Microsoft did not rest long on its Windows 10 Anniversary Update laurels. The company began developing Redstone 2 -- aka Windows 10 Creators Update -- last August, shortly after the release of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

In the subsequent eight months, there have been 47 unique, iterative builds: 28 builds released to Windows Insiders for testing the PC version of the update and 19 builds for mobile devices. This review will focus on the desktop enhancements that are part of the Creators Update.

Note: Microsoft has previously confirmed that the mobile version of the Creators Update will not be released until sometime after the PC version ships on April 11, 2017. If last year’s Anniversary Update is any indicator then that should be about two weeks after the PC roll out begins. Look for that mobile specific review once that update is released. Look forward to several tweaks to the overall UI, Windows Settings, and the Microsoft Edge browser.

This is the first of the three major feature updates for Windows 10 that will reach General Availability (GA). And it begins its rollout in conjunction with a regularly scheduled Patch Tuesday. Although there is not likely to be any issues with both of those things happening the same day, the Windows team will be keeping a close eye on the installation of the update across Windows 10 devices and will have the ability to control its flow as necessary if any issues crop up.

The Creators Update rollout will be in stages, so not everyone will get it on April 11. However, if you are in a hurry to upgrade, we'll show you how to do that. Expect to see that article on April 11.

So just like we did for the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, we want to give you a good overview on all of the features and enhancements that are part of the Creators Update. We'll include both the announced upgrades and the items we've discovered them during the testing and comparison of various builds. 

However, before I jump into what is in the update, I must mention what won't be in the review.

When Microsoft announced the Creators Update at their NYC event in October 2016, one of the features demo'd on stage was called My People. This toolbar would rest just above the desktop taskbar and give you access to your favorite contacts, and it could be used to facilitate sharing content with them in multiple ways. Beyond the 3D stuff they showed off, this was one of the most anticipated features for the Creators Update.

Unfortunately, back in late January, when the company released Build 15014 to Windows Insiders they also informed everyone the feature was being delayed until the next feature update for Windows 10 which is expected this Fall. It was explained as a quality issue in implementing the feature and they did not want to ship it in that state.

Also earlier today when Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi, the company’s Corporate VP for the Windows and Devices Group, officially announced the Creators Update launch for next month there was one other delay related to the feature update: the Head Mounted Devices (HMDs) from companies like Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, and Lenovo will ship for $299 later this year and not be available alongside the Creators Update release. So we won't get a chance to dive into the Mixed Reality experience via the HMDs now.

OK  - enough of the caveats and history – let’s take a look at what’s new with the Creators Update.

CUSTOMIZATION/PERSONALIZATION

Windows 10 has always been full-featured when it comes to personalizing your view of the OS and the Anniversary Update added several new tweaks.

That trend continues with some very popular additions in the Creators Update that begin by moving the themes option into the Windows Settings app.

-- Windows Themes (160 at last count are available in the Windows Store)
-- Custom Color (Picker, RGB, Hex)
-- Recent Colors
-- Tile Folders in Start Menu/Screen

Windows 10 Creators Update Personalization and Customization

Windows 10 Creators Update - Personalization Settings

Many of these great themes date back to the days of Windows 7 and now in Windows 10 they can be installed/managed directly from the Themes settings page in Windows Settings> Personalization.

The Tile Folders on the Start Menu feature is just like the one we know from Windows 10 Mobile. It allows you to have a collection of app tiles under one Live Tile which expands when it is tapped/clicked.

PRIVACY

This area continues to be a concern for both Microsoft and its Windows 10 customers. The Creators Update has broadened the very granular privacy controls that were already present in Windows 10 and makes several privacy choices more obvious in the Out of Box Experience when setting up a fresh/reset system (Link to YouTube Video). There are also new privacy categories and the streamlining of other privacy settings.

Along with the new privacy choices when setting up the Windows 10 Creators Update, there are now more verbose explanations for settings related to App Diagnostics, Default Location versus a General Location, Tasks, and Speech, Inking, and Typing.

