The Microsoft Windows 10 October 2020 Update (20H2) will introduce the new Microsoft Edge browser to millions of PCs, while updating the venerable Alt + Tab shortcut with a new and necessary feature. But Microsoft designers have turned the once-colorful Start menu into watery mush with a less than impressive visual update.
All in all, the Windows 10 October 2020 Update is one more in line with the anemic fall updates. And that’s fine! We expected this. Over the past two to three years, Microsoft’s major feature updates have been merged into the “spring ” releases , leaving mostly minor patches and quality updates for the fall release. (See Windows 10 November Update 2019) .This year is no different, although the small list of changes does allow for some interesting tweaks on your Windows 10 PC.
Microsoft noted in late August that the Windows 10 October 2020 Update (Windows currently reports the version number as “20H2 ” in our preview version) has been released for commercial testing . We tested it in early September, using the Microsoft Beta Channel (build 19042.508) as the source for our test builds, which Microsoft now designates as the “final ” build . Microsoft has not indicated the exact date when the Windows 10 October 2020 Update will be released to the general PC market.
Here’s what’s new in the Windows 10 October 2020 Update and what it will mean for you
You may be interested to know that the October 2020 update will likely be ultra-fast.
“To the As with Windows 10, versions 1903 and 1909 versions 2004 and 20H2 share a common core operating system with an identical set of system files ” , wrote the program manager at Microsoft, Aria Carley . “New Features are included in the monthly quality updates for the 2004 version in an inactive and dormant state. These new 20H2 features remain dormant until they are activated through the ‘enablement package’, a small quick-install ‘main switch’ that activates the features of Windows 10, version 20H2 ” .
On our test Surface devices, the update took about a minute, including a single reboot.
The Start menu changes … for the worse
One of the biggest changes Microsoft has made to Windows 10 through the October 2020 update involves the Start menu, and I don’t like it.
Whether you choose the “light ” or “dark ” options ( Settings> Personalization> Colors ), the Start menu in current builds of Windows 10 20H1 or earlier uses distinctive colors as backgrounds for individual tiles within the Start menu. For my eyes, that gives the clear color scheme a certain need for visual contrast. (In my opinion, the dark mode looks good within the 20H1 and 20H2 color schemes.) But the clear mode within the Windows 10 October 2020 Update just doesn’t look attractive at all.
If one chooses the light color scheme option within the Windows 10 October 2020 Update, the Start menu and tiles end up feeling pale, sterile, and faded. Unfortunately, because the distinctive color has been completely removed from the Start menu, there seems to be no way to bring some life back to the Start menu. Color tastes may vary and some might like the changes, but not me.
One should see virtually all of the new Fluent Design icons that Microsoft announced in February , both on the Start menu and on the taskbar. Functionally, Microsoft hasn’t changed anything here. Instead, the new icons help give Windows a fresh, clean aesthetic – that’s a positive step.
Welcome to the new Edge
Here’s the biggest change in the Windows 10 October 2020 Update: the ‘new’ Edge browser.
Windows is now in its third browser: the hidden Internet Explorer browser that remains buried within Windows, the original Microsoft Edge, and the ‘new’ Microsoft Edge that officially debuted this year. The new version is based on Chromium, the same fundamentals as Google Chrome, and the same extensions now work in both plug-ins . The new Edge is efficient and smooth, although Microsoft has yet to sync everything from an Edge browser on one PC to another, including shared tab history.
With the October 2020 update, Microsoft will begin swapping the new Edge for the old one, with a transition pop-up indicating the change. (Microsoft had said earlier this year that it planned to migrate PCs from the old Edge to the new one for the entire year, so your PC may have already been upgraded.)
If you’re in love with the old Edge, I’m sorry: Microsoft is forcing this change on users, with no way to back down. Still, Microsoft has handled the change well, making importing old favorites and passwords a breeze. Not everything is perfect; the old Edge was superior in the sense that it handled PDF documents.
You’re free to use another browser, of course … but Microsoft is also adding Edge-specific features, like the new Alt + Tab behavior, below.
Alt + Tab now has new powers
Traditionally, the venerable Alt + Tab command was used to switch between open applications. But as more and more work gets done within the cloud and the browser, Windows is changing too. Alt + Tab no longer treats Edge as a single monolithic app. Now (optionally) toggles you between the three or five most recently used tabs within Microsoft’s new Edge browser … or all of them
This is very practical. If you’re like me, you go through dozens of tabs, some of which are archived for reference purposes, while others are actual, active web pages that I’m currently using. Because I use multiple monitors with multiple apps set via FancyZones to one part of each screen, I don’t really need to switch between apps – but for my main monitor with dozens of tabs on it, the ability to easily move between tabs most recently used in Edge is a very useful addition.
However, there is a downside that you may have already noticed. The new Alt + Tab behavior only applies to Edge tabs, not to the more popular Google Chrome or any other browser like Firefox or Opera. (However, because the “new Edge ” now uses the same fundamentals as Google Chrome, there is a reason to change.) All of this can be managed via the Settings> System> Multitasking menu , under the Alt + Tab heading .
