Windows 10 is nearly four years old. In a bygone era, its replacement would have been delivered last year, and early adopters would be eagerly awaiting Windows 11 Service Pack 1.
But those old days are gone for good. In the Windows-as-a-Service era, those every-three-years "big bang" releases have vanished, replaced by a rolling succession of smaller but still significant feature updates that now arrive every six months.
Since the launch of Windows 10 in July 2015, Microsoft has released six feature updates, each of which is the equivalent of a full Windows upgrade. A seventh, version 1903, is due for release any day. But this one is different from the rest.
Windows 10 version 1903 is the first update since Microsoft changed its support lifecycle late last year. The version 1903 update will have an 18-month support cycle for all editions, whereas the version 1909 release, due in October, will get a longer, 30-month support cycle for Enterprise and Education editions. (All Windows 10 Pro installations will be supported for 18 months, and Windows 10 Home cannot defer updates.)
The upshot of this new release cadence is that enterprise customers who want to minimize the disruption of Windows 10 feature updates will target those end-of-year releases. And if Microsoft is smart, they'll treat the H1 version as a significant update, with the H2 release smoothing the rough edges in its immediate predecessor and introducing minimal new features.
That strategy should make the fall 2019 update more appealing to enterprise customers, especially given that it will be the last Windows 10 update before the end of Windows 7 supportin January 2020.
So, what's new in version 1903? Here’s a list of a few of the most interesting new features:
• Windows Sandbox uses built-in virtualization to create a "safe" desktop where you can try out an
untrusted program or visit a suspicious website without risking the integrity of your PC. When you
close the sandbox, every trace of those actions is wiped out, and the next session starts fresh.
• The default Start menu layout has been made cleaner, Cortana and Windows Search are now
separated, and there's a shiny new Windows Light theme.
• Several old-style management controls have now been moved into new Settings pages. Most notable
is the addition of a drag-and-drop interface for installing new fonts, but you'll also find improvements
in the Search Indexing interface and the modern printing dialog box, as well as options for setting a
manual IP address and DNS server settings for a wired Ethernet adapter.
But that list focuses mostly on visible parts of the user experience and doesn't include some of the equally substantive under-the-hood improvements.
For example, Microsoft has moved Start to its own process, called StartMenuExperienceHost.exe, and also changed the process, so it no longer suspends. Separating this process from the rest of the shell should make it faster and more reliable. If this change works as expected, you'll notice much snappier performance.
Microsoft continues to polish the update process, adding more notifications and, reportedly, giving you the option to postpone updates for up to 35 days on a PC running Windows 10 Home edition.
One longstanding annoyance is reportedly fixed in this update. In current Windows 10 builds, if you adjust the display brightness and then plug in (or unplug) the charger, the brightness changes back to the default setting; as of version 1903, Windows now remembers your custom brightness setting as preferred, regardless of whether you're running on battery or AC power.
In sum, version 1903 contains enough new stuff to earn its status as a major feature update. As always, you can manually update immediately, or you can wait till Microsoft releases the update to your PC, a process that might take a month or two. And, of course, you always have the option to watch and wait as Microsoft fixes the inevitable glitches and hiccups in those first few months. For more details, click here.
For those organizations that have already made the move to Windows 10, there's plenty of time to refine the strategy for dealing with these updates. For those who are yet to begin the upgrade from Windows 7, the alarms are starting to sound in earnest.