") and animations that make things simpler and more consistent. Ultimately, it's a lot like the Aero interface introduced in Windows Vista, and the blurring and animations you see in iOS, such as when you scroll up and emails or text run behind a title bar, and when the title bar shinks and even disappears when you scroll down a web page.
The updates will change the look and feel of some of Windows 10's native apps, such as Groove, shown below, but will also be opened up to developers. The whole idea is to make a modern interface which will work across all Windows devices, including HoloLens as well as phones and tablets. However, unlike the mistake that Microsoft made with Windows 8, such changes shouldn't detract from the user experience on PCs and laptops.
In a blog post, Microsoft outlines how Defender will AI to try to defeat malware before it has a chance to get its claws into systems.
At first, the new version will be just for enterprise customers, but it's rumoured that eventually the tech will filter down to consumer versions of Windows 10. It's no real surprise: most of the big antivirus companies are now using AI to detect malware as early as possible and therefore provide better protection. See our roundup of the best antivirus to make sure your computers are protected.
CMD.exe gets new colours
Whoop! For the first time in a couple of decades, CMD.exe - possibly better known as the Command Prompt - is getting some new colours. Microsoft says the new scheme makes it much easier to see certain colours on modern LCD monitors, which can't render the old colours very well.
Here's how old and new look. Assuming you're not viewing this on an old CRT, you should be able to see the obvious improvements in clarity:
What features were new in the April 2017 Creators Update?
Here's a selection of the main features in the update which came out in April 2017.
Note: if you have a 2-in-1 laptop / tablet with an Intel Atom processor it may not be compatible with the Creators Update. Read more here.
Hoping to get a bigger share of the global web browser market, there are updates to Edge including support for 4K Netflix, ebooks and new tricks for Cortana.
Microsoft has given developers of add-ons access to more features and functions in the browser and - with a bit of luck - we'll start to see the library grow. Currently the list of Extensions is relatively short.
Another update to Edge is the ability to save and restore groups of tabs. The idea behind this is to reduce clutter and improve performance for people who tend to have a lot of tabs open. Instead of keeping lots of pages open, you can save a group of them, 'set them aside' and then return to them later on without having to search through your history or try to remember what you were looking at. It's not a killer feature for everyone, but for some it will be a compelling reason to use Edge over another browser.
3D content was a focus for Microsoft, but much of that is missing in the Creators Update. What you get is a new version of MS Paint.
You can now create 3D shapes in Paint and share them directly with your social followers, or SketchUp network - better still, print them directly on your 3D printers, nifty. Here's a brief look at how it works:
Blue light reduction
Android, iOS and Amazon's mobile operating systems all have a feature which reduces blue light at night, so it's not too surprising that Microsoft has added this feature to Windows.
Now you can pair a Bluetooth phone with Windows 10 so that your laptop or PC automatically locks when you walk away. Here's how to set up dynamic lock.
Windows now has the ability to sell you and let you read ebooks (in the Edge browser).
App throttling control gives priority to the apps in focus, and deprioritises background apps so they don't use up too many of your computer's resources.
The Settings app has a new Gaming section, which will consolidate all the game-related Windows settings into one easy place. Most of those will be familiar, but there will also be two major new features:
Game Mode prioritises the game that's running and devote as much processing time, RAM and other resources as it can to making it run as fast as possible. For example, if you're running a multi-core CPU, it might delegate background tasks to two specific CPU cores, leaving the others to focus entirely on running the game.
The aim is to boost overall game performance, especially frame rates, which should be both higher and more consistent. While it will most obviously be of benefit to gamers with older or lower-spec computers, power users could see a benefit too, especially if they're running apps like Discord or broadcasting their session while they play.
While there are third-party applications that offer similar functionality, Game Mode will take running order priority, optimising performance before those apps get a chance to.
