Testing: The Windows 10 Creators Update

By Daniel Falconer

While not as substantial as last year's Anniversary Update, there are still some things worth checking out in Microsoft's latest update to Windows 10.

Microsoft's new service model for Windows is now in full swing. The Creators Update is the third major update to Windows 10 since it launched a little under two years ago. Beginning April 11th users of Windows 10 devices will find themselves with a few new features to play with and improvements all around. While not as substantial as last year's Anniversary Update, there are still some things worth checking out.

Paint 3D

The biggest addition without a doubt is the new Paint 3D app. At first glance it seems familiar with various tools at your disposal like a pen, brush, spray can, and the trusty ol' paint bucket. The next tool tab over however opens up an entirely new world: 3D objects. Here you're granted the ability to place in a few pre-made 3D models like a man, a woman, or a dog. There are some simple shapes, including a cube, a sphere and a doughnut. You can also free draw 3D shapes with either sharp or smooth edges.

Like with the old drawing tools, once you learn the limitations of the 3D objects is when you can start creating real nightmares masterpieces. Aside from stretching in the x or y direction, there's no way to modify an object once it is created. In order to make complex shapes you'll have to think about how to combine the simple shapes and 3D doodles, the later of which will have some depth to it, but not much.

The one aspect that I feel really gets in my way is that while doing any drawing or editing your view is fixed to the "front". You can click a button to view your creation from all sides, but you can't interact with them from different perspectives. Objects can be rotated in three planes, moved around in the X-Y plane, or shifted forward and back in the Z plane. This makes for combining objects in just the right way to be grouped immensely frustrating.

For example, I struggle greatly with rotating objects. I found myself constantly rotating an object to the point that I thought was what I wanted, changed my perspective to see that I went too far, and repeated this process for a few minutes. I can understand the constraint of creating only in a fixed place, but not being able to move objects at any time from any angle feels like an oversimplification of an otherwise decent toolset in a free, packed in 3D modeling program.

In another tab you'll find Stickers, which are essentially textures for your objects. Here's where you'll find all of the basic 2D shapes from the old Paint app. There are what I would consider literal stickers, such as a star and a rainbow. More interestingly though are the included textures, like tree bark and rocks, and the option to import your own images to be used as a sticker.

Once you're ready to share your creation with the world, or to check out 3D models and scenes others have made, you can head over to the Remix3D website. You can upload creations directly from the app, and with the click of a button you can pull creations from the 3D model social network straight into Paint 3D.

Xbox

Between improvements and new features coming to the Xbox One console itself and additions to Windows 10, gamers are seeing some real love in the Creators Update.

The Xbox's OS has been known for being sluggish on a good day. Thankfully, the dashboard has been redesigned with changes made to improve performance. Before now, the Home page of the Xbox One greeted you with a large image of your last used game or app, and a live view if it was active. As it turns out, that's a massive resource hog, so it's gone and replaced with a smaller icon.

The way the Guide functions and its layout is changing. Now a single press of the Xbox button on your controller will bring out the Guide, similar to the Xbox 360. I can't tell you how many times I failed to quickly double press the Xbox button to open the Guide before, so I welcome this change with open arms. In order to go to the dashboard now, you'll have to hit the Xbox button and double press A; one to enter the default section of the Guide, and the second to select the Home option.

Opening the Guide will land on the main section with quick options for Home, Games & Apps, and the Store, a list of your most recently used games and apps, audio controls if you have anything playing, and a handful of your Pins. Above this are Friends, Party, and Achievements, then going down you'll find Messages, Notifications, Broadcasting with the newly added Beam support, and Settings. The decision to make the Guide into a split list strikes me as a bit odd, but as of right now I don't think this gets in the way.

