The Windows 10 Anniversary Update is finally here! It’s now been one year since Windows 10 went live, and even though the operating system is still far from perfect, this update brings a lot of much-needed changes and additions.
In other words, if you haven’t been happy with Windows 10 up until this point, the wide array of new features and improvements may be enough to win you back — unless you’re boycotting Microsoft for its aggressive marketing practices.
Here are the best and most anticipated features to arrive in the update. We’re quite happy with them and we think you will be, too.
1. Connect License to Microsoft Account
Back in the days of Windows XP and before, your operating system’s license was tied to a single activation key. Piracy was too easy with a single key, however, so with Windows Vista, 7, and 8, your operating system’s license was tied to your hardware. Specifically, the motherboard.
But this was too much of a hassle for users who wanted to transfer licenses between computers and users who frequently upgraded their PC parts, and that’s why this change is so awesome.
With the new Activation Troubleshooter, Windows 10 users can connect a Windows 10 license with a Microsoft account, then use that account to reactivate the license when hardware components are changed out, for example.
You’ll only be able to reactivate a certain number of times per account, but that number hasn’t been released yet.
Another big benefit of this is that if your system fails for some reason, this license association can make it easier to restore your system to a base installation of the Windows 10 edition that’s tied to your account.
2. The Advent of Windows Ink
If you ever intend to interact with Windows 10 using a pen or stylus, especially if you’re on a mobile device or a 2-in-1 transformable laptop, then Windows Ink is going to blow your socks off.
It’s one thing to use your pen or stylus for drawing in an app like OneNote, but it’s a whole nother thing to have native operating system features that are designed to maximize the efficacy and productivity of using said pen or stylus.
The Windows Ink platform provides a central workspace with features that enhance pen/stylus-based activities like jotting down notes, drawing sketches, and annotating your screen. Accessing it is as easy as tapping a button in the system tray.
And the best part? The Windows Ink platform is available to third-party developers! A number of apps in the Windows Store already support it, including FluidMath, Bamboo Paper, and DocuSign (for electronic signatures).
3. A Dark Theme and Better Interface
If you hate the flat and modern look of Windows 10, the Anniversary Update will have nothing for you in this area. But if you were annoyed by a few UI quirks here and there, you might be happy about what’s changed.
The biggest change is the official inclusion of a dark theme. It’s purely aesthetic, but a lot of users — myself included — find that darker colors are more comfortable for long computer sessions, making this feature absolutely awesome.
Other interface tweaks include updated looks for the system tray clock (now includes a calendar), the volume control (now includes an audio source picker), as well as the Start Menu and the Action Center (which we explore in greater detail down below).
There have even been talks about adding tabs to File Explorer, but that feature didn’t make it into the Anniversary Update. For now, but hopefully not much longer, you’ll still need to use third-party tools to add explorer tabs.
4. A Revamped Start Menu
The first thing you’ll notice upon updating to the Annivesary Update is that the Start Menu now opens directly to a list of installed apps, similar to how it was back in Windows XP.
I prefer to search for apps so I’ll probably never use this browsing method for the Start Menu, but it’s nice to have and it makes more sense in my opinion.
The Start Menu still has the ability to pin apps as tiles, but one big change is the addition of “chase-able live tiles”.
Prior to the Anniversary Update, if you had a live tile with real-time information (such as a ticker of news stories), clicking on the tile would only take you to the app. Now, a chase-able live tile takes you directly to the news story. One fewer click. Awesome.
5. Action Center & Notification Sync
The first immediate change to the Action Center in Windows 10 is the addition of a notifications icon directly in the system tray. Now you can see how many unread notifications you have at all times.
Another useful feature is the ability to drag-and-drop Action Center quick actions into whatever order you want. You can’t do this directly in the Action Center though. Open Settings > System > Notifications & actions and you’ll be able to reorganize there.
But the biggest feature is the ability to mirror notifications. After installing Cortana on your Android phone, you can enable syncing to see call notifications, text messages, battery alerts, and app notifications on Windows. This also works with a Windows Mobile device.
6. Taskbar Notification Badges
Speaking of notifications, another immediately-obvious change is the addition of badges for Universal Windows Platform apps in the Taskbar.
This is really nice for users, like me, who don’t really use the Action Center or Live Tiles that often. The only caveat is that you need to use the UWP versions of apps for it to work, and those apps need to support the feature themselves.
Overall, it’s a nice feature. I first noticed the badge on my Todoist app, but it will be even more useful on apps like Skype, Mail, Facebook, etc.
7. A Smarter Cortana
Microsoft has been pouring a lot of effort into Cortana over the past year or so, and it’s starting to show. If you thought Cortana was useless before and therefore never used your digital assistant, you may want to start in the Anniversary Update.
For starters, Cortana is now available right on the lock screen so you can interact with her without having to unlock your computer or smartphone — mostly useful for laptop users and Windows Mobile users.
Other than that, Cortana is smarter and more contextual than before. She can suggest actions based on things like your past behavior, the current time, and your location. She can also locate your phone or your car, remind you using images, and respond to more complex commands.
8. Microsoft Edge Is Finally Usable
Microsoft Edge has a lot going for it, including a number of core settings that walk the line between too simple and too complex. But up until recently, there were also a handful of reasons to wait before using Microsoft Edge.
Two of those reasons — “lack of extensions” and “poor quality-of-life features” — have been eradicated by the Anniversary Update.
Indeed, Edge now officially supports extensions, and the nice thing is that porting from Chrome to Edge is straightforward for developers, so you can expect to see a lot of well-known ones appear on Edge soon (in addition to the ones that already exist like LastPass, Reddit Enhancement Suite, and Pocket).
As for quality-of-life enhancements: the back button now shows a complete history of the current tab, tabs can be pinned, battery life is significantly better, integration with Action Center, and mouse gestures (useful for swipe navigation on mobile devices).
9. The Linux Bash Shell
The last big feature that deserves highlighting in the Anniversary Update is the introduction of a Linux subsystem right within Windows 10 that lets you run a fully functional Bash shell.
Let’s be clear: this is NOT emulation. It’s not a virtual machine either. This is pretty much the same thing that WINE does for Windows apps on Linux, except reversed.
— Richard Hay (@WinObs) March 30, 2016
This doesn’t mean the Linux kernel resides within Windows now, but it does mean that you get to run Bash on Windows, which includes all of its amazing command line tools and utilities like Vim. You can also run most binaries that would run on Ubuntu.
Most users probably won’t ever touch this feature, but it’s a great way to get your feet wet with Linux without having to go through the annoying process of installing in a virtual machine or a dual-boot rig.
Windows 10: Imperfect but Improving
Are you excited? I know I am. The Anniversary Update is a huge step in the right direction, at least in terms of bridging the gap between the shortcomings and the potential of Windows 10. We recommend trying it out for yourself when you can.
Note that some users have run into some serious errors and bugs with the Anniversary Update, so for now we only recommend it on non-critical machines.
Clearly Windows 10 is still flawed in many ways. Bloatware remains an issue for new users, operating system bugs and glitches are common, and Microsoft’s overly-aggressive push does leave a bad taste in the mouth. All we’re saying is that this update helps alleviate many past frustrations.
Have you tried the Anniversary Update yet? How do you feel about it? Or are you boycotting Windows 10 due to Microsoft’s behavior? Share with us in the comments!