30 new Windows features you can test right now

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Q. What new features can we expect in the next edition of Windows?

A. Presented below is a summary of some of the more significant prerelease enhancements to Windows, which you can try right now by becoming a Windows Insider. To become an Insider, sign up for free at insider.windows.com. (Note: These beta features may be a little buggy, and there is no guarantee they will ultimately be released in future editions of Windows.)

1. Improved search tool: The new File Explorer search tool automatically integrates your OneDrive online data files into your search results and displays search results almost instantly as you type your search criteria. In addition, instead of indexing selected folders, the search tool now indexes all the folders and drives on your PC by default.

2. Android phone integration: New functionality allows you to receive and manage all your Android phone notifications on your PC. Additionally, you can mirror your Android phone's screen directly on your PC screen if you have one of the following types of Android phones: OnePlus's OnePlus 6 and OnePlus 6T, and Samsung's Galaxy S10e, S10, S10+, Note 8, and Note 9.3.

3. Sandbox improvements: Windows Sandbox allows you to run different operating systems and applications in a window without making changes to or affecting your computer system's settings. This tool typically is primarily used to test applications and to run untrusted files before fully installing them on your PC, but there are other reasons for using this functionality, such as running legacy applications. The new Shift+Alt+PrintScreen key sequence also empowers users to more easily turn on high-contrast mode. Additionally, new networking and shared folders allow users to better configure the sandbox.

4. Searchable emojis: You can press Windows Logo+(period) or Windows Logo+(semicolon) and type a search phrase to locate one of the many new emojis included in the Emoji 12 pack, such as the bone, tooth, swan, and other emojis pictured below.

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5. New Chrome extension for Timeline:
By default, Windows Timeline records your computer activities (and other activities) so you can later retrace them. For example, in the past minute, my Windows Timeline reports that my Jekyll Island computer just installed an update, I was pinpointed on a map in my Atlanta home, and I recently searched the web for Emoji 12 (in conjunction with writing bullet No. 4). Now a new feature allows you to download a new extension from the Chrome Web Store that also collects activities from your Google Chrome browser and adds them to your Windows Timeline. If you don't want your activities recorded, you can disable Windows Timeline completely by searching for Timeline, clicking on Activity history privacy settings, and on the resulting screen, unchecking the box labeled Let Windows collect my activities from this PC, as pictured below.

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6. Run Desktop apps in Windows Mixed Reality:
Windows Mixed Reality is Microsoft's virtual reality app that allows users to run 3D applications such as games and videos. Now Windows allows users to launch regular desktop applications (Win32 apps) in Windows Mixed Reality. Of course, it doesn't make much sense to launch Word or Excel in 3D mode, but other Win32 apps such as Spotify, Paint.NET, and Visual Studio Code may offer decent 3D functionality. (As of June 2019, Microsoft was warning users that this beta feature may be a bit buggier than typical beta features.)

7. RAW image support: Used mostly by professional photographers, RAW is an image format in which high-end cameras capture very large uncompressed images not yet processed by the camera. This allows the image to then be opened in a special photo editing application where it can be adjusted and fine-tuned to produce a more perfect photograph. (Other file formats, such as PNG, JPG, and GIF, do not retain the same level of image details.) Users can now download and install the new Windows Raw Image Extension (Beta) package to view image thumbnails, previews, and camera metadata of previously unsupported RAW files in Windows.

8. Separating Search and Cortana tools: Microsoft has decoupled Search and Cortana in the taskbar to enable each tool to innovate independently moving forward (which is possibly a fancy way of saying that the Search development team and the Cortana development team had differing development plans and objectives). Now, clicking the Search box in the Windows taskbar launches the Search tool, while clicking the Cortana icon launches the voice-activated digital assistant. While the single Cortana tool supported both text and speech-based searches before, these two operations are expected to function more efficiently as separate, stand-alone tools.

9. Reserving disk space: With this change, Windows manages disk space a little differently by setting aside some reserved storage to better accommodate updates, apps, temporary files, and system caches. Prior to this change, certain Windows operations might have led to PC freeze-ups when little or no hard disk storage was available.

10. Snipping tool improvement: The Snipping tool now allows you to capture time-delayed images. As pictured below, this enables you to set the timer for up to five seconds, begin manipulating the screen, and then snip the PC screen in action.

