8 killer new Windows 10 features for 2019
The next version of Windows 10 is here, bringing with it a tasty selection of new features and enhancements to the operating system. This time around, those include visual enhancements, improvements to Windows Update and better ways to work across different devices and operating systems.
Although it's called the "May 2019 Update", that doesn't necessarily give an indication as to when most users will be installing it. Last year's October 2018 update was released on time, but then pulled a few days later while Microsoft investigated reports of users losing data when installing the update. In the end, it wasn't until the middle of November that most people were able to install the new release.
Still, this time around Microsoft is taking steps to ensure there's no repeat of that debacle. A complete build of the May 2019 Update has already been rolled out to users who have signed up for the Windows Insider Programme, so by the time it gets onto your PC it will have been tested by tens of thousands of real-world volunteers.
Let's take a look at the features that make this the most versatile and mature version of Windows yet.
The October 2018 update to Windows 10 introduced a new app called "Your Phone", which connects to an Android smartphone and lets you send and receive SMS messages. You can also browse your mobile photo library directly from Windows.
The May 2019 Update takes things much further with a new screen-mirroring feature, which lets you call up a copy of your Android home screen, and run smartphone apps in a window on your desktop, without having to touch your phone. It won't change the world, but it's certainly convenient.
The new screen-mirroring feature lets you call up your phone's screen on your desktop
Not everyone can take advantage, though. Predictably, iPhone users are left out in the cold - Apple's strict security model makes remote access an impossibility. You'll also need a computer that supports Bluetooth LE, which will rule out older hardware - and your Android phone must be on the supported list, too. Currently, that's limited to recent Samsung Galaxy models, but the list should expand in time.
Software updates in Windows 10 have long provoked controversy. We've lost track of the number of complaints we've seen on forums and social media over the years from furious users who have had their work disrupted or lost when Windows unilaterally decided to install a major upgrade that they never asked for.
Rejoice! Windows Home users can now pause updates for seven days via a handy button
To be fair, things aren't as bad as they used to be. The 2017 Creators Update introduced "active hours", preventing random shutdowns while you were in the middle of a task, and giving you the option to schedule a time for the restart. And, as of the April 2018 Update, much more of the updating process is done in the background while you continue to work - so when your computer does need to reboot, it should be back up and running in a matter of minutes, rather than hours.
The May 2019 Update represents another step forward - beginning with the way the update itself is distributed. Once the new release is publicly available, current versions of Windows 10 won't automatically install it, but will simply display a notification in the Windows Update settings inviting you to download the code when you're ready. Until you click the link, you will remain safely and stably on your current version of Windows 10, while regular security updates continue to come down the line as usual. This really should have been the default behaviour all along, but better late than never.
There's more good news for users of Windows 10 Home. Previously, this edition of the OS didn't give you any way to postpone updates - which was hardly great for students or home workers on tight deadlines. As of the May 2019 Update, it's now possible to suspend Windows Update for up to seven days. The option isn't hidden away, either: open the Windows Update settings and you'll see a set of new buttons located front and centre, enabling you to pause updates and change your active hours. When there's a restart pending, a tasteful little icon also now appears in your system tray.
If you click on Advanced Options, you'll spot a new toggle to tell Windows to automatically restart as soon as a new update is ready to be installed. This is the exact opposite of what most desktop users want - which is why it's wisely switched off by default - but it's perfect for kiosks and other roles.
Finally, when previous Windows 10 updates have rolled around, users frequently complained of being unable to free up enough space on their devices to install them. Microsoft has evidently been listening: the new version of Windows 10 automatically reserves a certain amount of disk space for system services to ensure that you'll never again be in a position where Windows Update or other functions can't run. The downside, of course, is that you're left with less space for your own files.
Microsoft estimates that the reserved area will be around 7GB in size, and may grow or shrink depending on how you use your computer. Now that even the most lightweight systems tend to come with 128GB of internal storage, that's an imposition, but not the end of the world. And don't worry about your hard disk suddenly losing a big chunk of space when you install the update: for now, at least, storage will only be reserved when you perform a clean installation of Windows 10. If you perform an in-place update - as 99% of users surely will - your storage will be unaffected.
One of the most powerful new features included in the May 2019 Update is a sandboxing tool, which allows you to check out untrusted downloads and other suspicious items in a safe environment. Getting started couldn't be easier: launch the Windows Sandbox desktop app from the Start menu and you'll be presented with a new window containing a sparkly, clean Windows 10 desktop.
Need to check out something potentially dodgy? Simply fire up the in-built Sandbox app
This is a full virtual copy of your operating system, abstracted and managed by the Hyper-V subsystem so that nothing that happens in this window can harm your system. You can simply drag files directly into the sandbox to copy them into the virtual realm, then examine and launch and them to your heart's desire. When you close the Sandbox app, the slate is wiped clean and all changes are gone for good, meaning that, the next time you launch it, you'll once again be greeted by a fresh, unsullied desktop.
Sadly, as it relies on Hyper-V, the Sandbox function is only available to Professional, Enterprise and Education users running a 64-bit edition of Windows. That's a shame: there are surely many home users who'd love to quickly and easily open up a sandbox for triaging suspect files, without having to get to grips with third-party virtualisation tools.
Alongside the major editions of Windows 10, Microsoft has quietly developed a new version of the OS that's aimed at compact, lightweight devices. To be clear, this isn't Windows 10 S - last year's short-lived, locked-down platform which only ran Store apps and blocked regular desktop applications. Nor is it a reboot of the disastrous Windows RT, which combined the same restriction with the world's clumsiest touch interface.
Windows Lite is a more radical redesign of Windows, aimed at a new class of hinged dual-screen devices that open up to reveal left and right digital "pages". The idea has been bouncing around within Microsoft for a long time - the company unveiled its dual-screen Courier concept back in 2008 - but the recent spate of folding smartphones could finally bring the format to the mainstream.
If that happens, Microsoft intends to be prepared with a new "always on" edition of Windows, featuring a stripped-down, tablet-like interface that's unlike the familiar desktop - intended, perhaps, to take on Google's Chrome OS and the tablet version of iOS.
We can't say a lot more about Windows Lite with any certainty, because Microsoft has so far been tight-lipped about the project. However, its existence has been confirmed by multiple insider sources, and current Windows 10 code contains references to a "Lite" version. That suggests that it may have been under development for a while - so don't be surprised if this one breaks cover sooner rather than later.