Note: This is the first part of two in a series detailing what is to come in Microsoft’s new Creators update. Part 2 details new features and experiences.
As the story of Windows is told and goes, our transition with Windows 10 is pointing to a milestone where development is exclusively shaped by the present technological revolutions we face as a society. As a result of cloud computing, it’s no longer uncommon to see everyday computers in which all operating system files are timestamped with dates only 6 months old. You might ponder to yourself, “is this not a weird thought? Who would care about how old system files are?” I wish to challenge this thought pattern, and thus to asert the notion that we live in an era where security has gained greater importance. Of course, so has a need to allow for smaller and more efficient forms of upgrading: We can no longer wait for lengthy downtimes where our computer is configuring them and taking up valuable assets of time and energy which could be spent elsewhere. For this level of refinement, many changes could not be placed in motion from the moment Windows 10 was unleashed, and as we shall see in this review, there are always areas where this transition is still taking place, shaping every single concept which may accompany the next release.
Windows 10 15063, which is known as the Creators update, is the culmination of yet another round of this transition, with features such as the ability to account for blue-light adjustment throughout the day of your screen, and the use of Bluetooth devices for dynamically locking your computer after you have left your desk. On the surface, we could break it down into only a handful of sections: A betterment of the install process and privacy changes, Taskbar and design enhancements, along with app update features, as Edge has received convenient new tab management functionality. Yet as with many Microsoft updates in the past, one only has to dig a little deeper to find gems of an update or new fix which might only impact a few users, but may in fact cascade out to you as well. For example, recording and capturing game windows is possible with a new game bar, a feature intended for gamers and easy-to-find screen capturing tools. Although there is no doubt that gamers will find these the most useful, limited functionality is now extended to those who have wanted a way to capture quick, resolution-scaled video files of what they are doing, perhaps for sharing to a friend where fast troubleshooting is needed. No doubt, many will still opt for a professional or free recording solution, but this feature as a whole will benefit others.
The ability to sketch using a 3-D environment, such as on touch screens and pressure-sensing pens with Paint is great for artists and creatives alike, but the sample 3-D objects and models now shipping with Windows 10 will also come in use by those who own a 3D printer and might have attempted to try ways to export, import, and print these types of content. Since 3D printer drivers are now natively included in Windows, a basic of form of printing can be carried from start to end. I also wish to point out that regular Paint users will be able to upload 3D content, bridging the divide between groups of people and allowing them to collaborate on ideas and their execution. Windows also opens up the market, although perhaps in limited scope, to individuals who are deaf-blind by including Braille within Narrator, and it’s only expected that these features will improve to drive the landscape of Windows forward. When I first began reviewing, testing, and vocally pointing out the ways in which this platform is changing especially for the blind and visually impaired market, Windows was still at a Vista build, 5048. 10000 Builds later, the pattern of development is still with us: We need only to look at how Narrator was back then to see how its changed, and PONDER UPON Paint AS IT went from classic, to ribbons, to now 3D. I encourage you to read my previous articles on released Windows 10 updates: On the Anniversary update, The November Refresh,
And My original, 10000 word write-up of the first release.
As society grows up, so does Windows. Looking back, I was critical in some of my writings. They reflect upon a transition period which back then was just beginning.
What’s in it for me to upgrade?
If you have been on top of your updating game, then perhaps all your hard work and patient time will finally pay off, although only fully for insiders as of now. This is because for the first time, Microsoft has rolled out a unified updater which will only update needed file and system components, so long as you are on an appropriate build which aligns with changes made in the latest one. The rest of the world will see this deployed for the first time with the next Windows release, as it was just introduced in November. For now, you’ll have to stick with having to replace all your system files with this new release, rather than augmenting it with something of both the old and new. From my experience, you will definitely save yourself quite the time by using an SSD or at the very least a 7200 RPM drive, as it could take you well up to 2 hours to perform this upgrade on an older machine. With an SSD, typical times ranged from 25 to 45 minutes, going from my IdeaPad Yoga 3 to the trusty Kangaroo PC which I felt were good ways to benchmark this experience across a variety of configurations.
Just as prior, Microsoft Offers the Upgrade assistant tool which lets you download an ISO file to save and write a DVD or USB drive with a bootable set up experience. Later, we will dive into how this has changed for the positive, allowing most who are blind a possibility of self-installation from the very beginning of the process. There will also be ways for existing users on 1607, which is the summer or anniversary release to install it within Windows Update itself through a “show me how” link which will appear under the update history option.
