Microsoft released their second update to the Windows 10 Technical Preview this past week with Build 9879. Microsoft released information on its Windows blog regarding the build, some known issues, and changes they made based on user feedback. In this article, I am going to give my thoughts on the new features as well as look at what was changed. I also will be looking at the issues I identified in my Windows 10 Technical Preview Update Thoughts article to see if those issues have been resolved in this new build. Before I start looking at the features though, I am going to look at the update process for this build.
During the update process, I used the same method I used when I updated to build 9860 with one exception. That method was described in the Windows 10 Technical Preview Update Thoughts article, linked above. That change was that I had to switch from the Slow ring to the Fast ring so that my computers saw that the new build was available. On my virtual machines (VM), the update installed without any issues on the VM on my laptop but when I tried to update the VM on my desktop PC, I had issues with the upgrade hanging at 5% complete initially. The next two times I was trying to upgrade the build to the new version, I saw error messages stating the install failed and to try again later after starting the install process. Finally on the attempt to update to build 9879 after getting the error messages, the update got past the error messages but then the set up got stuck at 5% again. During my first upgrade attempt, I waited 30 minutes to see if the upgrade would continue but it did not progress at all. Like I did the first time the update got stuck at 5%, I waited 30 minutes to see if the update would progress but it did not do so on this upgrade attempt either. After waiting, I restarted the VM and let Windows roll the system back to build 9860. I then tried to update to build 9879 again and on the fifth time of trying to update the VM on my desktop, I finally was successful. Looking on the Internet, I saw that other users were having install issues as well so this looks like a problem Microsoft will need to resolve. From the information in the blog, Microsoft is aware that there are issues to resolve in the update process and they are working on them.
After updating to build 9879, I checked to see if there were any additional updates available through Windows Update. There were two updates available, one for Windows Defender and one for the Windows 10 Technical Preview November Update for x64-based systems. I installed the updates on the VMs on both my desktop and laptop computers. The November update fixed the issues I was having with the black screen when logging in or unlocking the PC problem that Microsoft had identified on the blog.
Build 9860 Issues
Before I look at the new features and changes to features in build 9879, I am going to look at the issues I found after updating to build 9860 three weeks ago. I was not able to test if the Wi-Fi connectivity issue was resolved because I am using virtual machines to run the Windows 10 Technical Preview but a co-worker who is testing it on a spare laptop said that the issue was resolved with this build. The issue for activating Windows 10 Technical Preview has not been fixed yet. The issue I was having with Action Center in the All Apps list has been resolved but it was not resolved in the way I expected. The Action Center is no longer listed in the All Apps list but it is still available on the PC in the system tray area of the taskbar where it was already available previously. The Charm bar functionality still does not work on my VMs but that may be intended as I have been seeing people mention that it only is available to users with touchscreen devices. If that is the case, I am glad of the function being disabled as the charm bar gets in the way when I am using Windows 8.1 on my desktop and laptop computers.
New Features and Improvements to Existing Features
Microsoft introduced a number of new features in build 9879. They also made improvements to existing features. In this next section, I am going to talk about the new features and changes to existing features. I was unable to test certain features because I am using virtual machines that are not touch input capable.
Search and Task View Toggles
In this build, Microsoft implemented a change that I have seen requested by a number of users. Microsoft added the ability to toggle the Search and Task View buttons in the taskbar on and off. The image below shows the context menu where users can turn Search and Task View on or off. To access the context menu, right-click in the taskbar and the menu will open. Users just need to check the option to enable the Search and Task View buttons or uncheck the options to disable them. This is a change that I am in favor of as many times, I don’t want to search the web for something I am looking for and when I do need to look for something on the Internet, I use a web browser instead. For searches on the local computer, I normally use the Search feature on the Start menu. I likely will be turning off the Search button so that my searches are not including online locations but I do like having the Task View option available so I will be leaving that button enabled.
Snap Assist is a feature that adds to the existing Snap functionality and allows users to snap apps into place. After snapping the first app into place, other open programs will show a snapshot of the program on the display. When one of the open programs is selected, it will snap into place on the display in an area that does not already have anything snapped into place. According to the blog’s information, Snap Assist is supposed to work when using multiple displays starting with this build. I was unable to test this feature as my second monitor is not detected when using a VM. I do think that this feature’s added functionality will benefit users as it will make it easier for people to select which program they want to snap into place on the screen as they work with multiple monitor configurations.
Microsoft made improvements in the gesture functionality for touchscreen devices. The new gestures use three fingers at one time to perform different actions based on whether the user swipes, flicks, moves, or taps the screen. When swiping up, Task View will open. Swiping down will show the desktop. Swiping left or right will take the user to the previous app or program they used. Alt-Tab opens when three fingers move left or right. Users can then select the app they want to use. Tapping with three fingers opens the Search function. I was not able to test these gestures as I don’t have a touchscreen device so I can’t say how well these gestures work.