Windows 10 Creators Update Privacy Settings

Windows 10 Creators Update - Privacy Settings

Back in January, Microsoft revealed a new privacy Dashboard to give users more control of the data which the company uses across its various services. This was another step in providing transparency to users about the data that is collected, how it is used, and how it can impact the user experience.

There are links to this new portal throughout the Privacy Settings in Windows 10, so both the portal and the company’s privacy policies are easily accessible.

MICROSOFT EDGE

It has been out for almost two years, so it is hard to call Microsoft Edge a new browser. But we can all agree Edge was very immature when it first launched, missing some common features at that time. 

Edge is my default browser, and when I compare it to others, one obvious area where Edge is lagging behind is in extensions for expanding browser capabilities.

Microsoft Edge

Windows 10 Creators Update - Microsoft Edge

When the Windows 10 Anniversary Update launched last August, there were only 13 extensions available for Edge in the Windows Store. As of this writing, there are now 23 available for Edge plus one, uBlock Origins, that is in preview.

Here are the ten extensions that have been added over the last eight months:

-- Ad Guard AdBlocker
-- Ebates Cash Back
-- Ghostery
-- RoboForm for Microsoft Edge
-- Microsoft Personal Shopping Assistant
-- True Key
-- OneLogin for Edge
-- Read&Write for Microsoft Edge
-- Turn Off the Lights for Microsoft Edge
-- KidStart Savings Prompt

If Microsoft wants Edge to compete with other popular browsers, they need to throw open the gates to developers and let this trickle of extensions become a flow.

Other areas of improvements with Microsoft Edge include:

-- API enhancements for accessing Microsoft Wallet through a new Payment API
--  4K video streaming directly in the browser
--  Overhauled and streamlined Edge Settings menu
--  Automatic Flash Blocking and a Click-To-Run experience to activate Flash on a webpage making the request
--  Set Aside Tabs
--  Share Tabs
-- Tab Preview Bar
--  eBooks reading, including voice for supported books, in browser along with a new Books category in the Edge Hub and the Windows Store
--  Jump List for Microsoft Edge when it is pinned to the Taskbar, listed in the Start Menu or displayed on the Start Screen

WINDOWS DEFENDER

Security has been a focus since the initial release of Windows 10, and further security updates were included in the November and Anniversary Updates. The Creators Update also beefs up security measures: The program formerly known as Windows Defender has now transitioned to a refreshed Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app interface.

Windows Defender Security Center

Windows 10 Creators Update - Windows Defender Security Center

The Windows Defender Security Center, alongside of its system tray icon, gives you a quick summary of your systems security status and includes controls/settings now for not only virus and threat protection but also:

-- Device performance & health
-- Firewall & network protection
-- App & browser control
-- Family Options (this links to web based interface; it's not in the OS)

Based on the progress of Windows Defender's transition to the Universal Windows Platform, I expect those Family Settings to get integrated into the operating system once again in a future update. I know many users would welcome them back since they left the OS after being in Windows 8/8.1.

In addition, a new optional app from Microsoft called the Windows Defender Hub can help you keep up with all the security work that happens at Microsoft.

WINDOWS INK

This area of Windows 10 got some tweaks to make it an even more valuable method for interacting with your system. Screen Sketch and Microsoft Edge Web Notes now share some common icons and methods for selecting pens and colors; this helps make each of those task processesmore familiar and consistent as you move between the options.

Windows Ink Screen Sketch

Windows 10 Creators Update - Windows Ink Screen Sketch

Sticky Notes, which made their debut in the Anniversary Update, still lack any networking capability between systems, which is a pity: I'd like it so that you see those notes synched across devices. Yes, OneNote can do this but imagine how much more streamlined the information capture would be if you could to create these notes and synch them instead of opening OneNote and creating a new note and then placing a shortcut on the desktop for it.

If your device is compatible with using a stylus then you can use that to build and create 3D objects in Paint 3D.

GAMING

Streaming games from your Xbox One Console and the ability to Play Games Anywhere – in other words on both your console and Windows 10 device with progress and achievements shared across devices – arrived with the Anniversary Update.

