Digging deeper into Windows 10 Insider beta build 14316

The latest beta has nooks and crannies well worth prodding, including apparently limited control over updates

Yesterday, Microsoft released beta build 14316 of the Windows 10 Anniversary Edition, formerly known as Redstone R1. After setting the stage with a bunch of "nothing new" builds over the past several months, spiked only by the addition of Edge extensions, this one comes loaded with new features.

Remarkably, the build as a whole is stable -- I had no problems at all with hours of testing -- and many of the new features are interesting, some even surprising.

Among the most surprising is new Group Policy options for controlling how and when certain kinds of updates are applied. Microsoft seems to be addressing one of the most contentious "features" in Windows 10: forced updates.

There are also rough edges, a number of reported bugs in third-party application programs, at least one major feature (Cortana on the lock screen) that's accessible but blocked, and official teases of more to come.

You can find an extensive overview in Gabe Aul's Announcing Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 14316 blog post. Aul talks about running Bash on Ubuntu on Windows, which is an arcane topic for most Windows users, but a sea change in developer support. He also steps through the ways Cortana will bridge the gap between PCs and phones, providing you install Cortana on your Android phone and with the proviso that Cortana on Windows 10 Mobile build 14295 has problems working with the new features. (Several of those features have been available for years with Google Chrome extensions like Pushbullet and MightyText.)

There are a couple of new, worthwhile extensions for Edge (Pin It Button and OneNote Clipper, which still require the old side-loading trick), the new Universal Windows Platform/Metro Skype app which ships in build 14316, and new emojis, including caricatures with modifiable skin tones. Be still my beating heart.

The Notification -- er, Action Center is getting some much-needed new smarts. You can give individual apps priorities (top, high, normal), so their notifications appear higher on the list, and you can limit the number of notifications that an individual app can post. There are no hints yet about the ability to sync your Action Center across PCs and phones, as demonstrated at Build 2016.

Aul also talks about the new dark mode (Start > Settings > Personalization > Colors), which adds a blinding pop to Windows Explorer because Explorer doesn't yet inherit the dark mode settings. There's a new Connect app that, among other things, lets you use Miracast technology to cast to other PCs without a dock or Miracast adapter -- particularly useful if you want to see your phone's screen on your PC. You can pin a specific window to all of your virtual desktops simultaneously. And there are improvements to battery settings and to the Feedback app. You can read about all of those in the official announcement.

There's much more that didn't make it into Aul's blog, though.

Microsoft Edge, for example, now supports drag-and-drop folders -- drop a folder into Dropbox, for example -- better handling of favorites, and changes to the default Save location. The Back button finally works. Edge is slowly turning into a usable browser.

Installing the Bash command line is rather convoluted, but once it's there, you can run any of these commands (and probably others): apt, ssh, rsync, find, grep, awk, sed, sort, xargs, md5sum, gpg, curl, wget, apache, mysql, python, perl, ruby, php, gcc, tar, vim, emacs, diff, and patch, according to Canonical's Dustin Kirkland. (Canonical is the Ubuntu company largely responsible for the "Windows Subsystem for Linux" that implements the API necessary to get Bash working.) I played with vim for a while, and it works exactly like the original. It's very cool, and I expect developers will be all over it shortly. Note that Bash for Windows only works on 64-bit build 14316.

"Show file name extensions" and "Show hidden and system files" -- two key settings I believe every Windows user should enable -- have moved from Control Panel to Start > Settings > Update & Security > For Developers > Windows Explorer Settings.

Windows Update gets a tiny nudge. You can set Active Hours (Start > Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > Change active hours) to a maximum of 10 hours, during which Windows won't restart your computer to install updates. In the same dialog, you can choose Restart options to override the Active Hours setting.

Cortana can be coerced into working on the lock screen. "Hey, Cortana" doesn't work all the time, and it's very slow, but if you want to try, look at the Registry hacks listed in Lucas M's blog in MSPoweruser.

Early this morning, Windows guru @teroalhonen uncovered what may well be the most important changes in build 14316. They aren't documented, aren't understood, and haven't even been tested, but there appear to be settings in the Group Policy editor that may tame Win10's brutal forced updating. Alhonen found three settings that may prove crucial:

  • Do not include drivers with Windows Updates
  • Select when Quality Updates are received ("After a Quality Update is released, defer receiving it for the following duration (days)")
  • Select when Feature Updates are received ("After a Feature Update is released, defer receiving it for the following duration (days)")

To see the first setting, in Win10 Pro build 14316, fire up gpedit.msc, and look under Computer Configuration > Windows Components > Windows Update. To see the other two, navigate to the Defer Windows Updates folder. There's another setting called "Receive Feature updates when they are declared Business Ready," also undocumented. Heaven only knows what that means.

It'll be interesting to see what those settings do (if anything), and whether Microsoft will ever document them. Alhonen has isolated the Registry keys associated with the entries, so changes may also be possible with Win10 Home.

Those are the big items I've found. I've seen complaints that Tweetium and Classic Shell aren't working properly -- typical beta blues. According to @peterskillman, general manager of Core UX for Windows, the new Start menu didn't make it into this build. It's generally expected that the new Start will appear shortly. Microsoft has released a Sway with some details, including an offer to provide feedback. Personally, I won't be overly impressed until we can create our own fly-out menus, a la Win7, Classic Shell, and Start10.

It remains to be seen if other rumored features make it into the Anniversary Update: Various features of live tiles, hot notifications, Apple-style handoffs with Project Rome (see Mary Jo Foley's description in ZDNet). Many of the features shown in the Build 2016 presentations aren't quite there.

Finally, we have reason to hope that the old Tin Lizzie still has some life. Microsoft's slowly knocking down many of the 10 hurdles to Windows 10 adoption that I kvetched about earlier this year. If the features keep pouring in at this rate and the whole contraption keeps hanging together, we may finally have a worthy successor to Windows 7 on our hands.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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