Game Mode will default to enabled at the OS level, though can be switched off at any time. Despite that, it still needs to be manually activated for each game using the Game Bar, which you can pull up by pressing Windows-G. - though Microsoft says it's working with publishers and developers to allow some games to ship with Game Mode on by default.
Another big update for gamers is the new built-in streaming previously known as Beam, now rebranded Mixer. Mixer is Microsoft's alternative to Twitch, and the option is added to the existing Game Bar.
Microsoft promises sub-second latency for Mixer, which not only means less lag, but also opens up the potential for one major feature: interactivity.
That means that streamers can add buttons to their streams to allow viewers to interact, even making it possible for them to do things like change lighting effects or even spawn enemies in compatible games - Minecraft is one early example.
Mixer has some fairly simple configuration options (see below), and anyone can sign up for a free account by visiting Mixer.com. This can be linked to an Xbox Live account, but you don't need an Xbox to use Mixer - it's available both on console and PC.
Mixer has also received some new features, including co-streaming which allows up to four Mixer users to team up and broadcast together. There is also a new mobile app, currently in beta, called Mixer Create. Available for iOS and Android, soon we will be able to stream mobile games too.
Also new is the ability to pause updates not just until you're not using your PC or laptop, but for up to 35 days (but still not in the Home version).
A brand new Security Centre basically brings a lot of Windows security features together and makes them accessible from one easy-to-use dashboard. Much like an internet security suite, it presents several icons for different types of security and then marks them with a green tick if that area is ok.
If not, you'll see a warning that action is required. It's said to play nice with third-party antivirus, so Microsoft isn't forcing you to use Windows Defender (check out our best free antivirus to see how Windows Defender scores).
The last features to be added to the Creators Update are Picture-in-Picture and 'Dynamic Locking'. The former is actually called Compact Overlay window, and will be familiar to anyone who has used the floating video window on an iPad or macOS Sierra.
In fact, more and more apps are getting this function: YouTube lets you watch a tiny video while browsing for others on your phone and you can now do the same in the Facebook app.
Here's how it looks, and any app developer can add the functionality to their Universal Windows Apps:
This automatically locks your Windows 10 machine if your connected Bluetooth phone isn't detected in range. It means that if you walk away from your laptop, tablet or Bluetooth-equipped PC with your paired phone, it will lock it after 30 seconds and turn off the screen.
Interestingly, as reported by WinSuperSite, Microsoft is seemingly going to push critical updates to Windows 10 PCs even if they are set to a 'metered' internet connection. This is one trick that many users employ to prevent updates being automatically downloaded. It appears that this won't work - for critical updates at least - after you install the Creators Update.
What wasn't in the Fall Creators Update?
The big focus was on 3D content when Microsoft originally announced the update. But somewhere along the line, big features went missing. One is the 3D Capture app which was supposed to allow you to scan objects (with a suitable camera or phone) and turn them into virtual 3D objects in mere seconds. This wasn't in the Creators Update and nore was 3D PowerPoint or HoloTour.
It appears that only developers have access to some of these features, and end users will have to wait.
How much does Windows 10 cost in the UK?
Until 29 July 2016 Windows 10 was a free upgrade from Windows 7 and Windows 8, though you had to pay to upgrade from XP or Vista. Since that deadline has passed Windows 10 Home now costs £99.99 and Windows 10 Pro costs £189.99, both from Microsoft's online store.
Once you have Windows 10, the updates are free - this includes the Anniversary and Creators Updates. See also: How to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 10.
In August 2017, Microsoft announced a new version of Windows 10 Pro specifically designed for workstations. The firm calls it a 'high-end' edition with 'unique support for server grade PC hardware and is designed to meet demanding needs of mission critical and compute intensive workloads'.
Windows 10 Pro for Workstations will arrive with the Fall Creators Update.
Microsoft said the new OS has been made with feedback from Insiders in mind. It includes features such as a resilient file system, persistent memory, faster file sharing and expanded hardware support.