Microsoft has also completely removed the Snap feature, which put select apps in a compact view on the right side of the screen. I've noticed that this has been slowly patched out of some apps, but now the OS doesn't support it at all. This has been quietly replaced with something called Compact Overlay Mode. It's essentially picture-in-picture that's built into Windows 10. (You can see this with the Movies & TV app and its "mini-mode".) The new Achievement tracker as well as the Beam broadcasting overlay are two apps that use it out of the gate.

Overall the Xbox One is noticeably faster. Moving around the dashboard, while still occasionally laggy, is a much better experience. The Guide no longer takes a lifeage to appear, responding faster than it has in a long time, even when compared to the 360's Guide. And voice commands with Cortana now execute dramatically faster for the most part.

Then on the PC side there are two major additions; Game Mode and Broadcasting. The later works similar to how it does on Xbox One. The Beam streaming service has been integrated straight into Windows 10 via the Game bar. Upon starting a stream you'll get some basic options to name your stream and where to position your camera in the stream (if you have one). While streaming you'll see a moveable overlay window on screen providing the status of your stream, your live camera feed, the live feed of what you're streaming out, and the chat feed.

Game Mode is a feature that, when activated manually on a game by game basis, will better prioritize CPU and GPU resources for the game. While this won't magically get you 10 more frames per second, in theory it could make things smoother if you're pushing the limits of your system or maybe even nab you a couple extra frames per second. I say in theory because results will vary game to game, system to system.

My modest desktop with a core i5 and GTX 980 that I built last year runs almost everything without a hitch. Even the visually impressive Gears of War 4 runs flawlessly at 1080p/60 on Ultra, so it wouldn't make sense for me to use Game Mode for it. The only game I've run into issues with so far is Forza Horizon 3, which is a notoriously awful port that is poorly optimized. It refuses to run at a locked 60 frames per second for even those with an i7 and high end Pascal cards. In my experience, Game Mode actually made FH3 run slightly worse. Frame rates were completely unchanged and some load times became significantly longer. That being said, I've seen others report that Game Mode has bettered the performance of FH3 for them. So, your milage may vary. Game Mode will also work with non-Xbox games.

Other Odds and Ends

Edge gets a cool feature that lets you "set tabs aside". There are two new buttons to the left of tabs, one that stores all open tabs, and the other allows you to view stored tabs. Stored tabs will remain even if the system is shutdown. This is incredibly useful if you're doing some kind of research project or shopping and comparing a ton of different products. Now, rather than needing to bookmark everything you can just save the tabs for later and come back to them whenever you wish.

Another addition to Edge that seems odd is the ability to show tab previews at all times. Normally, hovering over a tab with the mouse cursor will pop down a small preview of the page. Alternatively there's now an arrow button to the right of the new tab button that will shift the address bar down and show tab previews at all times. This takes up a significant amount of space. Other than maybe for accessibility reasons I can't image why anyone would ever want this, and I wish there was an option to turn the button off given its proximity to the new tab button.

If you've ever used the desktop program called f.lux you're aware of how much screens strain our eyes and affect our sleeping habits, and, more importantly, how simply changing the color temperature of a screen to warmer tones at night can alleviate these problems. Microsoft has gone and built in a similar feature to Windows 10 and dubbed it Night light. You can adjust how warm the screen will get, manually turn it on and off, and schedule it for either sunset to sunrise or configured hours. A Night light button has also been added to the Action Center for quick access to toggle it.

The only major drawback from what I can tell is that there's no way to set a longer transition period for the color change. Right now it happens over only a couple of minutes. One of the great things about f.lux is that it can transition over the course of an hour, making it much less perceptible. Here's hoping such a feature will be added to Night light in the next update.

Windows Defender is now a full blown UWP app; previously it was just the Microsoft Security Essentials desktop app renamed. Inside you'll find a few more settings and controls integrated, including firewall status, smartscreen settings, and parental controls.

Over in Settings there is a new Gaming section which has all of the relevant system wide settings including Game bar, Game DVR, and the new Broadcasting and Game Mode features. Gaming settings were previously relegated to the Xbox app, which some found annoying and/or confusing. A few other things have moved around, like the Apps and Features list is now in its own section, or visually tweaked to make more sense.

