Twice a year, Microsoft releases what it calls a Feature Update to its market-leading desktop operating system, and its latest, Windows 10 May 2020 Update, is now available. It could take months for the rollout to reach all PCs, but impatient users can check Windows Update to see if their PC is ready for the update.
Though it’s a Feature Update, the May 2020 release doesn’t introduce any completely new features, but it does add capabilities and changes some existing OS components. We’ve been following its genesis based on the release channel preview builds, and we’ve rounded up the most important upgrades below. A lot of what’s new affects only specialized uses of the operating system, such as corporate, developer, or accessible environments.
There are plenty of minor fixes and specialized capabilities not included here—things like better Bluetooth pairing, more Kaomoji with Windows Key-period, improved Sandbox support, Virtual Desktop renaming, updates to Notepad, and more international language support. You can find more details on Microsoft’s Windows Experience blog.
How to Get the Windows 10 May 2020 Update
Microsoft won’t force the update on anyone, and previous update glitches have put many in a wait-and-see posture when it comes to Windows updates, even though it has already been tested by over 10 million Windows Insider beta participants. The only machines facing a mandatory upgrade are those running a version that’s more than two years out of date.
To get the update, open the Settings app, select Update & Security, and then click the Check for Updates button. If your PC configuration is deemed capable of running the update, you can then choose to install it.
If you’re not content with just the current version of Windows, join the Windows Insider Program to see features that will appear in future releases. Of course, as it’s pre-release software, you may run into snags, so don’t run the preview version on essential PCs. Windows Insider offers Fast, Slow, and Release Preview builds, in order of stability.
Windows Search Updates
I for one appreciate having the search bar always present in the lower-left corner of my desktop, where I can type to find not only apps and files, but also web information. I can get a quick glance at the weather or find any document on my computer by typing a word or phrase found inside the document.
The May 2020 Update increases the number of Quick Search buttons to four: Weather, Top news, Today in history, and New movies. Currently, the search panel also includes a coronavirus updates option, so it’s a flexible feature that changes with the needs of the day. Search also gets improved spelling correction and Hints that show related close matches to what you typed.
But indexing all the content on your PC for search can take up system resources, such as RAM and CPU cycles. Windows turns this down when you’re using those resources for other apps, but now you can choose between Classic and Enhanced indexing, with the former only applied to Libraries and Desktop, and the latter scanning the entire PC. You can even specify file types and folders to exclude from indexing.
The developer team behind Windows Search has also updated the algorithm determining when it’s working. For example, it won’t index while you’re gaming or if disk usage is already over 80 percent. After the change, users reported that “High disk usage” went from being the No. 1 reason for turning off search to No. 6.
I still use Cortana to open apps, look up information, and navigate to websites, all without having to type a keystroke. With carpal tunnel looming on the horizon, the less repetitive digital motion, the better. In the May 2020 Update, Cortana becomes more of a “personal productivity assistant” rather than a general digital assistant à la Alexa. Things like creating and reading emails and setting up calendar appointments get easier, and you can also now change settings such as the screen brightness with your voice. Cortana is also getting “new speech and language models, and significantly improved performance,” according to the Windows blog.
Cortana gets more conversational capabilities, with a chat-like interface. To help with that, the AI’s window can now be moved around and resized like any other app’s, rather than docked next to the search box. A big difference between macOS’s Siri and Cortana has always been that you can either speak or type your requests, and now you can choose which method you prefer in Settings. Cortana now respects the barriers between your personal and work lives, too, with access only to the account that you’re logged in with.
Unfortunately, the new version of Cortana lacks the ability to shut down or restart your PC, something I find useful at the end of the day. I hope that Microsoft restores this capability in future releases.
DirectX12 gets some new capabilities, including Raytracing Tier 1.1, which adds new capabilities and makes adoption easier for game and hardware developers. Also new for DirectX are mesh shaders and amplification shaders, which, according to Microsoft’s blog, are “the next generation of GPU geometry processing capability, replacing the current input assembler, vertex shader, hull shader, tessellator, domain shader, and geometry shader stages.” Also new are improvements to texture rendering with Sampler Feedback, which adds texture streaming and texture space shading, both of which enable efficient 4K gaming.
On the less-in-the-weeds, end-user side, the Windows Game bar is getting an FPS counter and achievement overlays.
Reset Your PC From the Cloud
This one could be a lifesaver if your PC crashes and you’re somewhere without access to a Windows installer USB key. The option reinstalls the same version of Windows previously running, but keep in mind that it requires removing all your apps and personal files.
Window has long been a leader in accessibility features, and the May 2020 Update brings new capabilities to the text cursor, Magnifier reading, Narrator, and eye control. The latter now lets users perform drag-and-drop and improves Pause, switch support, and Settings. Narrator can now start reading an email as soon as you open it, and Magnifier now works in dark mode and at larger text-scaling sizes.
Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (WSL 2)
WSL 2 is a rebuilt version of Windows’ Linux subsystem, and new is the inclusion of an actual Linux kernel, the latest long-term stable release of Linux. That means full compatibility for Linux calls. You can install Linux distros from the Microsoft Store (image above) or sideload it with a custom distribution installer. WSL 2 uses graphics hardware and is up to 20 times as fast as WSL 1. But it’s still command-line based, and doesn’t allow you to run the full graphical user interface of Ubuntu, Gnome, or KDE.
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