With another year, comes another update. Having re-written this section of the review multiple times now feels just the same as the world felt when the April update slipped it’s April 10th release schedule date. Oh, that faithful Patch Tuesday, now come and gone. Nobody really knew what caused the update to slip a full 20 days, but it was most likely for the right reasons. Twice when installing the so called released build, 17133, my humble Lenovo Ultrabook machine randomly rebooted the update from the beginning – prompting me to retry each time. Something didn’t feel quite right.
Then we got word that the so-called shipped version received an update. This was supposed to patch some random bluescreen issues and was applied to all the insiders running that version. This was pulled a few days later, with An official explanation from Microsoft that they are rolling this security update into an entirely new build. This became 17134, the version you, dear reader, may actually be running on as you read this. From the first few weeks of experience being out and about, the update has hit many computers – with my regular complaints of corrupted Outlook datafiles trickling in, and those sighing of relief from the passage of time their update took to complete successfully. Hopefully you are one of those latter people, rather than of the former camp. By far, the update was supposed to negate what it almost caused: An unknown, countless array of user errors as they receive a faulty version of Windows on their shiny new computer which ends up bluescreening in the middle of first boot. Oh boy. I think we can safely say, disaster averted! Now only one remains: That text to speech says the update’s name as the April 10th Windows update? Only they know what could have been.
So what’s new in this update?
I ask myself this question every day and each time we get a new Windows release. Many blogs and websites will try and downplay this update. They will say that it’s minor, that not much is to be seen – almost downgrading it to a mere service pack. What tragedy, right? Yet you may be aware that for the accessibility community, specifically those relying on Ease of Access features Microsoft built in to Windows, this update is more significant.
As you may see from this screenshot, much of the accessibility settings have been re-designed. This interface is found on all major platforms, including Android and Apple, where categorical navigation defines the disabilities for which preferences are available. You may choose from Vision, Hearing, and interaction. These three categories broadly define the areas in which Windows has Ease of Access features. For screen reader users, this is laid out in a tree view within the Settings list, allowing you to navigate and pick an option from one of the groups.
That’s just one aspect to Windows 10’s shiny new polish. Nearby sharing will allow you to share media content with X-BOX 1 consoles or nearby Windows 10 computers running the same update. Timeline is also new, bringing handoff capabilities between devices synced across the cloud in a history view. Imagine looking at the exact document you opened last night at 7 PM on the kitchen computer or browsing the same photo album on your laptop as you watched with the family. These all bring more coherence to the platform as it matures to be something people recognize and grow to enjoy using.
Meanwhile, if you focus on work, Focus Assist might be the right feature to remove clutter from apps such as Skype. This is an improved incarnation of the “quiet hours” feature, introduced in a prior update. Toggling it on will ensure that notifications cannot become a distraction, and people pinned to your taskbar can still reach you or be reached. Other changes round out this update, but these cannot be sorted into any category, as they sprinkle across a huge subset of features. Lucky for us, though, we can start simple and move forth from there to cover some of the deeper changes.
New in your everyday experience
Here I would like to highlight some features you may notice right away as you use Windows. These are ones you would come to through the natural use of the Windows interface, including the taskbar, start menu, action center, system tray, and the task switcher.
New to your start screen
- Reveal highlight is a new feature appearing once you hover over items within your start menu. This may include a live tile or one of the all apps items. Visually, it displays borders around these elements, providing more friendliness toward mouse interaction.
- You will find that documents and Pictures are now listed within the places menu on the left, rather than just settings alone. This is set by default and you can pin other folders here as well.
- Right-click any store app, and you will notice that there’s a more item, which is nothing new. Of course. What is comes after you click more. Now when you press settings, it will take you to that app’s settings page within the apps screen itself, saving you time to fish it out yourself.
- Fluent design is here to stay. This new design language is visible on the places rail, start screen tiles, and the apps list. It’s more consistency for sure, however this fades away once you look at how many different variations of apps there are with different-looking title bars and UI elements. The OCD-heavy readers will appreciate further work in unifying this, though.
Action center gets into action
- Focus Assist now lives in Action center as a toggle, rounding out the number of action center items to 12 on a standard wi-fi and Bluetooth laptop, or 13 if you have configured that feature. Quietly, it got renamed for quiet hours, and this version is far better. You will still find the fine-tuning and initial settings for it under system > Focus Assist. It is a great feature not only for the everyday user, but also for anyone with ADHD or requiring that extra “push” to stay focused either on a routine or at a moment’s notice.
