Windows 10 April 2018 Update review: Small fixes now hint at better things for later

Timeline and Near Sharing highlight an otherwise modest list of improvements within the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, which feels more like the Windows service packs of old.

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Microsoft Edge adds a ton of new features

I can’t escape from my love-hate relationship with Microsoft’s Edge browser. On some machines, it feels lean and fast, but when I used my test version of Edge to livestream Microsoft’s Developer Day, the feed stuttered and skipped. Microsoft continues to grind away at Edge, however.

The Windows 10 April 2018 Update’s feature release belatedly provides some general improvements, enhances Edge’s ebook experience, and lays the foundation for what could be some interesting additions to the Windows app ecosystem. There's also a key security improvement that has migrated to Windows 10 Pro.

Microsoft Windows 10 Spring Creators Update Edge form fill Mark Hachman / IDG

The form fill feature within Edge is fairly basic.

Two new features fall under the category of “I can’t believe Edge didn’t already have that”: the ability to mute tabs, and a feature which automatically fills out forms. The former works as expected, but the latter is disappointing. You’ll need to dig into Edge’s Settings > Advanced Settings > Manage form entries menu, then manually fill out the fields yourself. Rival browsers simply slurp up the information as you type it, and include the option to store financial information, too. 

Edge also received a nice facelift, with an updated flyout menu (Microsoft calls it the Edge Hub) that largely replaces the somewhat inscrutable icons of years past. The broad swath of white space also shows off the updated “Acrylic” look of Windows 10, with its frosted-glass transparency effects. Effectively using the available space is part of Edge’s “clutter-free” printing, which reduced a thirteen-page print job down to seven by eliminating ads and other cruft.

Microsoft Windows 10 Spring Creators Update Edge clutter free printing on Mark Hachman / IDG

Clutter-free printing within Microsoft Edge eliminates ads and smooths out the layout of a Web page. It’s a solid feature, although the formatting suffers a bit.

The other noteworthy update is to Edge’s ebook reading experience, a unique feature among other browsers. When you click on the Books tab in the Edge Hub, it will open into a surprisingly attractive library of your ebooks, with several suggestions at the bottom. While the reading experience hasn’t changed all that much, Edge has added much better note-taking, with a unified menu for bookmarks and an index to quickly find those notes. Edge also added the capability to break up words into syllables and identify nouns, verbs, and adjectives, an assistive technology for readers. I’ve never seen an EPUB book with audio narration, but Edge supports that too.

Windows 10 redstone 4 edge notes index Mark Hachman / IDG

While you could attach notes to ebooks within the Fall Creators Update, the spring update actually provides an index of those notes. (They’re keyed to the word or words you highlighted.)

One key feature which has finally reached Windows is Windows Defender Application Guard, a sort of browser “super sandbox” which was restricted to enterprise versions of Windows, but has now been added to Windows 10 Pro. WDAG creates a virtual sandbox for your Edge browser, although you'll need to turn on the feature within the Control Panel (Control Panel > Programs > Turn Windows Features On and Off). If you're browsing the dark depths of the Web within Edge, do it with WDAG enabled.

Windows 10 April Update Windows Device Application Guard Mark Hachman / IDG

Searching using Application Guard helps secure your browser.

And there’s also one more thing. Under the hood, Edge’s new EdgeHTML underpinnings include Service Workers, Push and Cache APIs—developer-level improvements that will mean little to you, now. But Windows 10’s Microsoft Store has always had an app shortage, and these capabilities lay the foundation for what’s called Progressive Web Apps, one of the keys to the future of Windows. 

Microsoft Windows 10 Spring Creators Update Edge hub books Mark Hachman / IDG

The Fluent Design-influenced ebook store within Edge is in sharp, vibrant contrast to the browser’s overwhelmingly monochrome aesthetic.

Think of PWAs as web apps on steroids, and within Windows, web apps don’t even require the Edge browser to run. Before you sneer at the idea, consider that there are already Microsoft Store, web, and traditional Win32 “desktop” apps available for Spotify—and all of them basically look and feel the same.The updated Twitter app for Windows 10 is one of the first PWAs. While it feels too “big,” with too much wasted space, it’s still much more usable than the previous standalone app.

