As the new Creators Windows 10 update keeps rolling out, many will find themselves wondering: Is it worth upgrading anyway? What am I getting? Will I lose functionality I’ve had? The answer is yes, yes you possibly might. However, what you do lose is replaced and in a way that can help you transition seamlessly to this new Windows 10 version without feeling overwhelmed.
Pleas read the installation guide article here which is technically the first part detailing the creators update, providing a better introduction than just an article which jumps into what is new right away.
Changes to the core Windows Experience
Now that we’ve installed Windows and discussed some of the “out of box” initial screens you may see, let us dive into the heart of this review and discuss changes which could impact your day to day experience using Windows 10 going forward. These are not as major as they have appeared in the past; We are now in a phase where Windows 10 is only going through minor evolutions, at least in part due to the quicker update schedule. With that said, these still are changes which add completeness to the entire experience, and unify around using more of the modern side of Windows. From many added items within the Settings app to the redesigned folder and group management of the start screen.
A better way to organize your start screen
If you love staying organized or wish to rid yourself of clutter, then the creator’s update might really help you in getting more of this done. Through the settings app in the “start menu” section of personalization, you can now hide the apps list completely (so that pressing “all apps” is required.) Speaking of the All Apps button, after installing apps from the store, it will reflect with a numbered badge of new items.
The start screen has also improved with many more default groups in which apps are categorized. You can also create your own, by dragging a tile atop another, or through the Shift+F10 (application’s key) menu. Here, you can simply press “pin to start” to have a new group be created with your first app’s name. As you keep pinning more apps, they will each be added to this group. To rename the group, press space on the header row – a hint should also indicate this.
One very important note is that the old Control+ arrow keys to move tiles around the start screen, followed by space no longer appear to work in moving tiles around. I have not yet found a way to do this, as pressing space activates the current item. If you cannot see, your best bet might be to clear out all pinned items on the start screen and re-create each group to exactly how you like it. This is a lot of effort, of course, but it could allow you to keep group headers and remove unwanted clutter. In my past reviews, I have criticised how there is a serious lack of keyboard shortcuts for the start screen, or at least the listed ones are not many. Sadly, context menus can only do so much. With the mouse, you can move entire groups of apps to different areas of the start screen, allowing you to not just shift individual apps but their groups as well. For organizers, life could not get any better!
Small tweaks to your taskbar
In some similar ways, a few behaviors have also changed with the taskbar, and some complaints to the action center have received their happily ever after, too. That’s right, there’s such a thing as bug afterlife.
I pointed quite often to the evolution of this action center and the ways in which it has failed users. When the original Windows 10 shipped, it was a complicated mess of dismissing the wrong notifications, and subsequent updates have cleared up many of those issues. We could finally tab among individual ones, see the time they were triggered, and dismiss them in groups with the last one. Now, more is on the horizon, as sliders for volume and brightness are available, in addition to the airplane mode / Bluetooth / projection / other toggles we have always had. Curiously, these sliders appear as “toggle buttons” to those who use NVDA as their screen reader – hitting space on them will result in absolutely no feedback. When using Narrator, you are in fact notified that the values are changed by 25% each time. Therefore, vendors of other Assistive Technology must implement the proper feedback event trigger for this.
Finally, we also see some patchwork towards notifications which improve their cohesiveness and interactivity. For example, progress indication can now be shown within one, such as when downloading an app from the store. You will also notice many less duplicated notifications from within apps.
Colour adjustment for those who need more granularity
It’s worth dropping a small paragraph about this, as it may assist those who have wanted to change system colours before. Windows now allows you to adjust both the UI and title bar in this aspect. You will also notice that “themes” is a new category within personalization, completing yet another cut to a settings experience which is more unified and less cluttered.
Baby settings, have you hatched yet?
You might know how terrible it was to have two personalities when it came to the configuration of your computer. You could be browsing the settings app casually and without warning, be thrown into something resembling 2006. This has taken a huge progress in this Windows release, both to the joy and dismay of many. Some will wonder, “Can I get my old ways back?” The answer is yes, if you are friends with the registry. Let’s summarize where this world has changed.
