Microsoft has confirmed its latest update, Windows 10 version 21H1. Here's what we're expecting, and why it could set the stage for a major Windows 10 shift. This follows Microsoft's usual pattern of rolling out two major Windows 10 updates per year, with this one following the latest October 2020 update. (If you're running Windows 7, you can still download Windows 10 free to get the latest updates.)
What is Windows 10 version 21H1?
Windows 10 version 21H1 will be Microsoft's latest update to the OS, arriving sometime this spring. These updates often end up being called the April or May update.
Usually, Microsoft releases a larger feature update in the spring, and a smaller one in the fall. But version 21H1 appears to be a more minor update as well, rather than an overhaul.
What new features will the new update include?
According to Microsoft's blog post, new Windows 10 features will include:
"The features we are releasing in this update are focused on the core experiences that customers have told us they're relying on most right now," the post said. "So, we optimized this release to support our customers' most pressing needs."
According to Digital Trends, the update will also include new icons, updated settings pages and some tweaks to Cortana and the search box experience.
Microsoft now lets you enable DNS over HTTPS (DoH) system-wide, for all Windows applications. DNS over HTTPS will boost online privacy and security by encrypting DNS lookups.
In current versions of Windows 10, only a few web browsers like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox support this. Once system-wide support is finished, all Windows applications will get the benefits of DoH without any modifications.
DNS Configuration in the Settings App
Windows 10’s Settings app now lets you configure DNS servers—and DoH settings. Previously setting a custom DNS server required visiting the classic Control Panel.
To find DNS (and DNS over HTTPS) settings, head to either Settings > Network & Internet > Status (for wired Ethernet connections) or Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi (for wireless connections.) Click “Properties,” scroll down, and click “Edit” under DNS Settings.
With one of the DoH-enabled DNS servers Microsoft lists here configured, you can enable Encrypted DNS over HTTPS. In the current testing release, it works with Cloudflare, Google, and Quad9’s DNS servers.
Startup App Notifications
When a Windows application sets itself to automatically start with your PC, Windows will now show you a “Startup App Notification” that informs you of this.
At the moment, this feature only shows apps that appear in the Settings > Apps > Startup screen. Other apps that automatically start in other ways—for example, applications that install a system service—won’t trigger one of these notifications.
A Redesigned Emoji Picker
Microsoft has redesigned Windows 10’s emoji picker, which you can open with Windows + . (period) or Windows + ; (semicolon.)
Beyond an updated design that matches Windows 10’s modern “Fluent Design” style, you’ll find a variety of new features including an emoji search box. There’s now animated GIF support for quickly searching for and inserting animated GIFs into Windows applications.
The emoji panel will incorporate clipboard history, too. You can still press Windows+V to go to your clipboard history, but now it’s also available in the emoji picker panel. Just click the Clipboard icon at the top of the panel to find it.
“Windows Voice Typing” Replaces Windows Dictation
Windows Voice Typing is the new, improved, and rebranded version of Windows Dictation. You can use it to type with your voice anywhere there’s a text box on your Windows 10 PC.
Voice Typing has a design that’s “optimized for use with touch keyboards,” automatic punctuation, and “an updated back end” that promises a more reliable voice typing experience.
To activate it, press Windows+H or tap the Microphone button built into Windows 10’s touch keyboard. Microsoft offers a list of voice commands you can try with Voice Typing.
Microsoft’s New Icon Theme
Various icons have been updated to match Microsoft’s new icon theme, including the Settings, Windows Security, Snip & Sketch, and Sticky Notes icons. The new icons look much better with the new light and dark themed start menu tiles added in Windows 10’s 20H1 update.
Storage Health Monitoring
Windows 10 now has a storage health monitoring feature that will warn you when one of your PC’s storage devices “may be at risk of failure.” It’s designed to work with NVMe SSDs. If you have one of these drives, it should hopefully warn you and give you enough time to back up your data before the drive fails.
Disk Management in Settings
Microsoft has now added Disk Management options to Windows 10’s Settings app. Rather than opening the classic Disk Management utility, you can now head to Settings > System > Storage > Manage Disks and Volumes.
This interface lets you view disk information, create volumes, format them, and assign drive letters. It’s also “better integrated” with modern Windows features like Storage Spaces, which lets you mirror and combine drives.
The older Disk Management interface isn’t going anywhere, and you can still access it if you need it. The new interface in Settings is just another option, and it should be easier to find and use for average Windows users—it’s now designed with accessibility in mind, unlike the old one.
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