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11. Sign in to Windows without a password:
Windows now allows you to bypass the password entry process and sign in to your Microsoft account using only Windows Hello Face or a fingerprint scan (assuming your device has a camera or fingerprint scanner).

12. Improved Clipboard: A more compact Clipboard design allows you to see more instances of your copied data in your clipboard history at a glance.

13. Magnifier: Windows Magnifier provides a new option for positioning the magnified text in the center of your screen, which can make it easier to work with in some situations.

14. Narrator improvements: Narrator is a tool that can read your screen content to you and is particularly useful to the visually impaired. Narrator now reads table content more efficiently by not repeating the header title with each row of data read. There is also less verbal explanation as tables are selected or deselected. Additionally, the new command Narrator+S provides a quick summary of a webpage's hyperlinks, landmarks, and headings without having to read the entire page aloud.

15. Dictation enhancements: The Dictation tool allows you to speak to your computer as it takes dictation. In addition to U.S. English, Dictation now supports Canadian English, U.K. English, Australian English, Indian English, French, Canadian French, German, Italian, Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Chinese.

16. Easier fonts installation: You can now install new fonts simply by dragging and dropping font files from File Explorer into the modern Settings > Fonts page. (Note: You must be running Windows in modern Settings mode, not the Windows Classic mode, to access this capability.)

17. More reliable Windows startup process: Changes made to the way Windows starts improve the startup time and better protect the startup process from viruses.

18. Manage Insider Preview builds: The Windows Insider Program Settings page allows users to indicate which devices receive new Windows builds and how frequently they are installed; an example option is pictured below.

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19. Recommended fixes:
Windows will now recommend troubleshooting tips and fixes to help keep your device running more smoothly.

20. Microsoft To-Do app improvement: Cortana to-do lists and Outlook tasks can now be automatically integrated into your Microsoft To-Do app along with your other Microsoft To-Do items. Microsoft To-Do also offers Windows Ink handwriting support for checking off or striking through your tasks using a digital pen or stylus.

21. Windows Defender: Windows Defender is Microsoft's default anti-virus application. New tamper protection technology requires Windows system changes to be made directly through the Windows Security app, which prevents viruses from bypassing Defender.

22. Improved touch keyboard accuracy: To increase touch keyboard precision, Windows now predicts which letter the user might type next and dynamically enlarges the hit target area of those predicted keys for improved ­accuracy.

23. Notepad improvements: Notepad includes new shortcuts to open, save, or close a file, and a new indicator displays when your changes are unsaved.

24. Improved feedback tool: Microsoft's Feedback Hub now includes auto-save for new feedback submissions and the ability to add screenshots before submitting.

25. Windows Update notification: When your device has a Windows update requiring a reboot, a colored dot is displayed on the Power button in the Start menu and on the Windows icon in your system tray.

26. Sync your clock with Microsoft's time server: Microsoft products can sometimes be sensitive about your device showing the current date and time — for example, at times Microsoft Office has returned user license error messages and refused to launch when your computer's date and time did not match the actual date and time. Perhaps for this reason, Microsoft has added a new Date & Time Settings tool that allows you to sync your clock with Microsoft's own official clock, as opposed to the national atomic clock in Boulder, Colo. (Maybe Microsoft wants a backup clock in case the national clock becomes unavailable.)

27. More efficient Windows Update: Microsoft's intelligent active hours tool can automatically sense when you're active on your device, so Windows updates and reboots can be applied automatically when you are less likely to be using your device.

28. Reduced interruptions: The improved Windows Focus assist tool allows you to suppress notifications until you exit full-screen mode. For example, this tool might come in handy when watching a video or movie in full-screen mode.

29. Help with blurry apps: If some of your older apps appear blurry on your high-resolution monitor or display, a new Advanced Scaling setting is enabled by default so Windows can automatically correct the blur and display your apps more clearly.

30. Sticky Notes improvements: The new version of the Sticky Notes app allows you to sync and back up your notes across your Windows devices and view them all in one convenient place. The app also includes a new charcoal-colored note.


About the author

J. Carlton Collins, CPA, (carlton@asaresearch.com) is a technology consultant, a conference presenter, and a JofA contributing editor.

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