Microsoft's fall update to Windows 10 ($169 at Amazon) is out. Dubbed Fall Creators Update (aka Windows 10 Version 1709), this latest edition of Windows 10 brings a subtle design change and introduces a number of new features to improve Cortana, Edge and Photos. It also embraces mixed reality, makes Windows more secure and throws some emojis at you. Let's have a look.
1. A fresh (and subtle) coat of paint
The first feature here is not a feature but a design tweak, and a subtle one at that. Microsoft brings its Fluent Design System to Windows 10 with Fall Creators Update. Instead of a redesign with a learning curve, I found Fall Creators Update to look nearly identical to its predecessor. The changes are subtle, like motion and blur effects, along with changes to the way windows appear. The Start menu, for example, looks a bit more opaque now, but I didn't notice any added elegance or smoothness to the movement within Windows. I would equate Fluent Design to giving a room a fresh coat of paint but using the same paint color as before.
2. Mixed Reality is here
Now here is something tangible. Fall Creators Update introduces support for mixed reality -- laying digital content over the real world. Think of it as VR on the cheap. Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo have released mixed-reality headsets to coincide with the release of Fall Creators Update, and they cost less than the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Prices start at $299 (roughly £250 or AU$400 converted) but you'll need to pay another $100 or so to get them bundled with motion controllers. Mixed-reality headsets use in-headset cameras instead of room sensors to track movement so you can get up and running quickly and use them anywhere.
3. You can start using Mixed Reality right away
You don't need to spring for a headset to dabble in mixed reality with Fall Creators Update. With the Mixed Reality Viewer app, you can drop 3D objects in real-world scenes using your PC's camera. Microsoft offers a handful of 3D characters you can use to get started, but you can also edit them or create your own using 3D Paint.
4. Photos gets Video Remix
What was previously called Story Remix is now called Video Remix in the beta version of Fall Creators Update that I've been using. No matter its name, this fun, new feature in the Photos app lets you quickly throw together a selection of photos and videos into a video designed to be shared Facebook and Instagram.
You can have as much or as little control as you would like in terms of editing photos, trimming video clips and adding filters, text and a soundtrack. Microsoft will take a crack at arranging your selected photos and videos into an entertaining video, but if you don't like the results, before you jump in and edit the video yourself, you can hit the Remix it for me button and Microsoft will try again.
5. Cortana's new tricks
With Fall Creators Update, you can ask Cortana to shut down, restart, lock or sign you out of your PC. And Cortana doesn't kick you out to Edge for answers to your queries as quickly; Microsoft's digital assistant now expands its info panel to show the Best match answers.
6. OneDrive Files on demand
Fall Creators Update helps you free up local storage by showing you all of your OneDrive files in File Explorer -- both the files you have downloaded to your PC as well as those stored only in the cloud. Downloaded files get a green checkmark and those only on OneDrive get a little, blue cloud icon next to them. You can right-click on file in File Explorer and select Always keep on this device to download it from OneDrive. Simply opening a file stored only in OneDrive also downloads it.
7. Emoji panel
Sweet, sweet emojis are only a quick keyboard shortcut away in Fall Creators Update. Whenever you encounter a conversation where an emoji would express your feelings best, just hit the Windows key and the period key to call up the new Emoji panel.
8. Three people walk into a taskbar...
Fall Creators Update adds a new button to the taskbar. The People button provides quick access to up to three contacts with whom you correspond most frequently.
9. Anti-ransomware protection
Windows Defender gets a new weapon in the fight against ransomware. Open the Windows Defender Security Center and go to Virus & threat protection > Virus & threat protection settings. Here, you'll be able to toggle on a new option called Controlled folder access. It protects you against ransomware attacks that can lock you out of your data. By default, the Desktop, Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos folders are protected, but you can add others.
10. Connect your phone to your PC
With the demise of the Windows phone, Microsoft has opened its arms to Android phones and iPhones ($210 at Amazon). There's a new Phone section in Settings that creates a meaningful connection between your phone and computer. Reportedly, this connection will let you pick up on your PC where you left off on Office files on your phone, but I don't use Word or Excel or any other Office files on my iPhone. I did install the Cortana app on my iPhone because with it I can read an article in Cortana and then tap a button to open that Web page in Edge on my PC. It's helpful to send, say, a long-form article from my iPhone to the luxurious dimensions of my Windows desktop, but I'll first need to get in the habit of using the Cortana app to get my news on my phone.