- The Power menu available with Windows +X will now link to “apps and features” instead of “programs and features”, and will also drop you in the new settings for power, network. Here’s a secret tip: You can run ncpa.cpl from the run dialog to see the old network connections interface. Eventually, I am thinking this too will disappear.
- You can adjust screen resolution from within the new settings, a relief to those who found switching back to the old-style jarring.
- VPN settings have been reduced in the time it takes to access them.
- A new “nightlight” option in display will provide for configuring an adaptive colour tone, whereby blue and other colours are gradually dimmed throughout the day.
- New Cross-device experiences settings, which allow you to choose which apps can work across multiple Windows 10 systems.
- I quite enjoy the redesigned storage usage page, which seems to show category usage from highest to lowest apps. Here you can also manage NAS storage space settings and enable a new clean-up feature which removes temporary files after a period.
- Bluetooth has been redesigned, as you now connect devices on the “Bluetooth and other devices” page. As I use headphones quite often, connecting them no longer requires I go to the older sound interface as you can now do that here, too.
Changes to Microsoft Edge
Edge keeps improving, and as we hit the 40.0 version for it, it has become more than just a prototype. More keyboard shortcuts, such as CTRL+O for focusing on the address bar, and tab management make this worthwhile. Some still find Chrome a little better as it keeps tabs open in the background and simply restores them right away, and no doubt others will dislike the inability to turn off this “save tabs” feature. It has been incredibly useful function on a personal level, replacing much of the time where I would use the history to see what I have visited. Regardless of which screen reader you opt to use, the interface for this management is very accessible, aligning with how the UI would be experienced without adaptations. You can save multiple sets of tabs, and “set them aside”. When you bring up the tabs list again, you will see grouped options for each tab series, organized by date. With the keyboard, you can tab through each date and choose to either restore all tabs or only individual ones from that session. This provides personal control with respect to what opens.
And as a nod to Firefox, you can also export bookmarks to a single file, for re-importing later or sharing with others. Rounding out the Edge enhancements are tab previews which have now received worthwhile changes by way of a new view. To the right of the new tabs button rests a toggle called “show tab previews.” This will open a preview pane with each open tab in individual scrollable panes. This is nice as you can examine each and scroll them to see a quick overview of everything without the use of only one method (hovering your mouse over the thumbnail,) as it was prior. Curiously though, tab previews serve absolutely no purpose if you’re a user of assistive technology. They do not appear as a focusable pane or element to Narrator, NVDA, JAWS; Nor can you even really know that anything changed besides the toggling of the “show tab previews” button. It would be quite interesting if some day Edge could identify relevant areas of a page and speak them after keyboard focus is on the tab item for that website, almost as a tooltip, as this would provide somewhat equal functionality.
The new GameBar and Gaming setttings
The Creators update has a heavy focus on gaming, which is why it was not a heavy focus of my review. Gaming is an area that the mainstream reviews can cover better in detail, but it’s still not a functionality I can easily ignore and not mention, either. If you open settings, it will be right there: Gaming. It’s one of the categories near the end, and boy does it have a few interesting options to explain.
(Image credit: Windows Insiders blog)
- Game Bar: Game bar is a new feature which you can bring up after pressing the Windows + G keyboard command. I was able to read this screen with the Narrator screen reader somewhat, but NVDA and JAWS will completely freeze once it is opened, although you can still press tab and space to activate options, indicating that it is keyboard accessible. I am unsure as to why screen readers freeze when it is activated. In the Game Bar settings section, you can customize which key commands perform what action with Game bar, such as recording directly with Alt + Windows +G. This also provides greater accessibility to its features, as if you cannot read the Window, you can perform many of the toggles and buttons through single commands. Game Bar also lets you enable a special performance mode called Game Mode (more on this below) which is a toggle from within the bar.
- Game DVR refers to the clip recording feature. Here you have options for customizing location and bitrate features as well as maximum recording times when background recording. Adjusting the frame rate of the video recorded? No problem. Do it here.
