Microsoft’s first major update to Windows 10 will roll out tomorrow, August 2. The free Windows 10 Anniversary Update brings much-needed improvements to apps, new features for stylus lovers, and a smarter Cortana voice assistant.
There are already about 350 million devices running Windows 10. And if you own one or two of them, these updates could provide you with extra features that you'll really appreciate.
Not everyone should rush to update their OS, however. If you own a business or use specialized applications, you might want to wait until you can confirm that your must-have software works with the Anniversary Update. Head to the Update section of your Settings page, and select Defer in the Advanced Options section.
Here are some of the most interesting features of the Anniversary Update.
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Windows Hello is a new biometrics feature that lets you log into your device just by looking at it (it can recognize both faces and irises) or pressing your thumb on a scanner. The feature doesn’t completely replace your password; essentially, it confirms your identity, then enters the password for you.
There is one catch: You need a Windows Hello-compatible camera or fingerprint scanner. Many new devices will have built-in Windows Hello support, and you can purchase after-market cameras or fingerprint scanners if your existing machine doesn't have one.
Windows Ink is an update to Microsoft's already Pen-friendly features for Windows 10 devices. Right now, the Surface Pen can take notes in OneNote, annotate screenshots, and activate Cortana. Windows Ink brings with it Windows Ink Workspace, a sort of home base for all your Pen-related tasks. Clicking the Pen activates the workspace and shows you apps that include Sticky Notes, OneNote, and Sketchpad.
With Sketchpad, you can quickly draw ideas on a blank page, and use rulers to guide your sketches.
Using handwriting recognition, the new Sticky Notes feature lets you create reminders from handwritten notes, add people to your contact list when you jot their info down, or create a checklist before you hit the grocery store. Windows Ink also makes Pen-capable apps easier to find with its "Get Pen Apps" feature.
Microsoft’s desktop assistant, Cortana, is adding an essential trick to its repertoire. Cortana can now listen to you from the lock screen, letting you add notes and reminders without logging in.
Unfortunately, once you accept the update, you’re stuck with Cortana, as you can’t turn it off. You can, however, prevent the assistant from reporting your every move to Microsoft for storage in the cloud, and dissemination to your other devices—just disable Cortana from the Settings page. The app will still function as your primary form of search on Windows, but it won’t collect your personal data.
The Anniversary Update is giving Microsoft Edge a much-needed upgrade. The new browser from Microsoft is adding support for extensions, a feature that comes standard from competitors like Google Chrome and Firefox.
Popular extensions currently available include Amazon Assistant, LastPass, and Evernote Web Clipper. That selection is miniscule right now, but with Edge promising to add support for Chrome and Firefox extensions in the near future, a major expansion could be on the way.
Xbox Play Anywhere
If you're a gamer who owns an Xbox One, pay attention to this new addition to Windows 10. Xbox Play Anywhere lets you buy a game once and play it on either your Xbox One or Windows 10 PC. In-game progress and achievements are synchronized, so you can move smoothly from one machine to the other.
But there is one caveat: The game must be compatible with Xbox Play Anywhere, so don't expect to pop a copy of "Sunset Overdrive" into your PC. You can purchase the games on either your Xbox One or from the Microsoft Store.
Final note: Update your Xbox and you'll have Cortana on your console.
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