If you are curious, you can read about Microsoft’s commitments to how the update will be rolled out here. In general, hopes are that unlike with the last release where some did not receive it due to compatibility issues, many glitches have been resolved which will provide for a smoother rollout in times to come. That Kindle bug where bluescreens persisted when certain models were plugged in? Hopefully gone, as the testimony of other technologists claims so.
In general, my advice for upgrading to newer versions of Windows remains the same. Unless your computer is newer (~5 years) and / or you feel comfortable installing a newer version of Windows 10, you should just wait until your turn is in the queue, by which point all compatibility and download quotas would be met. You can opt to jump ahead if there are features which you absolutely require from this update, which I would posit many from the blind community might desire. Who wouldn’t want a talking installer and recovery screen? Seriously though, while I myself have not experienced any upgrade troubles on 5 different computers and I have only heard of a few people who cannot run it because of graphics driver issues, most people will have access and a smooth ride to this year’s Microsoft wonders. (Not all computers were mine, either. Some were ones I had to re-image for others. Thank you, others!) You can let us know in the comments on how your upgrade process fairs, but if your problem is more serious, consult your nearest Microsoft answer desk. (see what I did there?)
A new and redesigned installation process, with pieces of old mixed in for foundation
In many areas, Windows required a facelift. These were panels and dialogs which have been a core part of the experience users had, only changing a little between each iteration of Windows. Not so anymore! There are two areas to this, and it is best that we go in sequential order.
For those going from within Windows itself, you will most likely receive your update in Windows update. Others, using the ISO file, will be greeted with the same familiar upgrade experience – if you run setup.exe from the root folder of the drive, this will be the new Windows 10 wizard. If you opt to run the setup file inside the sources folder of the media, you will find yourself yet again buried within the decade-old and familiar setup interface of Windows Vista/7, where you can also choose a custom partition for the installation drive or load drivers for setup. This is the same as before, so choose your option wisely.
A talking installation Experience, from start to finish
For Those who love using the keyboard only, or rely on a screen reader with speech only, significant steps have been made to implement a talking installation process with Narrator. This is huge, and I cannot understate the importance of something that Apple and even any Linux live-distro has had for years and decades. It’s a technology for which Microsoft’s investments will pay off greatly, as accessibility has now been implemented in the entire WinRE space, allowing access to computer troubleshooting for someone who is completely blind. For decades, I have had to rely on the help of sighted individuals or knowing my own skills towards which keys to press in getting the installation right. For Windows XP, I remember having pages of braille with small lines running down with each “tab tab enter” sequence. (Admittedly, I was probably one of the more insane enthusiasts with that one.)
Thus we enter a new era of self-installations and independent OS deployments, for those who are technical or even just wish to reinstall their grandma’s computer. There are a few caveats to remember, though. From my experience, most soundcards will be supported natively, and in an oddly similar way to Mac OS, you cannot adjust volume during the first phase of setup through software methods; You will have to rely upon a main form of volume control. This to some might be an inconvenience and indeed an issue, although I’ve not experienced a computer with super low volume. Generally, this is probably set in computer firmware to the sound device as well. Apple computers and systems with Intel Atom chips may not feature audio cards which are supported, although it’s possible that newer tablets use audio chipsets with better standards. A USB dongle as purchasable at any electronics outlet should provide at least support for an acceptable level of sound, and these become autodetected without requiring a reboot on your part. Yay for plug and play!
Let us go through the steps and scenarios which would allow you to use Narrator, or for which you may wish to enable it.
- To install Windows from a DVD or removable drive.
- Insert a Windows 10 Creators update DVD or USB drive. Once your computer turns on, you will need to access the boot manager to allow it to start up from the external disk. Unfortunately, each computer’s interface on this is different, and you may or may not require sighted assistance to change this.
- First try by going into the recovery section of settings > update and recovery. There is a restart button within here, which will bring up a set of advanced options – similar to the f8 menu in Windows 7.
- F12 Is a general standard keyboard command used to activate the boot menu on many systems. It’s possible that if you enter the menu and attempt to cycle through each choice, your luck may succeed – several times, I have installed Windows through this trial and error method. If you can boot your flash drive after installing a virtual machine solution such as VMWare, you can ensure that it is bootable. When created using the media creation tool, however, this should not be of concern to you.
- Once the setup screen has loaded, which takes about a minute, you can simply press the Control + Windows + Enter key command to launch Narrator. If a supported soundcard is found, Narrator will speak using the Microsoft Zira voice.
