Windows 10’s first insider build for a month brings a long list of updates

/ Edge in all its Windows 10 build 15002 glory.

 

Microsoft has released Windows 10 build 15002 to Windows Insiders on the fast update ring.

The new build comes to most of us more than a month since the last build was released back on December 7, and it includes a substantial number of changes and new features. The company wanted to avoid pushing out new builds around the holiday period, but with that now a distant memory, it’s back to work for the Windows developers. A few people even got their hands on the build early as Microsoft published it to its servers over the weekend, albeit without release notes.

There’s no Mobile update this time around, nor any indication of when a Mobile update will ship.

Scrollable tab previews.

Scrollable tab previews.

Microsoft

The two apps that have the most obvious changes are Edge and Settings. Edge has a new tab preview bar option that brings back memories of the Metro Internet Explorer in Windows 8. Tap a button, and every tab you have open gets a little preview panel in a big scrolling list. This is particularly nice when you have so many open tabs that their titles get truncated to the point of uselessness.

A new “set aside” feature further helps with managing tabs; you can close a bunch of tabs to get them out of the way and then reopen them individually or all together at a later date. This should make it easier to tidy up your browser workspace to work on something different, while still letting you quickly recover what you were working on before.

Tab Set Aside.

Tab Set Aside.

Microsoft

Edge now also has a jump list on the taskbar so that InPrivate windows can be opened directly. This build also includes the promised click-to-run default for Flash. The new Edge build also includes the first part of support for the Web payments API, which allows the use of payment and shipping info stored in Microsoft Wallet for online vendors. This initial support doesn’t yet support making actual transactions, however.

More vaguely, Microsoft says that it has changed how Edge’s multiprocess model works. Edge, like Internet Explorer and Chrome, uses multiple processes so that the rendering engine (the part that has to actually process the potentially hostile code from the Web and tends to contain exploitable flaws) runs in a separate process from the one that handles the browser window, accessing files on disk and receiving user input from the mouse and keyboard. This design makes it harder to exploit browser flaws, and it also means that one tab can crash without bringing down the entire browser. The company isn’t very specific on what exactly has changed in the latest Edge build, except to say that it should be more stable and responsive to user input when tabs are slow or hang.

The Settings app continues to pick up new settings and alter or improve the organization of existing settings. For example, Bluetooth and other connected devices are now handled in a single section rather than being split up, depending on how the device is connected, and display settings now let you change the resolution without having to drill through to the advanced page.

There are new capabilities in the settings page, too: the blue light reduction feature that was hinted at in previous builds is now present and functional, Surface Dial owners can configure the wheel’s capabilities on a per-app basis, and personalization and theming are now handled within the new Settings app rather than in Control Panel.

There’s a final highly visible change, at least if you’re unlucky: insider builds now have a Green Screen of Death. Fatal system errors will still make both you and the screen feel blue in final/release builds, but previews are now distinguishable at a glance.

The new build also contains lots of small changes that’ll undoubtedly make many Windows users happier. The Start menu can have folders for tiles, using the same appearance as on Windows Mobile. Updates can be paused for up to 35 days, allowing the nervous to more easily let other people be the first to take the plunge and discover issues. Windows Professional, Enterprise, and Education (though not Home) will be able to permanently opt out of receiving driver updates through Windows Update. Updates will still be applied automatically, but build 15002 should be better at detecting whether you’re in the middle of a presentation. It also increases the “Active Hours,” the portion of the day in which it avoids rebooting, to 18 from 12 (a change that brings the desktop operating system in line with the Mobile variant).

Folders in the Start menu.

Enlarge / Folders in the Start menu.

Microsoft

On top of all that, build 15002 includes some big work in progress. Microsoft is updating the Windows out-of-box experience (OOBE)—the initial setup that you have to do to a new installation—to make it Cortana-accessible, driven by voice and speech prompts. This work isn’t complete, so you’ll still need to use a mouse, keyboard, or touch to finish the process for now. The goal is to have the work done by the time the Creators Update is final.

Awkwardly, there’s no easy way of testing this currently: fast ring builds are only available via Windows Update and are installed as in-place upgrades. This means that they don’t show the OOBE anyway. ISOs of build 15002 are promised soon so that clean installs with the OOBE become straightforward.

A full listing of known bugs, along with some big changes that have been made to the input method editors used for certain languages and the Narrator used for assistive technology, are detailed at Microsoft’s blog.

A minority of users of 15002 will also be opted in to a power management test, wherein Windows will throttle certain applications to reduce their battery impact. Details on what throttling does and how applications get chosen to be throttled should be revealed in February.

As before, the Insider builds still aren’t recommended for daily driver PCs. And it’s still not clear to us just how the kinds of quality control issues that we saw with the release of the Anniversary Update are going to be addressed. The breadth and complexity of the changes being made demand rigorous testing on a wide range of real hardware, but the list of bugs and broken features makes the build more appropriate to virtual machines or secondary systems.

This is particularly acute for the Creators Update’s big new augmented and virtual reality features. The update is going to include a 3D shell based on the one used in HoloLens and support for a range of new cheaper headsets such as the one Lenovo showed at CES. But that new hardware doesn’t exist, and Microsoft’s support for existing VR headsets (specifically the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive) remains uncertain.

Windows 10 is certainly getting more consistent, more versatile, and more feature-packed, but concerns about quality aren’t going to go away any time soon—even with a new and welcomed build.

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