- Broadcasting is possible if you have others on XBox Live, as it shows as a beam for your friends to see on their feed. Echo cancelation and other quality settings reside here, and broadcasts are automatically recorded as well.
- Finally, Game mode. This only contains one single toggle for enabling or disabling the feature, but you can enable game mode from within the game bar on a per-application basis, even for non-game apps. Whether this improves performance or not greatly has not yet been detailed, but at the very least, it prioritizes games as higher processes for system resources.
Game bar is not just for gamers, never forget.
Narrator and accessibility take a priority
I quite liked the ring of that heading title, and with this update, I feel it for once truly fits. In days of the past, I scorned Windows quite heavily for a lack of accessibility push. Then we got the Windows Mail update, and it’s as the whole world got brighter. That was with the update last summer, and an Article by James on ranking screen readers even placed Narrator in a top spot then. James was not wrong to point to Narrator as an upcoming future-proof solution, as we are seeing not only improvements in it but also the Universal app and framework transitions. This is coming to us in forms of redesigned settings and Edge feature growth which will allow independent and accessible use of the core Microsoft experience, as we see here. Edge and Narrator? Almost a dream come true for some, and for others, the dream is here.
Narrator has solved one of the largest issues which has haunted it for decades, and I do mean this as I fondly take a trip back to Microsoft Sam’s “foreground Window” announcements from the XP days. It was incredibly slow at focusing, and speech feedback also suffered from a tiny but noticeable delay. Even last summer’s update, while allowing for incredibly fast and intelligible speech rates did not create responsiveness redesigns. The opposite is true today, and a push for a better Narrator can clearly be felt here. The keyboard shortcut has changed from Windows + enter to including the control key (so Windows + CTRL + Enter.) This was to prevent users from accidentally invoking the screen reader, although truth be told the same command is a toggle they could press again to just as well stop speech. Alas, this new combination is the way moving forward.
From the moment you press this shortcut, Narrator comes to life. You will hear a fast earcon followed by speech instantly, and it will read your active window. In fact, now when my primary screen reader crashes, I switch to Narrator and troubleshoot my computer’s problem, as it’s more than likely now to read windows on screen even during a crashing application. I find this significant as very often, Narrator would lose focus.
At first, on the surface, you probably won’t hear many differences if you are doing basic navigation with Narrator. Scan mode is still there as ever before, and you can invoke it with Caps lock + space. Oh, but if you did and were to start using the web, you would notice that a few new navigation options are now available, such as being able to press 1-6 to move between that specific heading, a feature I myself have wanted to see in Narrator.
Look deeper in Narrator settings within the redesigned app, and you will notice a few new options. This is an important distinction to make as these new settings will not be in the main Narrator interface panel that appears. This is very confusing and from time and time again shows still the issues between having both a desktop and universal UI existing side by side. Let’s run down a few of these changes, because there are so many. Finally, Narrator has over 80 commands, 87 as opposed to 78 in the last update.
Context awareness and contextual reading
This is new in Narrator and allows you to change what underlying information is spoken to tell you the context of where something is on screen. For example, if you are in the Word ribbon, and wish to know that the paste button is in the toolbar, you could set this to a very high level to be told details (and tooltips) tied to that element. If you’re a developer, the highest one will also tell you container names. On the lowest settings, any hint associated with a control is skipped.
Order of contextual reading
Similar to what Talkback introduced (or did Narrator introduce it first?) There is a new “order of contextual reading” setting. By adjusting this, you can decide whether the names of controls are read before or after the element. If you have used Window-eyes before, you will be used to hearing the control name before it, such as “button OK.” Most other readers will say it after, as “OK button.”
