The top ten Windows 10 May 2019 Update features
The top ten Windows 10 May 2019 Update features

There are fewer new features than usual, but 1903 has a mix of useful admin tools and little extras that will boost productivity.

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After the problems with the 1809 release, Microsoft is being rather more cautious with the next semi-annual release of Windows 10. The release preview has been available since early April and it will stay in preview for longer than usual — until late May, when the 18-month support period will begin. It will also give users more control over when they install the update.

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SEE: 10 tricks and tweaks for customizing Windows 10 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Getting an option for ‘Download and install now’ in Windows Update and the ability to pause updates for seven days at a time should remove a lot of frustration. There are a handful of welcome improvements: the ability to uninstall more of the inbox apps; enhancements to the modern print dialogue; an icon that appears when any applications are using the device microphone; tamper protection that ensures changes to the Windows Security app are only made through the Windows Security app; and suggestions for fixes that Windows can automatically apply to fix problems. But perhaps because of the focus on quality or the shorter support lifecycle for spring releases, Windows 10 1903 has fewer major new features than 1809.

Here are the ones you’ll likely want to upgrade for.

Windows Sandbox

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Windows Sandbox lets you install apps into an isolated environment that leaves no trace once closed.

Image: Microsoft

When you want to run an application without worrying about how the installation will affect your PC, the new Windows Sandbox lets you install it into an isolated environment where it can’t change defaults or leave components that are difficult to uninstall. Once you’re done using the application, you close the sandbox and everything associated with the app goes away. Unlike a VM, it doesn’t need a whole new copy of Windows (only about 100MB of files that can change while Windows is in use), and it’s loaded as a snapshot rather than needing to boot from scratch. You can use XML configuration files to disable network access, expose specific folders from your main Windows system or run a script. This means you could install Visual Studio Code and open a project, or create a sandbox with no network access and a read-only link to the Downloads folder in order to try out downloaded files safely.

Reserved Storage

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Reserved Storage allocates around 7GB of drive space to Windows for updates, caches and temporary files.

Image: Microsoft

Windows needs enough storage to update itself, and for day-to-day running. Until now, Windows hasn’t tried to carve out enough space on the system drive to do that, so you could end up with so little disk space that you couldn’t, say, run the Disk Cleanup tool to make more space. Reserved Storage allocates around 7GB of drive space to Windows for updates, caches and temporary files (the exact amount depends on which languages and features are installed). Reserved Storage will be on automatically if you clean-install 1903 on a PC (or if that’s the version of Windows it comes with); you can also turn it on by setting a registry key.

More, separate search

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Search and Cortana are now separated.

Image: Microsoft

If you’ve been removing the Cortana button from the taskbar to save space, you may need to put it back. Clicking into the Search box on the taskbar, or starting to type after opening the Start menu, now brings up a separate Search pane that doesn’t include the Cortana experience. To open Cortana, you have to click the Cortana button — and speak queries rather than typing them. This makes the integration between Cortana and Microsoft To-Do much less useful, because you can’t quickly search for reminders.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF)

The Search pane takes up more room on-screen, but doesn’t do anything particularly useful with that space. The huge icon for a file doesn’t give you a thumbnail preview, for example, but there is a list of the different types of searches you can run across the top (these pivots used to appear once a search had run). Annoyingly, there’s no way to remove the new list of most-frequently used apps from the Search pane, even if you find them distracting.

If you want to search all folders, instead of just documents, pictures, videos and the desktop, open Settings / Search / Searching Windows and set ‘Find My files’ to Enhanced. This takes a good many hours to create the initial index (which only happens when the PC is plugged in) and can reduce battery life, so if there are specific folders you want to include it may be better to add these individually under Advanced Search Indexer Settings.

Automatic Focus Assist

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You can now have Focus Assist turn on automatically.

Image: Microsoft

With the Action Center, you can get a lot of alerts and notifications. The Focus Assist option hides these when you’re trying to concentrate, but it’s easy to forget to turn it back on (or even on in the first place). You can now have Focus Assist turn on automatically when you’re using any application in full screen: by default it will still show alarms, but you can customise that at Settings / System / Focus Assist. If you don’t want to get an extra notification in the Action Center every time one of these rules turns on Focus Assist, click through to the rule and clear the checkbox to show it.

Faster font install

You can right-click on a font file in File Explorer and choose Install, but that installs the font for all users and means entering an admin credential. If you only want to use the font yourself, you can now drag the file from Explorer into the Settings / Fonts page to install it.

Passwordless sign-in

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You can now use a passwordless Microsoft account that’s tied to your mobile phone.

Image: Microsoft

If you’re going to use Windows Hello to log in with your face or fingerprint, you have to set up a PIN, which is more secure than a password because it’s only stored on that specific device. But you must still have had a password on your Microsoft account in the first place to add it to Windows, which is one more password to forget or lose. Now you can use a passwordless Microsoft account that’s tied to your mobile phone and use that to set up a Windows account using an SMS code. Originally that was just for Windows 10 Home, but now it works with all editions, so companies wanting to move to zero-trust passwordless systems can include Windows in that.

Emoji Symbol Picker

Using the ‘Windows-plus-semicolon’ shortcut to open the Emoji picker lets you add smiley faces and thumbs up to your messages, which is fun. Now it also lets you find accented characters, fractions and symbols like ® or €, which is a big timesaver for more formal documents.

WSL improvements

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You can now safely create and edit Linux files in Windows.

Image: Microsoft

The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) has always come with a dire warning not to edit Linux files from inside Windows applications, because they’d get corrupted. You can now safely create and edit Linux files in Windows, because there’s a 9P protocol server running inside WSL that supports Linux metadata and permissions (as long as you don’t access the files through the AppData folder). Use ‘\wsl${distro name}’ to open your Linux files at the command line, or in Explorer.

SEE: 20 quick tips to make Linux networking easier (free PDF)

The WSL command line now lets you run commands as different users, terminate running distributions and import a new Linux distribution from a tar file instead of having to install it through the Store. One of the big advantages of WSL is that you can use multiple Linux distros simultaneously on the same PC without the overhead or complexity of multiple VMs. The ability to import and export distros like this makes it easier if your organisation has a preferred Linux version for developers or admins to use.

Clock sync

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Click ‘Sync now’ to correct the time, rather than set it by hand.

Image: Microsoft

If you turn on a PC that you haven’t used in a while and the time is wrong by more than a few hours, you may have problems getting connected or accessing email. That’s a security protection, but it also means your PC won’t be able to get the right time from the time server, because it can’t connect to it. Settings / Time & Language now shows when the time was last synchronised, and you can click ‘Sync now’ to correct the time instead of having to set it by hand, which means you get the security protection without the annoyance.

Smart touch keyboard

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The hit target is adjusted based on the next predicted letter.

Image: Microsoft

Tablet users will like the new touch keyboard feature that predicts which key you’re going to hit next and invisibly adjusts the hit target for all the keys to make the ones you’re most likely to be trying to touch slightly larger. (This is the same technique used on Windows Phone and users may remember how much more accurate this made typing on-screen.)

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