It’s been roughly six months since Microsoft last released any major Windows 10 feature update. But after a long wait, Microsoft’s Windows 10 May 2019 Update is available and ready for download. After an extended month of testing, Microsoft is making its latest Windows 10 update available for anyone to install. The Windows 10 May 2019 Update includes a new light theme, a Windows Sandbox feature, and even kaomoji’s and quicker access to symbols.
Like previous updates, Microsoft is rolling this one out in stages, and you might not see it instantly on your machine. You can check Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update to see if the update is listed. If it’s not listed, there is another way to force your PC to get the latest update.
With that said, let’s explore the top features of this exciting update.
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Search & Cortana
Microsoft made some big changes to the Cortana and search experiences in the May 2019 Update, and it outright split them in two. This comes after years of feedback from users being frustrated with Cortana’s presence in the search UI on Windows 10. People just wanted to search without Cortana getting in the way, and now with the May 2019 Update, you can do just that. Unfortunately, the separation of these two features hasn’t been elegant. In fact, I’d argue this is the weakest part of the May 2019 Update.
To be clear, search still works as search, and Cortana still works as Cortana. It’s just that now these two features have their own separate buttons on the taskbar that take you into the same user interfaces that they had before. Zero work has been done to accommodate the fact that these two things are now standalone experiences. This leads to some confusing UI that doesn’t make any sense, and it is mind-boggling as to how this could ship.
The new Cortana experience isn’t new at all. It’s the same old Cortana experience, which if this were three years ago wouldn’t be much of a problem. But over the last few Windows 10 feature updates, Microsoft has pulled out things like the Cortana feed, which gave Cortana a little more substance than just being a button that lets you talk to your computer. Now that Cortana and Search are separate, Cortana has nothing in it. There’s no upcoming weather forecast, no forthcoming meetings, no nothing.
What’s worse, you can no longer type to interact with Cortana. The Cortana button on the taskbar simply invokes Cortana listening, and since there’s no UI, there’s nothing else you can do except access the Notebook or close Cortana. There’s no text bar to type into, and that’s because the search feature is the thing that retained the bar on the taskbar. Not Cortana.
The New Sandbox Feature
This is arguably one of the more significant new features in this release, but only if you’re a Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise user. If you run Windows 10 Home, unfortunately, Windows Sandbox is not available. Essentially, with security in mind, Windows Sandbox allows you to run programs that might not be safe in a throwaway virtual machine, untouched from your actual OS.
For example, if you were to download a random .exe from the web, and wanted to run it, instead of risking your actual Windows 10 install, you can just boot up Windows Sandbox, and run the .exe in there. If it turns out to be safe, you can install it on my main OS; if not, you can close the Sandbox and all its contents are discarded forever.
Sandbox is a power user feature, meaning most users likely won’t find it very useful. In fact, it’s turned off by default, requiring you to go into a legacy Control Panel applet to enable it. Once enabled, you’ll find the Windows Sandbox feature in the Start menu’s apps list. The throwaway virtual machine runs the same version of Windows 10 that you’re running normally, except with nothing installed. It’s a clean slate every time.
Start, Taskbar & Action Center
The Windows Shell, which includes things like the Start menu, Action Center, Taskbar, context menus, and touch keyboard, Microsoft is introducing a brand new “light” theme that changes these interfaces from using dark colors to light colors instead. This gives Windows 10 a fresh, modern look. While I think the dark theme is still the best, many prefer light user interfaces as they can look cleaner and more contemporary when done correctly.
Microsoft has done a great job with the new light theme. It’s consistent across the board, with only a couple of areas that for some reason haven’t been updated to support the new light mode. It’s arguably much more consistent than the dark theme is, and that’s because most of Windows 10’s legacy user interfaces are light and haven’t been updated to support dark mode. So, if you use the light theme, pretty much all the interfaces you interact with will be light.
The light theme isn’t perfect, however. Some of the Fluent Design effects, notably the reveal effects, don’t show up too well in places like the Start menu. This is odd because Microsoft has a specific version of reveal for light interfaces that uses a dark highlight instead. For whatever reason, Microsoft decided to not put much effort into making the Start menu use that version of the reveal effect, meaning you lose out on the cool highlight effects when using the Start menu in light mode.
On the flipside, some Fluent Design effects stand out way more, such as the newly added drop shadows behind context menus. Speaking of which, context menus in Start, the taskbar, and other modern areas of the OS have been updated with Fluent Design, meaning they now feature things like acrylic blur effects, reveal effects, and drop shadows. This makes modern context menus look very clean and fit in nicely with the rest of Microsoft’s Fluent Design System. It’s still not consistent everywhere, but it’s a good step forward.
Another notable change to the Start menu is a new default layout when clean installing or setting up a new PC with the May 2019 Update preinstalled. Microsoft has reduced the number of tiles that are pinned to the Start menu by default to just nine, under two groups instead of three or four. This makes the Start menu look way less noisy, and much more professional to new users just looking to get their programs up and running on a new PC.
All the third-party tiles that promote apps in the Microsoft Store are all under one group now, which is excellent because Microsoft has also added the ability to unpin entire groups from the Start menu with a single click. If you right-click the header of a group, an “unpin this group” option will appear. Clicking it will simply remove all the tiles within a group, meaning you can get rid of those pesky advertisement tiles very quickly.
Moving onto the Action Center, Microsoft added a new brightness slider to the quick actions area. This is something users have been asking for since it was removed in the first Windows 10 release, and Microsoft finally listened. In addition, Microsoft updated the way users edit quick actions, now being able to do it directly from within the Action Center without being thrown into a separate settings window. You can pin, unpin, and move around quick actions directly from within the Action Center, which is a much better system than the previous one.