I could not finish this article without writing about Braille support in Narrator, as it’s both exciting and somewhat confusing for some. It is finally present, and still in “beta” form as things improve. Again, the options for configuring it are only present in the new settings app as one of the very last ones. To enable it, press the “download and install Braille.” Narrator will audibly say “Downloading…” unlike NVDA or other readers. This will be followed by the flashing of a few command prompt windows. In some instances, I had to manually go back to the previous settings page or navigate away from Narrator settings to reflect new options which will appear here. Over 20 Braille displays are supported, 27 to be exact. The underlying solution uses Liblouis, an open-source Braille translator.
When testing Braille, I used an APH Refreshabraille 18 and a Baum Vario Ultra 40. These together have great diversity in cell size, so I could see how well Narrator performs with each. Reading the screen was never a problem on either, and word wrap is automatically handled by Narrator – not once did a word get cut off in the middle of Braille text without moving to the other line. I also found the Braille name for controls intuitive enough, and depending on contextual reading level, you will see the name of a grouped set of control of container before the name of what you are on. “device properties btn update driver” is one sample line that might show up if you are in device manager set to a medium context-level of reading. Editable combo-boxes are called “edcbo” – something I believe I’ve only seen Narrator type out this way, but maybe I am wrong as I have mainly used NVDA with Braille before. Since this is beta though, weird lags and inconsistencies exist. Even though the Vario and Refreshabraille are Baum products, the joystick on the smaller APH device did not always respond while I tried to scroll. Typing sometimes cuts off, and on the vario, the left space bar seems to perform a backspace, which is not at all what one might expect. The focus 40 I have, which is an older model, behaved much better even in typing.
Speaking of using other readers alongside this solution! Oh I am so glad this came up in the topic. If you are using Narrator’s Braille and wish to then switch back to another screen reader, such as JAWS or NVDA, there are several solutions you have to switching between drivers. By default, Narrator will override the device drivers which make your display work with its own LibUSB versions. These are a part of the liblouis implementation, so I suspect Microsoft had little choice in this matter.Nevertheless, they take over primary drivers and JAWS or NVDA will fail to communicate after you have switched Braille on. It is not difficult to switch among your screen readers, but beware that these steps have to be performed each time.
- Microsoft does detail the removal process here which involves using Apps and Features in settings to do so. In our experience, this does not always bring back your native driver, and in instances where it does, a restart may be required. If the simpler removal does not work, use the below steps instead. The technically adventurous may also decide to look at other options which could co-exist with NVDA, listed below.
- Option 1, native LibLouis
- Fortunately for us, NVDA already allows you to use Liblouis as a preferred display. There’s a trick to getting this right, which is what I wanted to outline here. To understand how all this works, think a little technical. When Narrator starts, a small program is run which hosts a Braille server. This acts as a standard bridge between Braille and Narrator, because Liblouis is providing the driver and writing implementation while Narrator controls what is being written and what text to output. If you could somehow start Narrator or this intermediate server, you would be all set, because NVDA also supports it as an output method for showing Braille with.
- Start Narrator and notice how Braille begins to appear, after you see “no screen” perhaps for a little while. Be sure Narrator is showing spoken text before continuing.
- Next, access the NVDA menu. It is recommended that you pull up the Braille Settings dialog before starting NVDA, however this is not required. The reason for this deals with Narrator capturing the CapsLock key, though alternatively you can still use Insert+N to access NVDA’s configuration. In Braille, choose “liblouis” and hit enter. Your display might go crazy and flash a couple times.
- Next, open task manager, and be sure to access the process view. Click on More details, then highlight a random app in the list, press shift+f10 or applications on it, and choose “go to details.” Here, just press alt+E on the Narrator.exe process to force close it.
- I think if someone could find out the exact command line for keeping the server running in the background, then perhaps these few steps would not be needed. In fact, there is a high chance NVDA will work fine with Narrator’s Braille solution, as it currently accepts it so as long as the server is not stopped.
- Option 2: For NVDA and JAWS both
- Here device manager comes in handy. If you have enabled Braille, and do see LibUSB in your tree view of device manager, you can go to properties and “update driver” on the driver tab.