Microsoft made a significant change in how OneDrive works starting with build 9879. Starting with this build, Microsoft removed OneDrive as an app. OneDrive files previously could be accessed either through the app or through File Explorer. Now, users can only access their OneDrive files using File Explorer. Also starting with this build, Microsoft changed how files synchronize. Selective syncing allows users to select which files they want to be synchronized to the PC from the online storage. Previously, Microsoft used Smart Files or placeholder icons to identify the user’s OneDrive files but the files were stored online by default. For users with limited bandwidth or data caps, this helped reduce data transfer requirements for those users as they didn’t have files synching between their PC and the online storage and the files only were loaded if the users needed them. One problem I was reading about in the forums regarding the changes to OneDrive is that only those files stored locally on the PC will show up in File Explorer. To access the files stored online in OneDrive, users have to use the OneDrive web interface in their browser. Personally, I do not like the inability to see the online files from OneDrive in File Explorer. I hope that Microsoft changes their implementation for file synchronization. What I would like to see is an option to use either the Smart Files style in which everything was stored online by default or to use selective syncing. By giving the option, users could pick which style they wanted to use for OneDrive.
Internet Explorer Improvements
Another change that Microsoft implemented with this build involves Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer now has a new rendering engine used for loading webpages. The new engine is the Edge rendering engine. For the most part, this change is not visible to the users as the changes have more to do with how IE communicates with websites. Microsoft did add a way to report issues with websites. In Internet Explorer, they added a smiley face button towards the top right corner of the browser window. If users have trouble loading a website, Microsoft is asking that users click on the smiley face button and select Send a frown. Users also can load the page in compatibility mode from the same place.
Native Audio and Video Support
In build 9860, Microsoft added support for the MKV file format. In this build, Microsoft expanded that support so that MKV files will play directly from Windows Media Player or other apps as well as show thumbnails and metadata information about the files. Microsoft also added support for H.265 HEVC for Windows 10 in this build.
User Interface Changes
With this build, Microsoft changed some icons and added a few new ones. One example of the changed icon is the three dots icon used with WinRT (charms and full screen functions selection) which has been changed to display three stacked horizontal lines in what Microsoft called a hamburger style icon in its blog. The images below show what the icon looked like prior to build 9879 and what it looks like starting with this build. The functionality of the icon has not been changed though.
Prior to build 9879
In addition to the change for some icons, Microsoft also fixed an issue with modern dialog boxes. There was an issue prior to this build in which dialog boxes were not sized correctly. Some buttons in those dialog boxes also were not displaying correctly. Microsoft added the ability to pin folders to the Home section in File Explorer. To pin a folder to Home, right-click on the folder and select Pin to Home from the context menu. To unpin a folder from Home, right-click on it in the Home section and select Unpin from Home to remove the folder.
Insider Hub App
Microsoft introduced the Insider Hub app to add another method in which users can get information on the Windows Insider program and updates/changes for the builds. I like that they added this feature as it will allow users to quickly check for new information and find out about special items to test for Microsoft. The image below is the main page of the Insider Hub. It lists the latest announcements and it currently also lists three special request items that Microsoft is asking users to test.
Windows Feedback App
Microsoft added improvements to the Windows Feedback app. Sorting of feedback entries has been added. Users can sort by using selecting one of three options. The options are Trending, Most Recent, and Me Too. Trending sorts by the top issues reported to Microsoft in each category. Most Recent sorts by the most recently submitted feedback. Me Too allows users to sort feedback based on other users’ feedback. Those users have reported that they had the same issue another user reported. After adding feedback, the app will now return to the category the user was in before adding feedback instead of the list of all feedback entries. On the feedback submission form, Microsoft made it easier to add screenshots to the feedback. The image below shows the new feedback form.
In addition to the features and changes Microsoft announced, I also noticed that Microsoft moved the Notification Center icon to a new location in the system tray. The icon is now immediately to the left of the date and time instead of being to the left of the other icons in the system tray. Personally, the location of the icon doesn’t bother me in either place as long as it is accessible. The image below shows the Notification Center icon in its new location.
I also found another option that Microsoft added called Storage Sense listed in the PC Settings section.
Storage Sense has two sub-sections. The first sub-section is Storage Overview. Storage Overview allows users to look at what types of data and programs are on the local PC and also identify how much space is taken up. On the main page for Storage Overview, if you click on the page where it reads This PC, it will open another page showing the different types of data and programs on the local PC. An example of the different types of data and programs is shown in the image below. By clicking on any of these items, another page will open showing more information for that item. For example, when I click on the Apps and games category, the next page that loads lists the installed apps and games along with listing how much space they are using on the hard drive. This feature will come in handy at work when we are looking at employees’ PCs to see where we can free up space if needed.
Storage Sense’s second sub-section allows users to select the default save locations for pictures, music, videos, and documents.
Overall, I like the majority of the changes in this build but there are a few things that I think that Microsoft still needs to look at. The biggest of those issues has to do with OneDrive and the synchronization changes that Microsoft implemented. Personally, I have used Dropbox for several years to synchronize my data across between my PCs and I have my data set to synchronize anytime I make a change so the selective synchronizing is not an issue by itself. I only recently started using OneDrive because of some training I teach at work. My main problem with the changes is the lack of a way to view online files in File Explorer like I can do in earlier versions of Windows such as Windows 8.1. I also would like to see more improvements in the upgrade process. Microsoft has stated though that they are working on improvements for this issue so I am not too worried at this point in the technical preview process. Of the new and changed features that I like, the main ones I like are the options whether or not to display Search and Task View and the new Storage Sense feature.