Windows 10 Creators Update is coming for you, and it will get you sooner or later. The question is whether to embrace Creators Update immediately or to wait a few months until the bugs get worked out—because, as we learned with Anniversary Update, there will be bugs.
Many who rushed to Anniversary Update paid the price with inexplicable freezes, broken antivirus utilities, stalled or disabled apps, disappearing volumes and drives, changed settings, and a legion of installation problems. No doubt many of those users wished they had waited the four months for Anniversary Update to reach Current Branch for Business status—Microsoft’s designation for builds that are finally stable enough for enterprise deployment.
Why embrace Creators Update immediately? The showcase feature is the new Paint 3D program and the ability to create 3D graphics and share them via Microsoft’s new Remix 3D online community. With Creators Update, Windows 10 also gains the ability to run HoloLens apps and a new class of Xbox games. If you’re a freehand artist or an Xbox-centric Windows gamer or you own a HoloLens or two, you might want Creators Update right away—bugs be damned.
Creators Update has plenty of real improvements for the rest of us as well, though they may be easier to resist until the Current Branch for Business release arrives this summer. The Edge browser, Cortana personal assistant, and other built-in apps are better. Usability is improved. Pro and Enterprise users gain the ability to throttle back forced patching using a (more or less) readily accessible pane in Settings. Enterprises will like the improvements to Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, which include the ability to isolate compromised machines, block suspicious behaviors, and provide secure access to work documents from personal mobile devices.
In short, Creators Update is an improvement over Anniversary Update. Who knows? It might even offer smoother sailing for eager adopters than its predecessor. We’ll soon find out. Let’s take a look at the new features in the Creators Update, compared to the Anniversary Update, and you can ponder how urgently you need them.
Creators Update highlights
The marquee feature from which this update gets its name is 3D graphics. Some people swoon at the sight of a manually rotated 3D image embedded in a presentation. If that’s you, Creators Update includes a Paint 3D application that lets you create, edit, and use 3D images all over the place. The Edge browser can handle 3D objects. Minecraft has special 3D hooks, as does PowerPoint. All of it can be printed on a 3D printer.
If your freehand drawing skills vastly exceed mine, the new Ink capabilities may also prove useful. Creators Update brings support for Windows Ink on multiple monitors, new on-screen inking tools such as a fully round protractor, and the ability to mark up photos.
But Creators Update isn’t only for creatives. If you bang away on a PC all day, every day, and you’re not terribly impressed with augmented reality or the ability to draw custom 3D graphics, there is still plenty here for you. As a rule, they aren’t especially big improvements, but there are many of them.
Microsoft is rapidly overhauling the largely anemic built-in apps that ship with Windows 10. For the most part (Edge is a notable exception), the new versions of the apps will work in any version of Win10. Skype, Mail, Groove Music, Movies & TV, and Photos have all received improvements in recent weeks. The new apps will no doubt be touted as part of the Creators Update drive, but almost all of them are also available in the Anniversary Update.
You will need Creators Update to get the new version of Edge. With dozens of new features, Edge is finally starting to look like a fully functional web browser. With almost two dozen extensions, including a few that are useful, Edge customizability isn’t going to challenge Chrome or Firefox any time soon. But the core browser itself—with new tab previews (see below), the ability to “set aside” tabs for later viewing, loading Flash only when bidden (following in the footsteps of Google, Firefox, and Safari), and Brotli compression, Edge may finally start climbing out of its also-ran status.
Cortana also gets more love, with a new setup sequence and full screen appearance on the lock screen (now with volume control!). Cortana is becoming a bit more adept at offering services (responding to voice commands in Netflix, for example, as well as a couple dozen other apps) and reminders work a little better than before. Expect to see more features ascribed to Cortana, including notification synchronization, a “universal clipboard,” and app setting synchronization as Creators Update unfolds. You can see an in-depth discussion of Cortana’s new capabilities in this December 2016 WinHEC presentation.