You can now create folders on the Start menu with tiles, just like on Mobile. Curiously, however, is the omission to name these folders. There is also a new setting that will allow you to hide the All Apps list behind another menu button, and makes the Start menu look a bit cleaner if that appeals to you.

Cortana will now guide you through a fresh install of Windows, if you so choose. It attempts to put the various setup configurations in more layman terms and allows the user to respond with their voice. Members of the Tested audience will likely find this annoying, as it most certainly does not speed up the process. But, for the average person I can see this making the process smoother. Cortana is also supposed to be able to remember what you were doing in the event you have to restart your computer or you move to a different one. Upon start up you'll get a notification with links taking you back into any Windows app you were using. I say "supposed to" because I wasn't able to get this to work as of this writing.

Speaking of computer restarts, Microsoft has changed how future updates are both received, and installed. All major OS updates after this one will no longer have to redownload the entire operating system, only the files needed for the update. Microsoft has stated this will reduce download sizes by up to 35 percent.

And Microsoft has finally changed when updates are installed. Rather than Windows randomly restarting in order to install an update, it will now pop up a message allowing you to choose a time for the update to be installed, or delay the installation for up to seven days.

Closing Thoughts

There are missing features from this update that were previously announced. The contact integration with the taskbar that's meant to let you more easily connect and collaborate with others was never even in any Insider builds if I remember correctly. Microsoft never released any form of Groove Music Maker, their version of Garage Band. I have also yet to see any Windows Ink integration with the desktop Office apps, which is fairly disappointing.

Microsoft put themselves in a weird place by calling the previous update the "Anniversary Update". They now feel it necessary to name seemingly all major updates, but "Creators Update" doesn't really fit with this one. Other than Paint 3D there aren't any other creative elements to this update. Are video game streamers considered creators?

Odd naming conventions aside, the Creators Update is solid. Edge, Settings, Windows Hello, the Start menu, Cortana, and gaming have all been improved. And I'd argue that the changes for Xbox One are huge, but obviously not as far reaching to those on PCs. This update was more about refinement than it was additions, and that shouldn't come as a surprise when multiple major updates a year are scheduled.

Microsoft plans for the rollout of the Creators Update to last several months, pushing it out to newer devices first. If you don't want to wait and aren't already an Insider, starting April 5th you can use the Windows 10 Update Assistant (direct link) to manually pull the update to your system.

The next major Windows update, code named Redstone 3, is currently planned for release in the Fall of this year. This will likely be the start of a UI refresh, introducing elements from Microsoft's new design language internally referred to as Project NEON. It won't just be a fresh coat of paint however, as it's said that part of this initiative is to bridge the gap between normal screens and mixed reality screens.

While Paint 3D took center stage, in the background the Creators Update laid the groundwork for 3D objects to work across all Windows devices, not just the Hololens. Later this year Microsoft and its partners will launch mixed reality headsets, or Head Mounted Displays (HMD), at more affordable prices. Also, the upcoming Project Scorpio Xbox console will support high fidelity VR gaming, and I'd be surprised if it didn't tie into Windows Mixed Reality content in someway.

Then there's the recent announcement of Windows 10 x86 emulation on ARM coming soon in conjunction with Qualcomm and the Snapdragon 835, which could have a meaningful impact on the computer industry depending on how things play out. The next major update is rumored to have significant improvements for Mobile, which was essentially ignored in the Creators Update, and they may potentially be related to this announcement.

Exciting times are ahead for Windows. In fact, that may always be the case. Sure, the Creators Update didn't add any one huge new feature and what was added may not appeal to everyone. But, for the foreseeable future, after every major update there will be a new one on the horizon. Microsoft is expected to start releasing RS3 build to Insiders as early as this month. That may seem surprisingly quick, but the 10+ million Insiders are ready for the latest and greatest.