- To better display clarity, Microsoft has re-labeled the “clear all” button to “clear all notifications” for each group in the action center. For users of assistive technology readers, the button to dismiss a group of notification is spoken more clearly, indicating which app they are being dismissed for. “Clear all notifications for Cortana, button.” This is far better of a job and finally the action center isn’t a pain to use.
- You may notice that Action center now honors your theme setting, or dark mode if you have enabled it. Again, bringing further consistency.
- You can now swipe with 2-fingers on a touchscreen or on the action center to dismiss all notifications.
- In some instances, you cannot dismiss a notification. This may be if you changed an important security setting which now requires your attention, or if any critical high-priority notifications exist. In these instances, the “clear all” button gets dimmed, visually marked by an X.
- You can reply to a Skype message in a toast notification that just appeared, and then “choose” to dismiss it. In such a situation, bringing up the action center view will now contain your message, saved for you just in case you did this on accident.
- If you have enabled nearby sharing (a setting we’ll discuss soon, I promise) you can share content to devices from the action center. If in Edge, for example on a site, pressing Windows +A and sharing from there to a device will push the page URL to load on that device. Yes, this would increase your action center count to 14, you’re correct.
- Edge can now send notifications from websites into Action center. Of course, a website will prompt you for a specific notifications permission when doing this. Push comes to the desktop, in 2018.
Cortana now exclusively displays her notifications in the Action center. In the previous Creator’s updates, she would display them inside the actual Cortana app and inside the action center; This got very confusing, fast. Not so anymore, she’s clear as daylight in her communications strategies.
We’ve exhausted the action center, finally. Let’s give it a little break.
What’s new with the Taskbar and everything else that’s basic?
- Let’s go over a few things here, notably how the taskbar looks. Acrylic is finally here for core Windows elements, including the Taskbar and clock. This is a physical texture, visually adding material and depth to elements – both padding, animation, and definitely quite different from the glass mantra present in something like Windows 7.
- Feel free to right-click that Windows update icon. If you do, you can schedule restarts conveniently from your system tray’s notifications area. Similarly, right-clicking the defender icon allows you to perform a quick scan without launching into the app.
- If you’re a fan of drag and drop, you’re going to like what’s changed in the people app. You can drag contacts onto the taskbar to have them automatically be added to your People’s list. Oh, and the number of people you can add here has quietly increased to 10. Go on, have your party.
- Of note, you may see apps suggested in the People bar which support adding contacts. You can turn off seeing these suggestions in settings, then personalization, and in the Taskbar section.
- Timeline. This one is huge, and enabled by default for your local, currently-used computer only. If you press the windows Tab key to enter the App switcher interface, you will notice that it’s a bit different.
Timeline is a way to see a history of activities you have performed on your computer, or if you enable it in the flyout, across other devices you own running this version of Windows 10. The downside to Timeline is that developers need to add support into their apps and programs so that the history may reflect opened activities. In my timeline, all I see is “notepad” and “edge” opened windows, which is to say that Firefox and probably many other programs don’t support adding into it. The success (or dare I say future failure) of this feature somewhat relies on this implementation being completed by developers, and this is not always granted. Yet still, the feature is very useful to see content across devices, and if you sync them across one-drive, it is highly seamless to migrate from one machine to another. Let’s just do that for the sake of this review!
- The run dialog now lets you press CTRL+ Shift+ Enter to launch a task using administrator rights. This is a big one for many geeks and brings it in line with how running programs with higher-level access worked.
- Auto-suggestions during text input on hardware keyboards. This one will impact many, though I suspect those using common screen readers will not experience it unless told to do so. This is because NVDA 2018.1 by default does not support the suggestions, although I would not be surprised if it made to 2018.2. You can install the Windows 10 Essentials add-on I refernece here later on as a link, and the stable version will support the suggestions. To enable the setting, head to settings > (windows key + I) devices > typing. Either under typing , ensure that “show text suggestions as I type” is checked. It is only supported on English US from what I’m understanding. Typing suggestions work across any text box, even in notepad or your Twitter client’s compose field – it’s a system-wide change. When you hear suggestions, they will be spoken as though in a list. Pressing up arrow will place you inside where the right arrow highlights other choices if available, and space inserts that suggestion. Down arrow is a quick way to exit the list, making this a feature I now enable on all of my Windows 10 machines running the 1803 update.