There’s a new hotkey for the Snipping tool. Press Win-Shift-S and the Snipping tool pops up, letting you select a portion of the screen. The selection goes on the clipboard and the Snipping tool disappears. Though slick, it’s been very buggy in beta.
Creators Update has a blue light filter called Night Light, akin to f.lux, which you can set manually or on a timer. Some people swear that reducing blues at night (Settings > System > Display > Night Light Settings) lets them sleep better.
Start menu tiles can become “app folders.” For those who spend lots of time arranging tiles on the Start menu, now you can put as many as nine tiles on a single “medium” Start tile. Once you’ve docked a tiny tile on a medium tile, it takes two clicks to get the tiny tile to run: First click opens the folder, second click runs the program. Now that’s productivity. Magnifying glass optional.
The Anniversary Update has a Share pane that slides out of the right. If you haven’t seen it, fire up Edge and click the circle icon in the upper right to bring it out. The new version of Share (see image at left) appears as a Universal Windows Program, but its behavior is quite similar to the old Share. In short, Share allows you to quickly drop a web link, picture, or file into Mail, OneNote, Twitter, Dropbox, and other apps that support it (few programs do).
Those of you enamored with Windows Hello’s ability to see your face and sign you in may be tempted to try the new Dynamic Lock feature, which works in reverse: If you step away from your machine and take your Bluetooth paired phone with you, Windows Hello will lock the PC. To see it, click Settings > Accounts > Sign-In Options, and check "Allow Windows to detect when you’re away and automatically lock the device." Problematic reports I’ve seen make me wonder why folks don’t simply hit Win-L on their way out of the chair.
If you have a touchpad that conforms to Microsoft’s Precision specs, Microsoft now has a central place in the Settings app to customize the response to specific gestures, such as three- and four-finger swipes. Not sure if you have a Precision touchpad? Click Settings > Devices > Touchpad. Some touchpad manufacturers (such as Synaptics) have their own drivers, but Precision touchpads put the control inside Windows Settings.
Microsoft promises, once again, that Creators Update will treat 4K displays properly. High-DPI displays exposed a blind spot in early versions of Windows 10 (1507 and 1511). Even the Anniversary Update, 1607, which was supposed to handle high DPI better with Mixed Mode scaling, left many folks with headaches. Universal Windows Platform apps handle high DPI with aplomb, but regular apps need help from the operating system. With Creators Update, built-in apps like the Device Manager and Microsoft Management Console should look better. There’s also a new right-click Properties > Compatibility setting for programs called “System (Enhanced).” (See above.) Will it work for the programs you run? Hard to say.
Last and least for professional users, the new Game Mode improves game performance by dynamically giving more system resources to games—useful if you’re playing Grand Theft Auto V while the boss is out to lunch. Add to that more Game Bar-enabled games, better-positioned sound, streaming gameplay from your Xbox, mixed Xbox and Win10 play, and you’ll never get anything done. For details, look at the December 2016 WinHEC session on PC Gaming.
Control over updates, privacy, and advertising
As I noted at the outset, Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise users can delay updates using the Settings app (Settings > Update & Security > Advanced Options). Getting the screen to appear (below) can be difficult. You may need to slide Pause Updates on and off, and possibly manually check for updates afterward. Your control isn’t absolute, but in general you can tell Windows Update to back off for significant periods of time. See the details in “5 fatal flaws that dog the new Windows 10.”
Windows 10 Home users can set wired Ethernet connections as metered. This isn’t as great as being able to control updates directly, but it accomplishes the same task: Windows will not download updates over connections marked as “metered,” which warns Windows that you have to pay for the connection by the bit. Click Settings > Network & Internet > Ethernet. Click the Ethernet connection and slide "Set as metered connection" to on. If you turn your wired connection into a metered connection, Win10 will pop up notifications from time to time that you need to “Pause OneDrive to reduce network charges,” but you can ignore them.