- To access set up progress if upgrading Windows from either within Windows Update or as a standalone update from within a DVD. Here, you can press the Narrator command to invoke speech right after your first, initial installation reboot. Narrator will provide you with continual progress information. Should this become bothersome Narrator can just as easily be toggled off, although controlling progress bar behaviour in the future would solve this minor issue.
- After installation, rebooting to the recovery options screen will result in immediate speech feedback after pressing Windows + Control + Enter. You will hear Narrator read out options such as “troubleshooting,” “continue,” and other restart options, such as rebooting into any type of firmware mode for changing your computer’s core settings. If you choose troubleshooting, note that speech will cease as the recovery environment loads; You will need to enable it again after a momentary pause.
Post-installation: It all changes
You will either be pleasantly surprised or greatly startled depending on what happens next. Cortana’s voice will randomly begin speaking, telling you that she can help you go through the set up process. This is all interactive, although pressing next after some screens will be needed, such as after wi-fi and updates have been accounted for.
If you do not have a microphone plugged in, you will still have a chance to see a more classic experience to setting up your computer, although creating a local account (if you have started fresh) is no longer as painful as before. Microsoft allows you to skip signing in with an account and create one right away – no need to fake sign-up for an account just to press the red skip button.
If you had Narrator turned on throughout this ordeal, hearing Cortana can sometimes be difficult. However, using her is purely optional, and there’s a toggle button to deactivate the assistant completely, so you will step through each screen using the keyboard, mouse, and or touch screen. On the computers I have configured, I generally went through the process on my own, although there is some convenience to having her provide a greater personal touch to the Windows experience. On my Kangaroo PC, which has a built-in fingerprint sensor, configuring the behavior and finger of this was done through this experience, so the pages and steps you will be going through might be quite different depending on your computer.
Redesigned privacy dialogs, but two different paths
As the years passed with Windows 10, cracks began to form in its framework of privacy and data collection. Not only could Microsoft display advertisements on your start screen and in other areas, but these ads can now be custom-pushed to your likes and preferences. Although these settings could be disabled, choosing “express settings” would still turn them to quite high settings, and furthermore disallow the user from changing them there unless they opted to go through a multi-step custom wizard. In addition, there was an “enhanced” setting for diagnostic and telemetry collection which has now been removed.
Since this review is being written a little prior to live rollout of this through Windows update, there is a little uncertainty as to one possible scenario. Microsoft has outlined a privacy screen you will see if you start upgrading from a pre-existing version of Windows 10. It is quite possible that you configured various privacy options to your liking, and the company’s goal is to respect these regardless of what they might have been. Migrating them over is important, so as part of the pre-experience of creators update, this data will be reviewed and shown to you. You will be able to accept or change them at this point, and they will apply after your upgrade completes.
This image, courtesy of Microsoft, shows another type of privacy screen you might see after a standard or new Windows install. This screen will only be shown if your privacy settings did not migrate and have to be configured, so expect to see it when you reinstall, too. It allows you to change many options here, including:
- Location options for sharing data with Microsoft and among apps.
- Regarding speech, you can let Cortana and Windows Store apps recognize your voice… and send data to Microsoft to improve speech recognition. This used to be previously the inking and typing feedback toggles, as well as those related to Cortana’s collection of this data.
- Relevant ads and advertising collection – this controls do not track and the advertising ID setting from the anniversary update.
- Tips privacy, where you can choose whether system diagnostic data can be used to offer recommendations and tips – these are pieces of system information which cannot identify you, but might contain information about your computer.
- Finally, you can change a slider from basic to full for controlling data policies around sensitive information which could be collected to help improve prediction and Microsoft services. “full” diagnostic mode will send typing data and feature usage to Microsoft. “basic” sends less data, censoring out those bits which are personal.
Overall, these solidify a better plan, one more in line with what customers wish to see from understanding their rights. The EU has been pushing Microsoft on this, and it’s clear that work is still in place for adding further transparency. There are less toggles and switches, and many settings are grouped together so that a subset of them can be disabled. A greater set of 18 privacy categories is available in the settings app, allowing you to later drill down and change others.
In the next section, we will find out how true of a creator you really are. Not all features work for all people. I love reading Braille, but you might not have learned it for various reasons or feel different about it. Yet Braille allows me to create content in a different way. I enjoy being able to set tabs aside in edge and integrate this into my daily workflow, but your opinion of this feature might be negative. Why should I care? I write these reviews to lack bias, to allow you to make a choice based on your own preferences and desires. Continue to the next section to read more.