Windows Update received some significant upgrades with the May 2019 Update. Microsoft is backing off its heavy-handedness when it comes to forcing updates onto users. Starting this month, users will no longer be forced to install new feature updates unless they explicitly click on an install button for it. You will still have to install security patches and driver updates, but the big feature updates won’t be forced straight away.
Eventually, the latest feature update will be forced, but only once the version of Windows 10 you’re using runs out support, which is usually every 18 months for users upgrading to a new version of Windows 10 on release. So, for example, if you were to install the May 2019 Update upon release, you wouldn’t have to install any other feature updates released between the May 2019 Update and 18 months after.
This doesn’t mean Microsoft isn’t going to alert you of a new feature update, however. Microsoft added orange indicators that sit in the System Tray and Start menu when an update is pending install. I find them quite handy, as it’s an easy and subtle way to tell if my PC needs to restart.
Microsoft added the option to delay Windows 10 security and driver updates for up to 35 days. These updates are forced on a more frequent basis, as they’re designed to keep your PC running securely and smoothly, but you can pause them. This is new for Windows 10 Home users, who previously were unable to pause security updates.
So overall, Microsoft really improved Windows Update with this release. The only time the PC will forcefully restart is if the user has delayed an update for an inexplicable amount of time. There’s now plenty of time for a user to find out an update is available and prepare their PC to install it.
File Explorer Improvements
Some minor changes have been made to the File Explorer in the May 2019 Update, all designed to make using it a little easier. Microsoft changed the default view for the downloads folder, now putting your most recent downloads at the very top and categorizing them under dated tabs. This has been in Windows for a long time but wasn’t set as default until now.
This view for the downloads folder is a much better way of organizing your downloads. Previously, your downloads would just organize alphabetically, like most other folders on your PC. This meant that, for the most part, you would have to hunt for the file you just downloaded in the downloads folder. That’s no longer an issue now that the default behavior is to have the most recent download at the very top of the list in the downloads folder.
Microsoft also updated the File Explorer icon a bit, giving it a slightly warmer color so that it doesn’t clash with the new light theme. This isn’t something you’ll likely notice unless you compare them side by side.
Updated Windows Settings
As is the case with every new Windows 10 feature update, Microsoft did some new stuff with the Settings app. For starters, you’ll notice a new banner at the very top of the Settings home page that shows you your Microsoft Account, OneDrive status, Your Phone status, Microsoft Rewards progress, and Windows Update status. It’s primarily there to give you quick access to areas of Settings that Microsoft wants you to use the most.
Microsoft also updated the account security area of the Settings app, cleaning up the UI and making things a little more organized. You’ll now see all the options available for setup on your account, including things like Windows Hello facial recognition, fingerprint login, or iris scanning. You can also easily set up with a standard PIN, physical security key, standard password, and even a picture password from Windows 8.
This new UI is so much cleaner and straight forward, but I wonder why Microsoft decided that it’s necessary to list sign-in options even if they are unavailable on my device. Windows Hello fingerprint shows up on my Surface Book 2, even though it doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner. I’d much prefer if the options that were unavailable on my device didn’t show up at all. Either way, the new UI is a great improvement that makes setting up account authentication more straightforward.
Microsoft updated Focus Assist to come on automatically when entering Fullscreen mode within an app. So, if you’re using Netflix for example, and you enter Fullscreen mode to watch your video, notifications will no longer bombard you while you’re in Fullscreen mode. You can turn this off, of course, but the idea is if you’re entering Fullscreen, you likely don’t want to be interrupted.
There are also plenty of new ease-of-access options available in the Settings app, including the ability to change the color of your cursor and resize it with more granular controls. While Windows has always had the ability to resize your cursor, it’s never been this easy. It’s now just a simple slider, that updates on the fly without you needing to click “apply” every time you set a size.
Miscellaneous Changes & Updates
One notable change that you probably wouldn’t notice unless you were told is the wallpaper on the lock screen will now blur when you go to login. It’s a nice, subtle design choice that puts the login screen inline with other Fluent Design areas of the OS.
Microsoft is also focused on privacy with this update, adding little things like a microphone icon in the system tray whenever an app is using your mic. Clicking on the icon will bring you to a settings pane that lets you control what apps can access your microphone.
Cloud Clipboard received some minor updates, reducing the overall size of the UI to make it more natural for keyboard and mice users. I still think discoverability of this feature is abysmal. I wouldn’t be surprised if no one used it, because they don’t know it’s there. It’s off by default, likely for privacy reasons, but there’s nothing during setup that would indicate that there is such a feature. The only way you’d know is if someone told you about it, or you just happen to stumble across it in Settings.
Finally, Microsoft says it has updated the reliability of the Start menu. I’ve had mixed results with these claims, however. On one device, Start works fine all the time. It opens instantly and is very fast. On another device, however, Start crashes at least once a day and doesn’t pop up for about 10 seconds after that.
So, should you install the Windows 10 May 2019 Update? Definitely!
Microsoft took extra special care to make sure this update is free of any data-losing bugs or major issues. It’s spent an extra month in testing to ensure this. I know, because this update was supposed to be called the April 2019 Update, until Microsoft decided to give it a little more testing time. That’s a good thing.
The improvements to Windows Update are worth it alone. The new light theme is something cool to check out, and the other smaller miscellaneous changes make the update feel complete. Search and Cortana really do need some work, though. The search function is fine, but the split is rough and does not make for a very good user experience.