What to expect in Microsoft's new Windows 10 20H1 release, due soon

What to expect in Microsoft's new Windows 10 20H1 release, due soon

There's far more to talk about than there was in recent prior releases.

Credit: Dan Masaoka/IDG

Windows 10 20H1 (version 2004) looks like it’ll finally be giving Windows users something to talk about, after a year’s worth of vanilla updates. Using Microsoft's Insider builds as a guide, you can expect the most significant changes in the Windows Subsystem for Linux, Cortana, Windows Search, and Your Phone. There’s also the usual mix of small “utility” improvements and conveniences.

Before we dive deeper into the new features to expect, let’s talk timing. There's reason to believe that Microsoft’s already wrapped up development on Windows 10 20H1, given a mound of circumstantial evidence: Microsoft's Insider Fast Ring has moved to “future code," and the Insider Slow ring has seen little more than bug fixes since November. (The last Slow release was in January.) Microsoft has characterized 20H1 as version 2004, usually code for the fourth month (April) of '20, or 2020. But in Build 19033, Microsoft signaled that it chose “2004” to avoid confusion with Windows Server 2003, suggesting that the new version could arrive as early as March. 

Microsoft representatives, for now, have declined to comment. While we wait for official word, however,let’s go through the biggest changes you can expect in Windows 10 2004. 

Windows Subsystem for Linux 2: The real deal

When Microsoft added the Windows Subsystem for Linux as part of Windows 10’s Anniversary Update in 2016, it was mindblowing: Linux, which Microsoft publicly hammered for years, was now within Windows! But the original Windows Subsystem for Linux was hobbled by the fact that it wasn’t running a real Linux kernel. Certain kernel modules, such as device drivers, were unable to run.

That’s changed within the Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (WSL2), which essentially runs a real Linux kernel inside a virtual machine (even on Windows 10 Home). If you use Linux, you’ll also be able to place your Linux files within the Linux root file system, and access them via Windows File Explorer. 

Unfortunately, there are still limitations. Microsoft’s said that you won’t be able to use VMWare, or versions of VirtualBox before VirtualBox 6, or tap into system resources like the GPU or even USB peripherals within WSL2.

If this means absolutely nothing to you, don’t worry—you’re absolutely not required to run Linux, and it won’t interfere in your day-to-day computing. If you do want to try out Linux, however, it’s there. 

Cortana: On the move

Microsoft’s Cortana is now a bit less of an assistant and a bit more of an app. In the May 2019 Update, Cortana separated herself from the Windows Search box, and now she’s moving on: You’ll be able to resize the Cortana window, and move it around your screen, just like any other app. You’ll be able to type Cortana queries, just like you were able to when she was part of Windows Search.

Microsoft’s also evolving Cortana’s conversational style to be less of a question-and-answer session and more of what it hopes will become a dialogue—“a personal productivity assistant that helps you in the Microsoft 365 apps,” in Microsoft’s words. That’s entailed some rebuilding of the app itself, temporarily losing some capabilities as new features are developed. We expect the app may still be somewhat basic when 20H1 launches, and that the conversational elements will be added later. We’ll take a closer look at Cortana as we test it, hopefully discovering some new capabilities.

Windows Search: Dialing it down a bit

Any breakup can be messy, and Windows Search responded by hitting the gym and pumping up the search indexer underlying the instant search results in the Windows 10 November 2019 Update. Last year also saw Microsoft add “Enhanced Mode” search, which expands the search beyond your libraries (Downloads, Documents, and Pictures) into the desktop and other areas of the drive.

Read more on the next page...

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