Windows 10 version 21H1: Key enterprise features

What business users and IT pros should know about new features in the Windows 10 May 2021 Update, version 21H1.

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Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (version 1709)

Microsoft released the the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (version 1709), its most recent major update to the OS, on October 17, six months after the Creators Update (version 1703) was released. Most of what the Fall Creators Update adds to the OS is under-the-hood features — some new, some revised, and many related to security. Here are some improvements that enterprise users and IT pros should know about.

1. Better OneDrive file management

In previous versions of Windows 10, OneDrive appeared as a folder in File Explorer. When you put files into the OneDrive folder while signed into Windows 10 with a business or personal Microsoft account, they were uploaded to the cloud. If you signed into another Windows 10 computer with this same account, the files in your OneDrive folder were downloaded to that computer.

Having access to your files from any Windows 10 device is handy, but this automatic syncing behavior wasn't always convenient if your device was connected to a spotty Wi-Fi signal or was low on storage space. That said, you could limit syncing to certain folders within your OneDrive, but anything within those folders was synced.

What’s more, if you had folders and files stored online only, they didn’t appear in your OneDrive folder in File Explorer. To see them, you had to right-click the OneDrive icon in the notifications area of the taskbar and choose “View online” from the pop-up menu; your default browser opened to your cloud OneDrive.

OneDrive in the Fall Creators Update introduces a feature called OneDrive Files On-Demand that’s designed to smooth out OneDrive’s functionality. It lets you set OneDrive so it won’t forcibly sync files stored in the Microsoft cloud to the Windows 10 device you’re currently using, and you don’t have to launch a browser to access online files.

Instead, there are placeholder shortcuts for online files in your OneDrive folder in File Explorer, but the files themselves are not on the device you’re using by default. If you double-click one of these shortcuts, the file it represents will then be downloaded and saved to the device. You can change a downloaded file back to an online-only file by right-clicking it and selecting “Free up space.” And you can mark certain files as “Always keep on this device” if you want them to be permanently available when you’re offline.

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update OneDrive Files On-Demand Howard Wen / IDG

OneDrive Files On-Demand lets you see all online files but won’t download them to your device unless you tell it to.

For SharePoint Online teams that collaborate on files online, OneDrive Files On-Demand can help to reduce bandwidth usage, because files won’t be downloaded or re-downloaded on all synced devices whenever a new file is added or a change is made to an existing file in the team site.

2. EMET-style exploit protection

Introduced in 2009, Microsoft’s Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) is a free tool that recognizes security flaws in Windows systems and attempts to prevent malicious code from exploiting them using a variety of techniques. Mainly geared for enterprise use, EMET was for many years a valuable tool for IT pros in protecting user systems. But with Windows 10, Microsoft began baking better security protections into the operating system, rolling out major updates more frequently, and urging its customers to move to the new OS rather than use EMET with an older version of Windows. Although you can still install and run EMET on Windows 10, Microsoft has officially retired it, with an end-of-life date of July 31, 2018.

However, many of EMET’s threat protections have been reborn in the Fall Creators Update as Windows Defender Exploit Guard. It is part of Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, Microsoft’s enterprise security service. With Exploit Guard in place, threats like dangerous Office macros or websites that are spreading malware will be blocked.

Windows Defender Security Center, the all-in-one security dashboard that was introduced in the spring 2017 Windows 10 Creators Update, has also been upgraded in the Fall Creators Update to include EMET-style exploit protection.

3. Ransomware protection

High-profile ransomware infections such as WannaCry spreading throughout the world’s computers and holding users’ files hostage have made the news recently. Although most of the affected systems were running older versions of Windows, Microsoft is hardening protections against ransomware in Windows 10.

A new feature in the Fall Creators Update is designed to prevent such malware from locking up users’ personal files. The Windows Defender Security Center has a switch called “Controlled folder access.” When it's turned on, only whitelisted apps are able to access and change files in the Desktop, Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos folders. Should an app that hasn't been approved try to access these folders, Windows 10 will send an alert.

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update Controlled Folder Access Howard Wen / IDG

Meant to foil ransomware, the “Controlled folder access” option in Windows Defender Security Center lets you restrict which apps can access and change files stored in protected folders.

4. Virtual machine protection for Edge

Windows Defender Application Guard for Microsoft Edge is a new security feature in the Fall Creators Update aimed at keeping computers safe from zero-day attacks and other malware. It is available only for computers running Windows 10 Enterprise Edition and Hyper-V.

With Application Guard enabled, the Edge browser runs normally when the user goes to a trusted site such as an internal application. But when the user goes to an untrusted or unknown site, Application Guard will launch Edge inside a virtual machine — essentially, a new instance of Windows that’s isolated from the user’s normal operating environment, including memory, local storage, other applications, stored credentials, network endpoints and so on. (Trusted sites and related security settings can be set by an administrator.)