Is this the best tab switching implementation? No. For one thing, Edge already allows you to jump between tabs (and only between tabs) using the Ctrl + Tab shortcut. And if you are an advanced user, you should know that the rival browser Vivaldi, allows you to scroll from one tab to another using the mouse wheel while holding down the Alt key, another powerful tool. Still, Alt + Tab should be a part of the muscle memory of any Windows user, and should be easily integrated into your workflow.
Pinned tabs on the taskbar
Windows 10’s October 2020 Update is supposed to make some changes to the way pinned tabs work with the taskbar as well. In existing versions of Edge, running on older versions of Windows, you can now “pin ” Edge tabs to the taskbar. (Go to the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner of Edge, then down to More tools and click Pin to taskbar .) This moves the web page favicon to the taskbar, and allows you to launch it (via your default browser) like any other tab.
In 20H2, clicking on the site icon in the taskbar is apparently supposed to which reveals whether the site is already active within Edge, highlighting it within the preview windows that appear when hovering over the application tab on the taskbar. For whatever reason, no preview window appears in 20H2 for pinned sites. Clicking the icon in the taskbar, however, will adjust the focus of the screen to the open tab that the site appears on or, if the site is not currently open, the tab will open. Edge could accomplish this by simply changing the behavior of the Favorites bar to open an existing tab, say, from PCWorld.com, if you’ve clicked on the appropriate favorite. But Microsoft has chosen this different approach.
Modifying the way a pinned site works on the taskbar … it all feels a bit like analyzing the legality in a mortgage document, doesn’t it? It serves to show that 20H2 is indeed a minor update.
New taskbar layout
Since we’re on the topic of taskbars, Microsoft has another tweak for those who want to set up a new Windows 10 PC with the Windows 10 October 2020 update installed. When setting up a new PC, Microsoft’s Out of the Box Experience, or OOBE, asks you to link your Microsoft account to your PC and Android phone. Microsoft rewards you for this by automatically activating your subscription to Microsoft 365 (Office), for example.
Now, there is another small advantage. If you link your Android phone to enable Your Phone experiences, or if Windows “knows ” that you are on a gaming PC with an Xbox Live account, Microsoft will configure the taskbar accordingly.
Please note that these settings are for new equipment only. Microsoft explicitly says that it will not adjust the taskbar on your existing PC, acknowledging that you probably have it set the way you want.
New tablet experience for Surface owners
If you own a detachable Surface Pro 2-in-1, Microsoft’s October 2020 update also allows you more configurability to switch between “tablet ” mode and desktop mode. Remember – this can be confusing – if you disconnect your Surface Pro tablet from the keyboard, it can work in “tablet mode ” or not.
Tablet mode does not change to the Start menu – which looks similar to Windows 8 – with respect to the way it works within the Windows 10 May 2020 update: it places several tiles in the center of your screen for you to select the Applications. It also maintains the options to hide application icons on the taskbar and to automatically hide the taskbar in tablet mode.
What’s new are the additional options (within Settings, System> Tablet , and then Change Tablet Additional Settings ) for when the tablet is unmounted, but you are not using tablet mode yet. This is sometimes referred to as the “desktop mode ” , or the awkward “When I’m not using tablet mode ” in the 20H2 Settings menu.
In this mode, you can create a hybrid tablet / desktop mode environment, with four new options: make taskbar icons easier to touch, make File Explorer buttons easier to touch, and show touch keyboard when no keyboard is connected.
The fourth option, displaying the search icon without the search box, will have the most profound effect. Allow the app icons to have enough breathing room on the taskbar. Otherwise, you’ll notice a slight wiggle if you turn on the option to make the taskbar icons easier to touch as they even out and take up more space.
(Remember that you can already turn off the Search box within Windows by right-clicking on the taskbar, navigating to Search, and unchecking the Show Search Box list.)
Other notable changes
Here are some other small but noticeable changes you’ll notice when you download the latest version.
Notification changes: System notifications in the Action Center have been simplified, so there will only be an “x ” in the upper right. (The gear icon disappears.) If you have enabled Focus Assist to prevent notifications, any automatic activation of Focus Assist will also not launch a notification.
Settings “About ” : Ifhave ever had to quickly copy and paste the unique specifications of your PC (I have not done, butis possible that it does), the Settings menu now fits your desire with buttons “Copy ” That capture all the relevant information. As a result, the “System ” page has been removedfrom the Control Panel.
Notable application updates : More and more application updates are made independently of Windows, in their own development cycles. One we like is the Windows Calculator app, which gained a nifty little graphical feature during the 20H2 development cycle. However, if you’re connected to the internet, take a look atMicrosoft’s page- it’s just as cool and practical too.
Conclusion: A small step forward
The scope of the Windows 10 October 2020 Update deserves a review, although the number of significant changes is relatively small. The biggest, of course, is the new Edge browser, although that’s designed to be a simple transition, too. That’s good news for those who expect Microsoft to leave Windows relatively unchanged, although there is always the possibility of new bugs . However, ours is essentially an assessment to establish a state.