Windows 10 Anniversary Update review: Cortana, Edge overshadow Windows Ink

Windows 10 Anniversary Update review: Cortana, Edge overshadow Windows Ink

The improvements Microsoft has made on features you use every day are what really matter.

Windows Ink: Just the basics of pen computing

Pen computing has been part of the Apple Newton, the Tablet PC, the Surface Pro 3, and other devices. But the PC world has never really answered the central question concerning the pen: What exactly do you do with it?

microsoft surface pro 4 surface pen detail Peter Ruecktenwald

One of the new ways to interact with your PC is via the pen.

Virtually everything about Windows Ink was designed for the Anniversary Update. OneNote used to be Microsoft’s great inking application; now, a collection of native Windows Ink-powered apps (which originated from the massive Surface Hub)—Sticky Notes, Sketchpad, and Screen Sketch—is elbowing into its territory. And if those aren’t good enough, a curated collection of inking apps are now in the Windows Store.

windows 10 anniversary edition windows ink icon arrow Mark Hachman

Windows Ink begins with this tiny icon on the Windows 10 taskbar.

A few years ago, Microsoft executives showed a Surface Pro 3 tablet that could be written upon just by clicking the stylus, even without unlocking the PC. Today, that same feature (which, due to a bug or faulty Surface Pen, I could not get to work) unlocks the Windows Ink Workspace and any of the associated apps. They’re also found behind the new pen icon, in the Windows taskbar.

Of the three Workspace apps, neither Sticky Notes nor Sketchpad particularly impress me. Sticky Notes simply plop themselves on your screen—yes, like tiny, physical sticky notes. A late-breaking tweak just before the Anniversary Update launched added the Insights feature, which allows Bing to interpret a scrawled flight number, for instance, as actual, actionable data.

windows ink workspace new Mark Hachman

Click the pen icon, and Windows will launch the Windows Ink Workspace, a collection of ink-specific apps.

Sketchpad’s existence, meanwhile, basically tells me that Microsoft felt OneNote, even the simplified Metro version that shipped with the Surface Pro 3, was simply overkill for what users want to do: Scrawl a quick note. Sketchpad, though, doesn’t quite fix things: It feels more like a drawing tool rather than a note-taking app. What I’d like to see would be for Sticky Notes to go away and Insights to migrate to Sketchpad. Ideally, Windows would “read” all of your digital scribbles, anyway—or at least those that you’ve designated.

Windows 10 Anniversary Update sticky notes cortana airline flight Mark Hachman

As long as you have Insights turned on as an option, Cortana and Bing can interpret certain notes as items that they can pull up more information on.

Screen Sketch, meanwhile, reminds me of how I use a Galaxy Note smartphone: for grabbing webpages or scrawling a note, and posting them online. My beef is how Windows fails to recognize that my primary desktop monitor is not touch-enabled, and dumps both Screen Sketch and Sticky Notes there, rather than on my touchscreen directly next to it.

Windows 10 Anniversary Edition windows ink windows store apps

Microsoft has helpfully collected many ink-enabled apps in the Microsoft Store. (There are more than what you see here.)

I never thought I’d say this, but there’s a section of the Windows Store worth checking out, and that is the Windows Ink section. There’s at least 40 apps there, all curated for pen use. This is a refreshing change: a smart collection of apps organized with a purpose.

One expected feature, digitally inking a route in the Maps app, isn’t ready yet. Microsoft tells me it also plans to take OneNote and expand its smart inking—a freehand circle converts to a machine-generated one—to equations. But this misses the point: Until Microsoft delivers the capability to interpret inked letters as rich, editable text, that can be inserted into Word or Outlook, Windows Ink isn’t fully baked.

Task View and Snap: still invaluable

The Anniversary Update doesn’t change that much about Task View, Microsoft’s virtual desktop utility, but it adds the ability to pin windows from a particular app to multiple desktops—not just one—and to do the same for multiple windows. It also allows you to pin a chat app or music player where it’s always accessible.

Windows 10 Anniversary Update task view app on all desktopsMARK HACHMAN

A new Task View option within the Windows 10 Anniversary Update allows you to pin an app to multiple desktops, such as Groove Music or Slack.

I suspect that most users buy and prefer to use multiple physical monitors, then forget about Microsoft’s extremely useful Task View feature when they’re confined to a notebook. Snap and Task View go hand in hand: You can snap apps to the four corners of a screen, or one to each side. Task View allows you to swap between these “screens” of apps with just a keystroke combination.

I just wish there were a simpler way to slide between desktops. Ctrl + Win + either Right or Left Arrow isn’t all that intuitive, and there’s still that pesky hard stop at the end of the row of virtual desktops. perhaps Microsoft could implement a touchscreen gesture, or the three-finger swipe used to move between apps could be reassigned to desktops. That hasn’t stopped both Snap and Task View from remaining one of the most valuable features of Windows 10.

Under the hood: Hidden depths and Action Center

A number of minor features have been added to the Windows 10 code since last year, incremental improvements that sometimes fly under the radar. I highlight a few below that I think make a substantive difference: the addition of numbers to taskbar icons, dark mode, a quick calendar view, improvements to the Action Center, and a tweak to configuring audio sources.

windows 10 calendar popup Mark Hachman

Click the time/date box on the taskbar, and a quick look at your day pops up. Also note the superimposed “1” over the Action Center: we’re (almost) all caught up.

Notifications are now an important component of the modern operating system, and the Action Center has improved in the last few months’s worth of Insider Builds. Previously, the Action Center was dominated by whichever application had the most notifications (email, in my case). Now, it gives equal weight to various apps, tucking older notifications out of sight.

Windows will also show the number of total notifications in the Taskbar. Clicking the Taskbar’s time/date will also show a concise view of your calendar for the day. That time and date will also show up on all of your displays—not just the primary one. Oh, and there’s a dark mode, too, available in the Settings menu’s Personalization section – but just for some UWP apps, and not Win32 apps or even the whole of the Windows 10 UI.

action center Windows 10 anniversary update expanded Mark Hachman

Action Center now better organizes your notifications into categories. Note the quick settings icons at the bottom. (You may need to click Expand to see them.)

Here’s one hidden feature I really love: Switching between audio sources (like headphones or tablet speakers) used to be a function of a buried control panel. Now, you can simply click the volume icon, then click the arrow above the slider to change your audio sources. (But there’s still no graphic equalizer in Groove!)

Next: OneDrive loses smart files, then gets them back, sort of.

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