If malware attempts to harm the computer or office network by going through Edge, it probably won’t be able to cause damage because it will be confined within the VM. When the user ends the session, the VM container and any malware in it are discarded.

5. One-click communications

This social messaging and sharing UI was supposed to be included in the Creators Update, but wasn’t ready in time for that release. My People helps you conveniently communicate with people in your contacts list by letting you pin icons for certain contacts (which could be their headshots) to the taskbar. Just click a contact’s icon to communicate with that person through email, instant messaging or video chat. (Taskbar pinning is currently limited to three contacts.)

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update My People Howard Wen / IDG

The My People feature allows one-click communications with contacts you pin in the taskbar.

My People requires you and the contacts you wish to pin to have the Windows 10 apps Mail, People or Skype; when you initiate it, it will surface people in your contacts list who have those apps. To activate My People for the first time, launch the People app; to access My People after it’s been activated, click its icon in the notifications area of the taskbar.

6. A quick fix for blurry desktop apps

Sometimes when an older desktop app is shown on a large display with a high resolution, its text and graphics appear blurry. And many desktop apps can become blurry after users dock or undock their laptops, move an app window between displays with different resolutions, or remote into one device from another device with a different display resolution.

Getting apps that become blurry after docking/undocking or otherwise changing the resolution to become crisp and clear again generally requires rebooting Windows. The problem with legacy apps on hi-res displays can sometimes be fixed by manually tweaking the Compatibility settings for the problematic app, but Windows sometimes requires a restart for the changes to take hold. Either way, it’s an inconvenience and a productivity hit for users.

The Fall Creators Update does away with this hassle, helping to maintain system uptime. All the user needs to do is shut down the desktop app and relaunch it for the crisper rendering to take. It should be noted, though, that this feature may not work on all desktop apps, and it won’t work on apps that appear blurry on a second monitor that’s been set as the “extended” screen to the primary monitor.

7. GPU tracking in the Task Manager

The Task Manager, an old-school tool for troubleshooting Windows and keeping tabs on its performance, adds a new trick in the Fall Creators Update: It shows the status of the computer’s graphics processing unit processes on its Performance tab. It also lists the GPU’s memory size and current usage, driver version, the version of DirectX that it’s running, and where the processor is physically located on the computer’s motherboard.

Applications used to view or create graphically rich content — such as animated presentations, videos, and documents or spreadsheets with 3D charts — could be relying on the GPU, and being able to check its status can help diagnose issues with a computer’s overall performance.

8. Windows Update bandwidth limit

This feature should be useful for network administrators: the ability to limit the amount of bandwidth that Windows Update can use to automatically download updates for Windows 10, or share update files with other computers over a local network or the internet.

The option is listed in the Settings app under Delivery Optimization > Advanced options. There are three sliders. The first two let you adjust the amount of bandwidth data that Windows Update can consume during downloads and uploads, ranging from 5% to 100%. The third slider caps the total data that Windows Update can upload per month, from 5GB to 500GB.

Windows 10 Fall Creators update bandwidth limit Howard Wen / IDG

With the Fall Creators Update you can limit how much bandwidth Windows Update uses.

9. Power throttling for background-running apps

To extend the battery runtime of laptops and other mobile devices running Windows 10, the Fall Creators Update throttles the system usage of apps running in the background. If a user is interacting with an app or if an app such as a video player is running in the foreground, Windows should recognize this activity and prioritize system resources for it. Otherwise, it will put opened apps that aren’t being actively used, or system executables that normally run without user interaction, into an energy-efficient mode that will help the battery last longer — a change that business travelers will welcome.

The power-throttling feature currently works only with Intel Skylake and newer processors. Microsoft says it plans for throttling to support other processors in the future.

10. New device deployment features

Released on June 29, Windows AutoPilot lets IT managers set up customized system configurations (including installed apps) to be deployed from the cloud onto their organization’s Windows 10 computers and other devices. An employee can take a brand-new computer out of the box, turn it on and connect it to the office network — and the device will be automatically configured to the organization’s requirements.

The Fall Creators Update adds a few new capabilities to Windows AutoPilot: self-service deployment for Active Directory domain-joined devices and automatic enrollment in Microsoft Intune, the ability to assign a system configuration to a specific employee, and a resetting mechanism for Windows 10 devices that have already been configured through AutoPilot.

11. Install a virtual machine locally

For users running Windows 10 Professional or Enterprise and Hyper-V, the Fall Creators Update offers an easy way to install a virtual machine from an .iso or .vhd/.vhdx file that’s stored on your computer. From the Hyper-V Manager, choose Action > Quick Create to launch the Create Virtual Machine panel. There, clicking the “Local installation source” button lets you load a virtual machine image stored on the computer.

This story was originally published in July 2017 and most recently updated in May 2021.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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