Windows 10 Creators Update Game Settings

Windows 10 Creators Update - Game Settings

In the Creators Update, this area gets a lot of attention to make the Windows 10 gaming experience even better. There is now a dedicated area for Game Settings in the Windows Settings app. From there you can control all the below aspects of your system for the gaming experience.

-- Game Mode allows you to tweak your system settings to dedicate resources to games that are being played. This has come a very long way since the days we had to adjust our startup batch files to maximize memory, etc. for gaming. (Link to Gallery Image)

-- Game Bar is a toolbar that can recognize games and allow you to record game clips, grab screenshots, and broadcast your gaming. (Link to Gallery Image)

-- Game DVR captures your gaming as a local screenshot or video that you can save, edit, and share. There are options to record in the background and adjust the maximum recording length. System audio is also captured alongside any video recordings. (Link to Gallery Image)

-- You can now use Beam to create an interactive live stream of your gaming that can be shared with others. This includes a scrolling text based chat and you can talk to your viewers as you play the game. If you are not already on Beam just link your Xbox Live account and you will have one automatically. (Link to Gallery Image)

Of course, the Xbox One has been preparing their own version of the Creators Update which will be released in two parts and we will be covering that upgrade separately.

3D/MIXED REALITY

When Microsoft announced the name of this update for Windows 10 the focus on creator capabilities was in the forefront, especially when it came to 3D creation and editing.

The new Paint 3D app leads the way in this area so that anyone using the Windows 10 Creators Update can create their own 3D art/scenes. The new Remix3D.com community site also provides a portal to share what you have created, see what others are building, and find 3D resources that can be incorporated in your own projects.

Paint 3D

Windows 10 Creators Update - Paint 3D

If you already have a 3D printer available you can now print directly from Paint 3D to see your creation become a solid item in the real world.

Although the HMDs are not going to be available for the Creators Update until later this year, the Windows Mixed Reality Portal, formerly known as Windows Holographic, tools and apps to interact with the upcoming mixed reality environment are in this update and ready to go once the hardware becomes available. Unless you happen to have a Microsoft HoloLens at your disposal they will not be of much use right now.

OTHER KEY NEW FEATURES

Windows 10 Creators Update

Windows 10 Creators Update - Start Menu

Note: Be sure to check out the Windows 10 Creators Update Review Gallery to see images and screenshots of these various features.

Night Light – Control the blue light emanating from your computer to help you sleep better at night. (Link to Gallery Image)

App/Software Install Controls – Choose to restrict installs to just Windows Store apps, warn user when installing desktop software, or allow apps from anywhere to be installed. (Link to Gallery Image)

Compact App Overlay – This is a new picture in picture style feature that is currently available in the Skype and Music & TV apps that will place your video or Skype call in a small window that can allow you to keep an eye on your desktop and the activity in the overlay. (Link to Gallery Image)

Cortana – Your personal digital assistant can now suggest reminders based on commitments you make in your Outlook or Office 365 email account, provided you grant her access to read your inbox.  The options in Cortana for setting reminders have also been expanded to give you more flexibility in scheduling the periodicity of those reminders. Cortana can also help you pick up where you left off on other devices by reminding you about documents and websites you were working with on another device in the Action Center. This Pick up Where I Left Off feature triggers if it has been less than 30 minutes since you locked another device. For me this has been great since I move in between systems so often during my work day. Those shortcuts in the Action Center have been very useful. (Link to Gallery Image)

Cortana is also the voice you will hear during the setup of the Windows 10 Creators Update and the Out of Box Experience. The entire process is now voice activated to make it more accessible to those with disabilities. The OOBE includes a new Cortana animation and explanation of how she can help you with the setup process. (Link to Gallery Image | Link to YouTube Video)

Metered Connections and Windows Update – A small textual change on the Windows Update settings page indicates that Microsoft could use a metered connection to download critical updates for the operating system. Based on a Microsoft FAQ page this has been the case for some time apparently but now they are making it more obvious by highlighting the note on the actual Windows Update page in Settings. (Link to Gallery Image)

Shared Experiences – This will allow you to open apps on other devices, send messages between them, or invite others to use apps with you. By default this option is set to sharing with your own devices. (Link to Gallery Image)

Windows Update – There are several changes in this area and they differ slightly in one setting that is only available on Windows 10 Professional.

