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The Windows 10 Creators Update is Meh.

The Windows 10 Creators Update just rolled out to customers and, frankly, it’s kind of boring. That’s probably not fair. I’m guessing there are plenty of people excited by these changes and there are likely many new features lurking under the covers. Still, for the average customer there’s not much to excite.

For example, there are a set of new 3D image creation features. A new app called 3D Paint allows a customer to create 3D images easily. “Easily” is pretty subjective; I found it just as hard as most other 3D image creation tools to create something meaningful. Microsoft has also created an online community of people, called Remix 3D, who want to share these images. This is clearly a stab at Apple and Adobe. Both of these companies have worked hard to bring animation and other creative tools to the masses. Still, this is not something that the average consumer will care about. Most will play around with it but it won’t have much impact on their computing experience.

The same is true for the Linux subsystem and BASH upgrades. As an aside, it’s never BASH Shell. BASH is an acronym for “Bourne-again shell” shell. BASH Shell, like NIC Card, is redundant. But I digress… The BASH upgrades are extensive and bring new, under-the-covers support for programming languages such node.js, python, and a host of less common ones such as Rust. The upgraded shell also brings an upgrade to Ubuntu 16.04. That’s not the latest Ubuntu distribution (Ubuntu 17.04 is the most up-to-date) but is quite common. There are other improvements across the board including better Linux – Window integration. All of this is lovely but only if you are a programmer or other form of computer professional. For the average individual who just wants to access the Internet, this won’t matter a bit. For most people, the BASH capability will never even be enabled. It takes a somewhat complicated process to activate the Linux subsystem on Windows 10 and most customers won’t even know it exists.

Speaking of the Internet, Windows 10 Creators Edition does come with a lot of upgrades to the Microsoft Edge browser. Edge is not yet ready to be the browser of choice for power users (read about that in my previous blog Microsoft Edge is Nearly Good). It is, however, fast and has improved enough that the average individual may consider it for everyday use. This is especially the case if they are currently using the ancient Internet Explorer. That piece of… software should have been buried long ago with the other dinosaurs of the early Internet era.

Everything else is small or plain ridiculous. Microsoft has added display changes that are supposed to excite us but (let’s be honest) don’t. Dark mode and Nightlight are just two examples of new feature that scream “seriously, who cares?” Dark mode changes the theme from a light one to a dark one. What this means is that the normally white background turns black and the normally colored text goes white. It’s supposed to be good for low light situations but how often is this a problem. Even more strange is the Nightlight mode. It reduces the blue light in the display for people who sleep with their computers. Yeah… That sounds like something in the movie “Her” that was edited out because it sounded too creepy. This has been in Linux desktops for some time where it is equally useless.

There have been some updates to Cortana that are interesting if not earth shattering. You can now write a sticky note with instructions for reminders for Cortana. That means it is now possible to write a note that reminds you to pick up something at the store and then have Cortana yell it at you. The basic purpose of a personal computer was to get away from having people shout reminders at us but it is suddenly better when it’s the computer doing the shouting.. Cortana can also spew more notifications into the Action Center. That’s probably something…

Microsoft has also added broadcast gaming features to Windows such as integration with Beam. Beam is a livestreaming platform for gamers who need to brag online. It’s been renamed Mixer because Beam is obviously not nearly as cool a name as Mixer. Yep. That’s it.

At its core Windows 10 Creators Update is a bunch of tweaks and small features for specific constituents. It is for developers, artists, and gamers but not the masses. The Edge updates are about the most useful to the vast majority of customers but those could have been rolled out on their own. This is a nice update but few will be truly excited by it. Considering the last major update was the Anniversary Update a year ago, everyone was expecting more.

Microsoft Edge is Nearly Good Enough

Microsoft Edge, the successor to the now antediluvian Internet Explorer, first shipped 2 years ago as part of Windows 10. In its first iteration, Edge was bare boned compared to Google Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox. It lacked features that most customers had come to expect from a modern browser, not the least of which was extensions or plugins. Since then, Microsoft has continued to update Edge and advance the feature set. It is now almost good enough to be the browser of choice for the average user. But, as the old saying goes, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Edge is fast. On my rather normal system it clearly outpaces both Firefox and Chrome in page loading and responsiveness. This is purely perceptual but that’s what matters. To the average consumer, benchmarks showing millisecond differences in page loads is utterly irrelevant. It’s how the browser seems to respond that makes the difference in user experience. Edge is lightening quick on most common browser type functions.

Another positive is memory usage compared to Chrome and the memory hog that Firefox has become. Perhaps it’s the lack of extensions (more later) or a design that is better able to leverage OS functions better, Edge sips memory where Chrome drinks freely and Firefox gulps.

By all rights, Edge should have become everyone’s everyday browser by now. Alas, it has been hampered by a lack of key, critical features to make that a reality. The latest update is clearly an attempt to address these shortcomings. Tab management, one of the big needs for power users, is now vastly improved. Tabs can be “set aside” or saved for later. Once collected, tabs an easily be recalled or removed from the saved tabs list. The Tab Preview feature helps to visually see all of the open tabs so that it is easier to find just the tab that is needed at the moment. Both features are important for power users who open a lot of tabs at once and need to keep track of them or move them temporarily out of site. Ironically, tab management such as this was pioneered by Mozilla for Firefox as Tab Groups, moved into the core product, and then extracted out later. Firefox now requires an extension to perform similar tab management.

Another catch-up feature is the reading view. The reader mimics similar features in Chrome and Firefox, as well as the Amazon Kindle, in which written content is displayed in a manner that more closely resembles how book and magazine pages look. Extraneous content is stripped away and the layout and font changed to make it easier to read. This is a great feature for consumers who get the majority of their reading material online. The shortcoming of the Microsoft Edge flavor is that there are very few websites that support reading view outside of Microsoft content such as books from the Windows Store and MSNBC.

Microsoft has also fixed the bookmark importer. Previously, when attempting to pull in bookmarks from Firefox, Edge would either generate errors or simply not do it. Now it works flawlessly. This is a big deal for someone considering switching. Having to go find all of those favorite bookmarks is a chore. The improved importer makes migration much easier. Customers can also now sync their bookmarks, passwords, and other settings between Edge browsers on other computers.

Given the progress, speed, and memory saving habits of Microsoft Edge, why is it still not ready to be the everyday browser? The short answer is that Edge still has some serious flaws. There are too few extensions, only 31 at the moment. Another way to look at this is that the Edge ecosystem is still a bit thin. Along the same lines, the lack of Linux, Macintosh, Android, and iOS versions of Edge is a major issue. Being able to sync browser settings is only half useful when they can’t sync to non-Windows devices. For the average consumer, this means having to have different browser experiences for different types of devices. Advantage Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. For power users especially, these are fatal flaws that keep them from adopting Edge as their default browser.

Microsoft Edge has come a long way. It’s increased compatibility with other sites, new features, and stability plus superior speed and memory management should propel it into a neck and neck race with Chrome and probably overtake Firefox in popularity. That may be the future but it can’t happen until the key issues of multi-device support and lack of a meaningful developer ecosystem are addressed. If that takes another year then Microsoft will have squandered an opportunity. Firefox is becoming slow and ponderous and Chrome seems in stasis, and alternatives such as Opera too odd or costly for most people to seriously consider their everyday browser. Microsoft has the ability to repeat it’s 1990s stomping of incumbent browser Netscape Navigator if it can just build up these last few bits.