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Windows 10 update deep dive: Big changes, minor tweaks, and early problems

Nov 18, 20156 mins

There's a lot to see and a lot to dig up in this update.

Windows 10 has seen a serious amount of patching, but this newly released November Update is more than a patch, it’s a significant upgrade almost on par with a Service Pack. That’s rather unusual, as Microsoft tends to wait several months before issuing hefty updates. 

Up to now, Microsoft has been doing bug fixes. This update, build 10586, also brings new changes to the UI, adds some enterprise features, and updates Cortana and the Edge browser. So companies that still wait for Service Pack 1, here it is, even if it isn’t labeled as such.

See also: More evidence that Microsoft’s plan to port Android apps is dead

So let’s break down Threshold 2, or the November Update, or Service Pack 1, whatever you want to call it. Microsoft posted a list of new features for your perusal, or you can just read about it here.

Big Changes

The Start menu has been given an overhaul with four columns instead of three, and the ability to resize the tiles. Also, the Start menu’s capacity for items – apps, documents, whatever – has been increased from 512 to 2,048.

On the downside, the Start menu now has ads, in the form of “Suggested apps.” Suggested apps are applications that Windows will occasionally, but not always, recommend to you. However, this can be turned off in Settings -> Personalization -> Start and switching “Occasionally show suggestions in Start” to Off.

The taskbar and desktop context menus are a little more consistent in appearance rather than the mix of looks that they had. Some apps have colored title bars instead of the plain-white look, and some icons, like the Control Panel and Device Manager, have been updated.

The Aero Snap feature now works with all apps rather than one. Before, if you resized one of several snapped-together apps, then you had to resize the others. Now, if you resize one, it resizes the others so the apps aren’t all overlapping or fouled up.

Cortana has seen some updates on the client side. For example, you can write notes with a stylus and Cortana understands them, to a point. Cortana will also sync your messaging and call history between the desktop and Windows Phone, and put the PC into sleep mode when you are out of the office. Microsoft has also made Cortana available in Japan, Australia, Canada, and India.

As part of its enterprise push, Microsoft has introduced Windows Update for Business, which adds Group Policy to the updates, so you have the ability to control updates, as opposed to having them shoved on you. This means Updates (i.e. security and cumulative fixes) and Upgrades (whole new builds of Windows) can be deferred. Upgrades can be deferred by up to eight months, while Updates can be deferred for up to four weeks.

Smaller Features

The update adds a feature similar to Find My iPhone, in that it will track your laptop if it is lost or stolen. The Find My Device feature can be found in the Security settings of the Control Panel.

Microsoft has done a lot of consolidating of its communications apps, but now it’s splitting them up. The functionality of Skype is being split among messaging, voice, and video calls. All are powered by Skype, but they are new, rather primitive apps by comparison. You can still download regular Skype and use it, though.

Windows Store for Business has been added to this new version, which allows companies to distribute apps for workers using the Windows Store front-end. So the enterprise can put together a collection of mandatory business apps as well as public/commercial apps it approves of, and employees can get them all from one place.

If you do a clean install, you can use Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 license keys to install Windows 10 and activate it. Before, you couldn’t do that. You either needed a Windows 10 key or had to upgrade an older version of Windows, and those upgrades don’t always go smoothly. Now you can do a clean install, meaning wipe the hard drive, and use an old Windows 7/8 key.

Microsoft is claiming a 30% boost in boot time, which would make Windows 10’s already impressive boot speed even faster. It certainly seems to load quickly, even on a laptop with a HDD.

All told, it’s a major update to the OS, particularly for one that came so soon after launch. There’s still more to come, such as support for Chrome extensions in Edge, but Microsoft is working on that, too.

There are, however, a few gotchas.


InfoWorld readers first noticed that the installation gets stuck at the 44% completion mark. A user asked about this in the official Windows Forum, and a moderator said it may involve SD card issues:

“We’ve observed that some devices that have an SD bus with an SD card inserted while installing the Windows 10 November update will stop responding at 44%, and we are currently investigating the issue,” wrote Anannya Podder, a forum moderator. Microsoft is suggesting removing any external media until a fix is found, at least for the install. has noticed that after installing the update, users are finding many default app choices have been reset. It’s easy to fix, but why is Microsoft resetting people’s browser choices?

On the nastier side, a Reddit thread notes that the install is deleting a number of installed programs as it upgrades the OS, many of them popular system utilities. This includes CPU-Z, speccy, 8gadgetpack, a Cisco VPN client, SATA drivers, SpyBot, F5 VPN, Steam, Origin, and Adobe CS, among others. 

And finally, if you upgraded your system to Windows 10 less than 31 days ago, it’s to the back of the line for you. It’s spelled out in the Windows 10 FAQ:

“If it’s been less than 31 days since you upgraded to Windows 10, you won’t get the November update right away; this will allow you to go back to your previous version of Windows if you choose. After the 31 days have passed, your PC will automatically download the November update.”

Not sure why Microsoft is doing this. Perhaps it’s to stagger the load of downloads, but it is a strange one.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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