-- Unified Update Platform (UUP) will reduce the bandwidth used to deliver feature updates and cumulative updates for Windows 10. Unfortunately, the Creators Update itself will not benefit from this new process for offering differential downloads because the new technology is just being provided as a new feature. However, cumulative updates after you are on the Creators Update should benefit by seeing smaller downloads overall.

-- There is a new setting under Restart Options that will cause Windows 10 to be more verbose with its notifications about a pending restart. (Link to Gallery Image)

-- In both Windows 10 Home and Professional Active Hours have been expanded to 18 hours in each day that you can mark as off limits for Windows Update related system restarts. (Link to Gallery Image)

-- On Windows 10 Professional updates can be paused for seven days at a time. To pause them again the system has to install any pending updates first. I would like to see this extended to Windows 10 Home based systems as it seems a reasonable time frame to stop updates and not risk the system since any pending updates must be installed before a subsequent pause. (Link to Gallery Image)

-- A new status icon will now show your systems update status at a glance on the Windows Settings>Update & security settings page. (Link to Gallery Image)

Sharing Dialog – At long last the hold over Share Charms from Windows 8/8.1 have been upgraded to a new dialog box that opens in the middle of your screen instead of sliding out of the right side of your devices desktop. This still works much like the old slider option in that you pick what app you want to share the item to and then complete the process by sharing the item. (Link to Gallery Image)

Dynamic Lock – This has also been referred to as Windows Goodbye. By pairing a smart phone to your device via Bluetooth you can have your system automatically lock when that device is no longer in range of your Windows 10 system. (Link to Gallery Image)

Action Center – There have been a few small tweaks to the Action Center and it continues to function like it did in the Anniversary Update. One nice addition is progress bars so you can monitor app and game downloads from the Windows Store. (Link to Gallery Image)

Troubleshooters – In previous versions of Windows, including the Anniversary Update, these troubleshooting programs were in the legacy Control Panel. In the Creators Update, 19 of them have been moved into the Windows Settings>Update & security settings. These and others are still in the legacy Control Panel as well. (Link to Gallery Image)

Storage Sense – The Disk Clean Up app is very handy for freeing up space on your hard drive but if you want to automate most of that maintenance process you can turn on this new feature. Storage Sense will delete temporary files that are not in use by your apps and remove anything in the Recycle Bin more than 30 days old. This tool does not remove previous versions of Windows or the downloaded install media. (Link to Gallery Image)

Apps & Features Settings - Previously options for managing your installed apps were located in Windows Settings>System however, in the Creators Update they are now in their own category called Apps in the Windows Settings app. It is from here that you can reset, uninstall, and see how much space apps are taken up on your system. (Link to Gallery Image)

Inbox Apps - Although they are not part of the operating system, the default inbox apps provide functionality in Windows 10 for handling your mail, calendar, photos, maps, music, movies, TV shows, and for snipping screenshots. Over the course of the last 8 months they have all received updates in their user interfaces and functionality so once you have the Creators Update installed make sure you check for their updates in the Windows Store.

THE BOTTOM LINE

So, to wrap up, the Windows 10 Creators Update is a solid upgrade and delivers more fit and finish to Windows 10, and it really fills in some gaps that have existed since its initial release in July of 2015.

Windows as a Service is still not a perfect process but the company is learning along the way and making the effort to improve the process with each new update. It is hard to believe it has only been 21 months since that release and in that period, there have been two full feature updates plus the upcoming Creators Update on 11 April 2017.

In between these feature updates Microsoft has also delivered monthly cumulative updates, well except for last month’s postponed Patch Tuesday, which have kept the system updated and secure

Stay tuned for our Windows 10 Creators Update coverage beginning on 11 April 2017 with the upgrade's General Availability.

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