- Here, click on “Browse my computer for a device driver” and choose the other choice, which will be different depending on your displays. On my Baum, it is “USB composite” device. On my APH, it’s “HID USB device.” This becomes very tricky if it’s a generic name such as these and going back to the Narrator driver requires knowing the right one.
- Be sure to remember which it was and choose the other driver. When you press enter, you might be asked to restart your PC if Narrator was running.
Overall, Braille in Narrator is a fresh start, and in some ways even better than, say, BrailleBack on Android. (Although BrailleBack has a few specific commands for jumping around screen.) Narrator right now has no Space with H command, not even dot 1 and 4with space (as separate commands to move back and forward an element.) Microsoft has made available a section of the manual dedicated to Braille displays and their specific commands in Narrator, and there is a main chapter where all other commands are summarized. From the list, it appears as though commands do exist for moving on the web with element types, including heading levels. Specific displays may also have additional commands, such as for moving to the beginning and end of the Braille line. These are consistent with many of the commands other readers supporting my displays would assign, though still lack a few key features, and as it stands you would not be able to independently navigate your computer with simply a Braille display and no use of the physical keyboard. Performance must also improve, as lags and other behavior issues were super hard to reproduce at certain times, and as it stands, “context order” of elements is not honored equally by both speech and Braille, something which suggests to me that the processing occurs in different threads. It does allow for Grade 2 input thanks to it being available in 3.0 of LibLouis, and there’s a good framework for how it presents window elements. With just a little improvement, expect this to trail behind all other screen readers soon. If they too could adopt the LibUSB drivers as a standard, then none of this switching would have to occur – right now, screen readers have a native driver for each display which can extremely complicate developments around Braille.
Fastest with Edge
Narrator brings substantial improvements to browsing with Edge, to the point where reading news sites and articles with it is mildly pleasant. I say mildly only because quite often, menu bars and navigational items can be double-announced by Narrator’s odd behavior of also navigating to element borders sometimes. This also has seemingly become less of an issue, but sites like the BBC definitely can double-announce items. Google News is nice to read, and if you lower the verbosity levels, you will not hear “heading level 1” before each heading. Form Fields is a new option also available in the navigation mode rotation. You can also jump to the beginning and end of windows using CTRL++home and end, along with a command to read window (Caps +T) and current Context including window (Caps + slash key.) All in all, Edge and Narrator are usable enough that I now worry less and less about the slowdown caused by my screen reader. If only there were less double repeating and better handling of containers. I know Microsoft is on the right path with this.
Formatting information announcements by Narrator
Finally, you can press CapsLock +F to hear the first item of several on properties of the currently highlighted text. This is a repeatable command, meaning that you will cycle through a linear list of information as you keep pressing it. First you will hear font information, than size, then type, and line spacing with each press. You can similarly use the shift key alongside the command to move backward in the formatting information. By far, where it works well, it does work very well. It begins to solve the problem that blind people do not know whether they have made something bold or italicised in Office whilst with Narrator; You can now manually check the formatting of what you wanted to know. The coolest idea would be to implement tones or some type of automatic marker sound to let users know of such changes as they read, rather than requiring them to do the proof-reading themselves. No screen reader to date that I have seen has provided a wrappable list of formatting information, thus Narrator should be commended for that.
3D paint, with labeled buttons?
I must say that when the 3D version of Paint was first announced and later included within an insider build, my heart sank a little. I knew that there is no way someone who is completely blind could benefit from it, and I expected nothing more than for it to be just as useless to me as the regular paint app is, where I can’t even pick colors since the resulting window just says “unknown.” At first, I was not wrong about my observation. The paint 3D app was a grid of buttons, some of which you could seemingly get stuck in. It’s a nice app, and you can draw using a pressure-sensitive pen, if your device supports the right touch screen also. Otherwise, effects and different drawing tools allow you to construct a 3D object, and each control in the app seems keyboard accessible.
There is a giant canvas area on the left side, and controls reside next to it. The canvas area will be announced as such by all screen readers; The only problem seems to be that there is no “pass-through ” feature such as on the iPad and iOS, where you can then directly draw on screen. Narrator’s flick gestures will conflict with drawing, thus turning it off can be a work around for now. You can add additional scenes, and each scene will become a tab-focusable item. Unlike in classic paint, each colour’s name is pronounced here, and you have options to enter colours as hex values or with rgb numbers.