Another useful feature? Search. There’s a search button inside timeline which you can click to then look for a specific file or website. This is very handy if you want to find something fast in a cluttered day.
Settings keeps expanding
With this update, I believe we are seeing the last of some settings control panel applets. These have been around ever since the Windows 98 days, with some not getting touched and love in years. With the new Settings app, Microsoft has a chance to bring over an improved interface for finding settings that are designed for the modern age, full of fancy options like HDR graphics. Of course, this brings a logical list of grouped settings, something which is far more vaguely defined in the original “category” view of the Control panel. So, what has changed? On the surface, nothing. Settings will contain your 13 familiar items from the Fall Creator’s update. Dig deeper, further down into the parts of Windows, and you’ll find quite a goldmine of hidden gems.
- Yes, you know the modern times are here when all sound settings are under one umbrella! Also, if your NVDA screen reader goes crazy when you open the sounds settings page. This is because there’s a convenient progress bar displaying the microphone’s wave level. This is great when you are troubleshooting a microphone setup that’s not working, but not so great when you use the “beep for progress bar updates” setting of this screen reader. Before entering, please silence your progress bar sounds. Thank you.
- What’s cool about the sounds page is the per-app sound settings option. This is near the bottom and will bring up a window containing a list of all your apps. Once you choose an app in that list (which is actively making audio), you can not only change the volume of that app, but also the output device for it. This means you can now independently force an app to go through a certain audio device, rather than the system default, and the app does not even have to support this feature. A win win.
- You will find that startup apps is handy if you go under the apps category. Here you can see a quick overview of which apps are set to start and a toggle button for each. You can also sort the list. If you use NVDA, you hear each app’s name twice, because they are grouped into their own little cute sections.
- If your machine supports HDR, you can change a slider here to customize the brightness of displayed HDR content.
- Game bar has improved, although not accessible to third-party screen readers still by default unless you install the Windows 10 App Essentials Add-on and get it speaking that way.
Roughly, the game now consists of tabs, organizing what you can do with this mode. The capture tab, for example, allows you to configure various camera settings and start recording. Also, a clock is always there in the game bar to remind you of the time.
- The Windows Defender Settings page is now called Windows Security. This is a positive signal to better times, as it’s no longer confusing to distinguish both. Remember how annoyed I got at having two places to call Windows Defender in my prior writings?
- The privacy settings got a similar makeover to Ease of Access settings! It now contains a nested list with 2 groups, the first with just a few, but the second with 20 categories for permissions. Apps which use each sensor or feature will show up in their respective categories.
- Apps have individual settings pages now, and for any store app you can go to “advanced options” to bring up a list of all given permissions that app requires. This makes it very clear what you’re consenting to, although I do wish that it wouldn’t be so buried under all those pages.
- If you would like to no longer see blurry images on larger displays where Windows scales, here you can find new settings to fix this problem.
- The new page for Focus Assist allows you to define predefined rules for times during the day during which you do not wish to be distracted by nonsense alerts.
- Diagnostics”> This diagnostic data viewer is one way you can see what information is collected from you when you send information to Microsoft. In addition to this, you have far greater control over the level at which this data is sent. You can also now delete all diagnostic data ever created from the screen within the Settings app. It’s also worth noting that users now control the level of data sent on a per-account basis. An administrator can set a system setting, but this can be changed at least for the logged in account too if they are not an admin.
- The data usage page now can show which networks a program was connected to when it used specific data. I bet many IT Pros will also love this feature along with regular users, because you can now catch any pesky app sending data without your knowledge and upon which networks they sucked it all from.
- Fonts has received some TLC at last, located under personalization. You can preview a font and see all system fonts here, however the fun doesn’t end there. If you want, you have the choice of installing other fonts from the Windows Store for the first time. This means your choice of visual letter choices may never end.
- Nearby Sharing, which is almost like Airdrop for PCs. A new section under system> shared experiences allows you to enable this, as it works over the local network, though requiring wi-fi and Bluetooth as well. You can then choose who to accept content from within a dropdown list. After, you can visit any app which supports sharing (Hint: Pretty much a Store app) and share content to that device. If the specific app is not installed on the target computer, they are directed to open it within the store and download that app. When you have toggled the feature on, simply click on the share button or use action center to push something to another device.
