Windows 10 is nearly four years old. In a bygone era, its replacement would have been delivered last year, and early adopters would be eagerly awaiting Windows 11 Service Pack 1.
But those old days are gone for good. In the Windows-as-a-Service era, those every-three-years "big bang" releases have vanished, replaced by a rolling succession of smaller but still significant feature updates that now arrive every six months.
Since the launch of Windows 10 in July 2015, Microsoft has released six feature updates, each of which is the equivalent of a full Windows upgrade. A seventh, version 1903, is due for release any day. But this one is different from the rest.
On new accounts, Windows 10 splatters fewer icons than in previous versions, and it groups some of them into ready-made folders. You can now right-click any of those icons or folders to remove them instantly. And, in a much-requested move, the list of built-in apps that can be uninstalled with a right-click has been greatly expanded.
One of the killer features of Windows 10 (Pro, Enterprise, and Education editions only) is its built-in virtualization platform. That hypervisor gets put to good use in the new Windows Sandbox, a simple way to instantly create a pristine virtual machine, isolated from your main PC, where you can test a program or visit a suspicious website, risk-free. Close the Sandbox and every trace vanishes instantly.
This version introduces support for Microsoft accounts based on a phone number, with no email address required. In theory, you can create one of these accounts on a mobile device, without a password, and then use that account on a Windows 10 PC with Windows Hello (face, fingerprint, or PIN) to sign in with minimal effort. I'm looking forward to seeing this feature evolve.
Microsoft made a determined effort to meld Cortana and Windows Search into a single feature. With version 1903, that effort officially ends. Search and Cortana are now accessed separately, with separate settings, with the latter focusing on voice input and personal assistant tasks. And if you prefer not to use Cortana, you can remove the button from the taskbar.
Under the Sign-in Options heading in Account Settings, every option is grouped in a more compact, easier-to-read format. Click any sign-in options to expand it and set it up or change settings. This page also includes a new option for setting up a personal security (FIDO2) key.
The option to choose a dark theme has been part of Windows for several versions now, but there hasn't been an equivalent light theme until now. The new Windows (Light) theme changes the black taskbar to a truly light shade, lightens background colors, and introduces a new default wallpaper. Surprisingly, it works well in contrast when you choose dark mode as the default for apps.
Even after four years, Windows 10 still has some noteworthy bits that are firmly mired in its ancient past. Thankfully, the font installer is no longer the primary example. This version adds a drag-and-drop font installed at the top of the Settings > Personalization > Fonts page. It's almost too easy to use, in fact; the only way you'll know the operation succeeded is when you see the font's preview appear in the list.
The ability to insert emoji in a document or text field has been part of Windows 10 since version 1709. Press Windows key + period or semicolon and either pick from the list or type to search. Version 1903 adds two new tabs: kaomoji, which are the little character-based symbols like the ubiquitous shruggie; and symbols like those you are used to entering with an app like Character Map. Yes, you can now enter an inverted question mark or an interrobang without memorizing ANSI codes or calling up an alternate keyboard.
In the beginning, there was a Fast Ring and a Slow Ring. Now, members of the Windows Insider Program have a Release Preview Ring and an option to Skip to as much as a year ahead in the build cycle. Those options, plus a handy button to opt you back into the mainstream when the current cycle ends, are in the redesigned Settings page shown here. Click your current setting (1) and choose a ring (2). You're done.
The newish Cloud Clipboard gets a few small tweaks in this version. (All of the features shown here are also available in version 1809.) The top switch lets you save the most recent 26 items you copied in a history which is accessible via Windows key + V; the other options support syncing those copied items to other devices using your Microsoft account. In version 1903, the pop-up Clipboard itself is redesigned to make it easier to see the contents of clips that include text.
What used to be Windows Defender Security Center is now just Security Center. In version 1903 it gets two interesting additions. First is a Tamper Protection setting (shown here), which alerts you if another person or program tries to change your security settings. You'll also find a unified Protection History page that shows all suspicious events (malware detected, Controlled Folder access attempts, and so on) in a single view.
The redesigned Storage page (under Settings > System) is emblematic of many of the changes in this release. Instead of starting with a display of every drive, for example, the new display shows your system drive, with usage for the top handful of categories. You can change drives with a click or two and drill down to see more categories, but the net effect is that this uncluttered display is much more likely to spark joy.
The Snip & Sketch app is, slowly but surely, taking over many of the functions previously owned by the legacy Snipping Tool. In this update, it adds the much needed capability to capture a windows rather than just a full screen or an arbitrary rectangle. (For those who still prefer Snipping Tool, it's still there ... for now.)