There is a “3d remix” tool where you can then post a creation. Paint even offers a challenge of turning a 2D object in to a 3D one by completing a task of changing an existing 2D model to 3D by drawing around it and adding greater dimensions that way. Whether it’s just a fun way to spend time or a project you design, this new Paint definitely feels polished and smooth.
A better time with updates
A huge complaint around Windows has been the constant barrage of updates, ever-streaming into your computer by means of delivery optimization. Things drastically change come creators update, so let’s break things down here.
The idea of setting a connection as metered and then not installing updates is now gone. This is because critical updates will still go through a metered connection, and I can’t help thinking that users who over-rid the preference could be partially to blame. These are security and cumulative updates which should be installed, even if you hate them. Hopefully though, you can install them on your own time, not when your paper is due in 2 hours and Windows is configuring them.
This is why you can now use up to 18 hours of range instead of 12 when telling Windows Update when you are active. This should minimize unexpected restarts. In fact, Windows will show its desperate side to you if it can’t find a good slot, perhaps because you spent all day writing that paper, of course. You can pause updates for 7 days if you are a pro Windows 10 user, so if you do get mad about your time limit running out, I suppose you could do that. Home users, of course, cannot defer updates like pro ones can, and enterprise customers have more flexibility on delaying them.
There is also a new “Restart options” category which lets you turn on greater notifications before Windows pulls the plug on you, so to speak. Overall, this greater intelligence in when updates are installed and delivered can at least minimize what people consider as one of their worst nightmares. Microsoft even makes sure updates do not happen while projecting, because we all know what happens to surfaces that update during sporting events… Sorry, I know the past is the past, and here’s proof of this.
Conclusions and other Miscellaneous items
As it stands, this follow-up section to my original installation article is almost as long as another full-length review, nearly 5000 words. I still haven’t gone into details on Paint 3D, or how the Windows Store can now show you download progress, or how Microsoft did fix the Store so that it does not scroll to each section as you use left and right arrows. Oh, and Narrator? I didn’t mention that audio ducking is far less Obtrusive, which makes watching previews of films or game trailers in the store more enjoyable. Windows Defender became more powerful with its new “security center” app, which also migrated all settings from the Windows Defender control panel to this new hub, far expanding the reach of Windows Defender as a full-on antivirus program.
There are little enhancements in the Creator’s update which belong in this “minor” category, but they are still important because as features, they remove certain pain-points for us, everyone. You and I both, yes. The Ink workspace got an overhaul with a better protractor and previews for writing tools which show you their thickness and colors before you draw with them. These were pressure points for those who are creators and use these tools every day. While you might not use them yourself, it’s just as present in your copy of Windows as it is for the guy down the street. This is how Windows is shaped together as an experience.
Redstone 3, the next version of Windows, will probably arrive sometime near the end of the year, continuing this pattern of 2 yearly Windows 10 updates. This is a comfortable pace at which so many features can wrack up that it’s appropriate to consider them an entirely new update. Since Windows is on a rolling cycle, this change is ever constant. There are areas where this update can improve, but seeing the amount of times “feedback hub” asks me to rate and send feedback gives me a little hope that customers are more in charge of Windows than they ever have been. Only time and the rollout of this update can tell whether it will be plagued by driver and quality issues like the one from this summer; Those are largely because the Insider community requires more than just running Windows 10 on a virtual machine with fake hardware. The greater range of devices and scenarios thrown at Windows insider builds, the better. Not only has Microsoft widened the Insider community, they are already testing a new build of Windows, indicating that insiders might never get a break from ever being on testing bits. This is something that may pay off in the long run as more bugs can be submitted and solved, however, rather than just placing millions on the risk of running unstable copies of Windows. The world does have a power to shape Windows, and I don’t think this is more evident than with this release.