- Is it time for Disk Cleanup to retire? Microsoft is finally making moves to turn storage into the ultimate clean-up tool. You can remove temporary files as well as OS installs from here, which is expanded upon from before. A minor but welcome change.
What’s new with Ease of Access?
Normally, I have relegated the Ease of Access to come near the end of my review. I find this to be bias against users of these tools and figured a change of pace would be nice. Let’s dive into some of the changes to all of the available Ease of Access Settings.
- You can enable a new “automatically hide scroll bars within windows” option under the Ease of Access panel > display. This is the first category selected by default. This is limited to only working in Edge or other Store apps.
- Color Filters toggle key can be enabled or disabled. This key is Windows + CTRL +C.
- Apps can support landmarks for Narrator natively, which is highlighted in the settings app with Narrator. Store app developers can mark regions of their app by familiar and well-known landmark types.
- The default High Contrast theme is now the high-contrast black feature.
- The magnifier page is less confusing. Commands are displayed under each option (such as mode-changing commands under the magnifier mode selection dropdown) rather than in one giant list like before.
- Finally! Narrator cursor movement mode is dead: This one had a nail in its coffin for quite a while now. The Narrator cursor movement mode allowed you to choose how Narrator interacts with the screen, to the classic interaction method well-known by VoiceOver users. However, this conflicted with changing the granularity of reading by a specific type of item, so you were essentially stuck with the default reading behavior. It became useless, and now it’s gone.
- The speech category includes information for dictation:
Press the Windows logo key + H to start dictation. On the touch keyboard, select the microphone button.
- You can now choose the audio output used for Narrator speech.
- Eye control has gained significant improvements. Eye-control devices now gain their own driver class within Windows, which means that it’s now an actual type of device, similar to a keyboard or printer over USB. This sets a standard. In Windows, the eye-control launchpad has gestures for left and right-clicking on items. Scrolling and calibration have also improved. Start, Timeline, Settings and Device calibration have been added to the Eye Control launchpad also. It’s possible to hide the launchpad for easier navigation now.
- Narrator in safe mode: While requiring a USB sound device, you can now run Narrator in Safe mode, as it is capable to be enabled.
- Many new Narrator settings. “start Narrator before sign-in for everyone” and to use it after sign-in for your account are both configurable. Similar to NVDA, you can copy the current user settings to the log-on profile. A new “learn how to get new voices” link is helpful, opening the Microsoft support page for this. The toggling of intonation pauses and formatting emphasis is also new and adds greater advanced functionality to this screen reader.
- Narrator can read individual lines within terminal windows when using scan mode. This allows you to review something like the CMD window without much effort. To use this, open a command prompt, type dir to list a directory, and use the line mode by pressing Caps+ down. After, you can use Caps+ left and right to move through the output line by line.
- You can customize how the Narrator cursor syncs – whether it follows the system focus and so forth.
- for closed-captioned content, you can choose the font size and background color.
- The color filters page has been substantially updated with a new wheel! You can choose from various filters (inverted, greyscale, greyscale inverted) as well as among conditions, which used to be there before. However, you now adjust the colors on a wheel, and can tell which colors are being altered for your vision condition. For example, Red-green (green weak, deuteranopia.)
- There’s a dedicated audio section in the hearing group.
Braille display improvements come in the form of greater reliability, now using a newer 5.5 version of BRLTTY and 3.5 of LibLouis used in this update. When I tried testing typing on my Vario Ultra, key feedback was quick and Narrator did not struggle to keep up with text input. However, the Braille would initially completely stop in mid-typing, something which solved itself after a reboot and reinstall of the Braille components. You can remove them by going into settings> apps and features, then choosing “manage optional features.”
One major change which came with an update to 17134 is the ability to change the Braille system driver being used with your device. Only when a display is plugged in, a combo-box appears with the label “change your Braille Display Driver”, wherein the highlighted option is”(Narrator) LibUSB-1.0: Baum [VarioUltra 40 (40 cells)]” (or the name of your device, of course.) When you change it to USB composite device, the display will interface with NVDA and other readers using the standard USB driver. This is very seamless and in my mind removes a painpoint with Braille, specifically in how it is configured.
Our second attempt at a typing test produced this hand-crafted text:
This is once again being constructed upon a braille display using grade 2 US braille. This I am attempting on my second time, after discovering that my original observations on this were not entirely complete. A after reboot and reinstallation of all braille dependencies, things are working a lot better. I find the translator to handle non UEB typing more gracefully than other platforms, such as Apple’s IOS. I will not correct this section so that you may see how accurate typing is on this display if no keystrokes are missed.