Do Windows users really care that PWAs will increase the number of apps in the Microsoft Store? Probably not, especially if Microsoft’s mobile ambitions have been put on hold. But just as some users choose to use the Twitter Web page, others will prefer the app—just as some Windows users type with a keyboard, and others enter text with a stylus. And there’s another intriguing possibility, too: if Microsoft makes its own Windows 10 apps PWAs—like Mail and Calendar, say—then maybe we’ll see some of the aggressive features Microsoft brings to Web apps and services quickly migrated to the apps within Windows 10, instead of being delayed for months.

Data usage management: You need it

Two factors—ISPs like Comcast once again enforcing data caps, and the uncertainty surrounding net neutrality—have put data usage and its management into the spotlight once again. Here, the Windows 10 April 2018 Update offers a number of useful features.

An updated Data usage setting (Settings > Network & Internet > Data usage) offers a much more comprehensive way of viewing how much data you’ve used over the past 30 days, setting limits on how much to use, and managing background data from the Store. But the feature inexplicably refused to show data usage via ethernet, which seems like an odd omission.

Setting data limits will set your Wi-Fi or ethernet as a metered connection, which will prevent automated OneDrive syncing, however. Perhaps Microsoft could adjust your connection to metered when there’s only 20 percent or so left on your cap.

windows 10 redstone 4 data limit edit Mark Hachman / IDG

While you can cap the data you use within Windows, doing so will set your connection as “metered,” which can have some annoying consequences.

Way, way down in the Windows Update settings (Settings > Update & Security > Advanced options > Delivery Optimization > Advanced options) are a number of useful options for people with metered or low-bandwidth connections. Yes, you can graciously upload Windows patches to your neighbor’s PCs, but cap the data you’ll allow. You can also limit how much bandwidth you allocate to foreground updates (such as Store apps you click on) and background security and feature updates.

Finally, if you own an ”always connected” PC with an active cellular connection, you’ll also have the option to favor cellular connections over Wi-Fi. (If you don’t have a PC with this capability, the Settings > Network & Internet > Cellular option won’t appear.)

Windows Ink gains two handy gestures

Windows 10, I sometimes tell people, isn’t necessarily their Windows. Microsoft’s Windows 10 development team optimizes for a variety of modalities, including speech, pen, touch, voice, and more, some of which some users will never use. For people invested in those modalities, though, further development is among their top priorities.

Windows 10 Redstone 4 direct pen input Mark Hachman / IDG

Direct pen input into the Settings menu is a handy feature—and yet (as of this review) it doesn’t work within the Cortana search box, Edge’s URL bar, or within search fields within Web pages like Microsoft.com.

Here, the Windows 10 April 2018 Update holds two small but significant improvements. First, if there’s a text field, you no longer have to open a separate handwriting panel. Simply click the field and you can write right within it. Microsoft also added a “commit” gesture, a sort of backwards “L”, that helpfully clears out the handwriting panel. I’d still like an option to be able to “write” in one fixed position, though, with the text automatically scrolling out of the way.

Conclusion: No killer, mostly filler

Rather than a cohesive whole, the Windows 10 April 2018 Update seems more like a service pack of old—simply a collection of improvements, many minor. Simply put, the Windows 10 April 2018 Update at least feels like the least important iteration of Windows 10 to date. 

What we haven’t heard about is what may be going on behind the scenes. Microsoft’s committed to making Windows 10 S a “mode” of Windows 10, and executives have stated that the majority of users will experience Windows in this way. Does that mean that universal Windows apps from the Microsoft Store will command a more prominent role in the future despite years of struggles? It certainly seems so. Meanwhile, forthcoming Progressive Web Apps may help enrich Windows 10’s app catalog, someday.

Answers may arrive soon. Stay tuned for Microsoft's Build developer conference in May, where we can expect to hear more of what Microsoft has in store for future versions of Windows 10.

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At a Glance
  • Microsoft's Windows 10 Spring Creators Update lacks marquee appeal, though features like Timeline and Near Share are useful additions to Microsoft's flagship operating system.

    Pros

    • Timeline can be a genuinely useful organizational tool
    • Though its market share remains small, Edge continues to improve
    • Dozens of minor features, many worth taking advantage of

    Cons

    • Easily the least important feature update in Windows 10's history
    • Near Share is too slow to be truly useful
    • A near lack of a formal launch (or name) signals lackluster expectations
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