Review: Windows 10 Creators Update is here and worth the download (with video)

The latest version of Microsoft's operating system improves the Start menu, lets you control updates, and makes some interesting improvements.

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Consolidated system settings

In the Creators Update, Microsoft took a crack at improving Settings, which controls and customizes the way that all aspects of Windows work. It's part of an ongoing attempt to fix a problem with Settings that first surfaced in Windows 8, when some settings were put in the new Settings app and others in Control Panel or other places in the operating system. Ever since then, it's been tough to know exactly where to find the setting you want.

Over time, many settings have migrated to the Settings app, which has been reorganized several times. The Creators Update continues that trend, to good effect. For the first time, Apps appears as its own top-level category in Settings. It consolidates settings that were previously scattered in multiple locations, including Default apps, Offline maps and Apps for websites. It's no game-changer, but it's useful.

The Apps category is also where you'll find a new feature that lets you block the installation of desktop applications (the more old-fashioned keyboard/mouse apps) and only allow Windows apps (touch-friendly apps that are installed from the Microsoft Store) to be installed. I don't find this feature personally useful -- I rarely install Windows apps because desktop apps are usually more useful and powerful than Windows apps. However, it might be valuable for those who prefer Windows apps.

Windows 10 Creators Update - apps Preston Gralla/IDG

The new Apps setting consolidates settings that were previously scattered all over Windows.

I've always found it moderately difficult to find the screens for adding and configuring new devices to Windows. So I was pleased to see that there's now a Devices heading in the Settings app that provides a unified interface for adding any device -- just choose Settings > Device > Add Bluetooth or other device.

Windows 10 Creators Update - add device Preston Gralla/IDG

A new Devices heading in the Settings app provides a unified interface for adding devices.

There's also a new top-level setting for Games that lets you control how games play on your PC, with new features such as broadcasting your games over the internet.

A unified security dashboard

When was the last time you thought about -- or used -- Windows Defender, Windows' anti-malware protection? Probably not in a very long time. I know that I haven't. And there's a good reason for that. You set it once or just accept its defaults, and it does its job, with no more fiddling needed.

In Windows 10 Creators Update, that may change for you. Windows now consolidates a slew of security settings in an all-in-one security dashboard called Windows Defender Security Center, available from Settings > Update & Security > Windows Defender > Open Windows Defender Security Center.

windows 10 creators update - defender Preston Gralla/IDG

The Windows Defender dashboard is command central for your device's security and overall health.

The new center is more than just a dashboard for Windows Defender; it's command central for your device's security and overall health. It shows at a glance any potential security issues and lets you delve into customizable settings. A check next to any icon on the dashboard means everything is safe and secure. A red circle with a white X in it means you need to take action to protect yourself.

The dashboard has five sections:

  • Virus & threat protection. This shows the state of your anti-malware. It works not just with Windows Defender but with third-party anti-malware programs as well. If you use Windows Defender, you can click the icon to see the results of scans and to customize your anti-malware protection. If you use a different anti-malware package, clicking the icon will launch the application.
  • Device performance & health. Click it to see the latest Windows updates, and whether you have problems with your storage, device drivers or battery.
  • Firewall & network protection. This shows your firewall settings and lets you change them. It also gives information about your network connections and a link to a network troubleshooter.
  • App & browser control. This controls the SmartScreen Filter, which, when you're using Microsoft's Edge or IE browsers, blocks malicious websites as well as potentially dangerous apps and files downloaded from the web.
  • Family options. This links you to parental control options.

It's nice to know that this is around, and I found that most everything worked as expected. However, there was a problem with one section -- Device performance & health. When I clicked it I got a message that "Health report is not available." There was no apparent way to do a health scan or have it create a report.

New gaming features

The Creators Update offers several new gaming features, including streaming gaming sessions over the internet, a Game Mode to improve gaming performance, and a Game bar to let you record your gameplay, take screenshots and perform games-related tasks.

When you put your PC into Game Mode, it looks at all processes running on your computer and then gives your currently running game priority. This is designed to help games run better, with fewer glitches and hiccups.

Streaming gaming sessions is done via the livestreaming service Beam, which Microsoft bought in August 2016. To stream a gaming session, open the Game bar (you can use the key combination Win+G), then click the Broadcast icon.

Windows 10 Creators Update - game settings Preston Gralla/IDG

Games gets its own section in Windows 10 Settings.

In addition, there's a new Games section in Settings, which lets you do things such as control the Game bar and Game Mode, and configure how your games should be streamed, including whether to record audio when you broadcast your games.

A few Cortana updates

The Cortana personal assistant gets a few modest additions in the Windows 10 Creators Update. To begin with, you can schedule monthly reminders. You can also ask the digital assistant for help in setting up devices. In addition, Cortana can recognize new voice commands to restart your PC, turn it off, and raise or lower the system volume, among others. And you can use it in full-screen mode.

Cortana also integrates with Microsoft's Groove Music service -- tell Cortana to play a song, and it will launch Groove Music and play it. The digital assistant also integrates with TuneIn and iHeartRadio in the same way, although you'll have to tell it to play music on that specific service. While all this is nice, I would have preferred integration with the much-more-popular Spotify streaming music service.

Other noteworthy additions

There are plenty of other minor changes as well:

  • You can now use Windows Ink to mark up photos in the Photos App, write on photos and add comments. You can also use Windows Ink to write on videos. In addition, Ink now works on the Maps app, letting you, for example, ink two points and have Maps calculate the distance between them.
  • The Windows Narrator, which provides assistive technologies, now offers Braille support.
  • The PowerShell feature-laden command line is now built into File Explorer.
  • The Snipping Tool, which lets you take screenshots, has been modestly improved. It can now be invoked with a key combination (Win+Shift+S) and has been slightly redesigned, making it a bit easier to use.
  • A "Night Light" feature removes blue light from your computer's display, and adds warmer colors. There's some evidence that blue light can disrupt the normal sleep cycle, so this feature is designed to help those who like to read or surf a bit before going to sleep. I used it and found the color difference to be subtle, adding a kind of twilight feeling. Did it help me sleep better? Not that I was aware of. But I liked the moody feel it gave to computing at night.
  • When Creators Update installs, you'll be prompted to select a variety of privacy settings, including whether Microsoft should collect content so it can display relevant ads to you, whether the Location setting should be turned on, and similar options. Don't worry if you're not happy with the settings you selected, because you can change them at any time in the Privacy section of Settings.

The bottom line

To a certain extent, Windows 10 Creators Update is a "don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it" update, because there have been so few major visual and feature changes. Still, there are some useful additions. Tiles can help clean up the Start menu, Edge has gotten modest improvements, gamers will be pleased, and Paint 3D will allow people to create 3D content. Getting some control over Windows updates is welcome as well.

But while there's nothing dramatic in it, the update makes Windows 10 a better operating system. It reflects a stay-the-course attitude Microsoft has taken towards Windows 10, making incremental improvements while doing no harm. If that was its goal, it succeeded with the Creators Update.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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