Like with most screen readers using LibLouis as their engine for braille translation a few things have to be kept in mind. If writing a correction, whilst you type and it containing only one letter change, you must also place the letter sign dots 5 and 6 before the corrected letter. Also, if you are using hardware keyboards, the “Microsoft Candidate UI” window will always pop up on your display. A workaround for seeing what you have written is to just place thevery cursor at the end of your display line. This will refocus the text being typed.
Braille is a dream to use with narrator. This is not only because typing is more reliable, but also because you can now send system commands to Windows and simulate even key combinations. Space with r and t will cycle you through the task and app switchers respectively. If you have more than two programs open and working with, the task switcccer is recommended, as the sandard aqt tab only cycles through two open programs.
You can see there that the Grade 2 US translation was not perfect, but far better than the one I’ve used elsewhere. Contractions like O’clock, which some translations throw away, do show up in Narrator. Stay tuned for a more in-depth Braille article to come soon.
What’s new with Edge?
There are over 43 new features which are making it to Edge this round. Very impressive, and all of them you will notice at some point or another during your experience. Some are there to improve discovering new things, like the renaming of “extensions” to “add more features to Edge.” and automatic detection of addresses as you type. Here’s just a few others:
- Hide the favorites bar by right-clicking it.
- You can now print to local printers from Edge, right from its own modern-looking interface.
- You will find a new “notes” pop-out menu for quickly writing and accessing information.
- If you’re using Narrator, Edge will be far more verbose. You will hear events such as “page loading” and “loading complete.” Even going back, a page triggers an announcement, along with file downloads. In short, Edge should behave far better with letting you get alerts.
- Dark mode now works in Edge fully.
- Speaking of alerts, Narrator and Edge now support some newer Aria standards, such as pages which load alerts and display them. Eventually, other screen readers will be able to hook into this, so we should expec that Edge will announce this if they care to implement the latest UIA patterns and event.s
- Reading view for Epub books has a new option for a reflowable view, which will break apart words for easier understanding. Great for ease of access as well as English-language learners.
- You can press the f11 key to bring any page into full-screen view. Similarly, books and PDF documents can be viewed in full-screen. To exit, either press f11 again or move your mouse pointer to the top of the screen.
- Screen readers will support reading the contents of epub and PDF files in Edge if you open them. I remember when this was non-existent, so seeing this is huge.
- Audio-narrated books are supported for Epub.
- You can set edge to never remember passwords for a specific site. This is a minor but well-needed feature.
- You can save passwords within a private-browsing session.
- With clutter-free printing, you can remove ads from web pages you print.
- Grammar tools are now available in reading view.
And that’s just the beginning of all that change in Edge.
Is Cortana more personal?
With a new feature called show me, you bet! Oh wait, that’s an app you can get from the Windows store. Still, if you don’t know how to access or use a setting, I recommend you check this out in the Store as it may help you understand what those settings all do.
If you live in either United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Canada, India, Spain, China, The United States, Mexico, France, Italy, Japan, or Brazil, you’re in luck! The Notebook will be available for you. Items such as to-do lists and shopping lists are all now under one “lists” section. Activities allow you to resume timeline events right from Cortana, so you can pull up a specific item.
Browse the web with Edge, and she will find related items and group them into so-called “Cortana collections.” These will show up in your notebook, and you can organize them into lists. Best of all, in theory she should know if you don’t like a product or don’t want that suggestion based on how you customize this.
And what did Microsoft do will all that extra space not put into showing your notifications? They use it to show you tips and questions you can ask to get started with the assistant. This should give anyone not familiar with these new creatures a shot at accepting them with all their quirks.
Other random changes
Every review has this section, at least of those I have written. The one where we throw the rest of the features into one big bucket. So, here’s your bucket for the spring.
This is not a minor update. I always say this, even though only 6 or so months pass between my writing of each piece on the Windows saga. Each time, I somehow manage to rocket passed 5000 words. Why is this? It’s clear to me that there’s never a shortage of features, because even now there could be 10 more I could list off for you. Seriously, never under-estimate the power of an update. We see far more unification and a creation of Windows to being more than just the thing that runs on your computer. It could be seamless, cross-linked, allowing you to always interact with a Windows device and have the same experiences. This probably is the ultimate goal, and although we are far from this future’s fruition, we are not far behind, either.