Until 2015, Microsoft released a brand new version of its operating system every few years. However, that all changed with the launch of Windows 10, which the company declared would be “the last version of Windows”.
That sounds dramatic, but in reality, the plan was for Windows 10 to be updated gradually over time, similarly to the way new features are added to its Office 365 subscription service (now Microsoft 365).
In addition to monthly security patches, for the last five years, Microsoft has released major ‘feature’ updates twice a year. These are usually rolled out each May and November, although the most recent update has arrived slightly earlier.
Indeed, the ‘October 2020’ 20H2 update is officially out now, but as is often the case not everyone will be able to download it straight away. Here’s all you need to know.
Windows 10 October update release date
The 20H2 update is officially out now, having been released on 20 October 2020. However, it might not be available for you to download just yet, particularly if you have a device that’s a few years old.
For these more significant updates, Microsoft tends to throttle up availability in order to manage the demand on its servers. It was a number of weeks before the May update made its way to all 1 billion+ Windows 10 devices but we’re hoping for a quicker turnaround this time.
Looking further ahead, ZDNet is reporting that Microsoft may switch to annual Windows 10 updates in the future, to free up resources for the development of Windows 10X. Author Mary Jo Foley has a strong reputation for Windows news, so we don’t doubt that it’s under consideration by Microsoft.
How to get the Windows 10 October update
Once your device is eligible for the update, Windows 10 makes it relatively simple to upgrade:
Open Settings and choose Update & Security then Windows Update
Click on the button that says ‘Check for Updates’ and you should see ‘Feature update to Windows 10, version 20H2’
Click ‘Download and install now’ to update your device
If you don’t see anything when checking for updates, it might not be quite ready for your device. In particular, older devices may have to wait a little longer for it to appear. To maximise your chances of getting it as soon as possible, ensure your PC has already been updated to version 2004, the May 2020 update.
If you really can’t wait, you can get the Windows 10 October update now via the Windows Insider Program. Alternatively, you can download Microsoft’s update assistant, which will bypass the usual checks and allow you to install it. However, this may leave your PC vulnerable to threats, so we wouldn’t recommend trying it on your main device.
Windows 10 October update device support
The vast majority of Windows 10 devices that were eligible for the May update will still be compatible with the next version. Support will likely vary between companies though, so it’s worth checking with the manufacturer of your device if you’re unsure.
Checking if the May update is available for your device (it may have been downloaded automatically) is a good indicator that the October update will also arrive.
Windows 10 October update new features
In a video officially introducing the update, Microsoft gave a useful summary of the main new features:
Some of the most noticeable changes involve the Start Menu, and were first teased in April 2020:
Created by the @Windows design team, this animated clip illustrates a sliver of the #UX evolution and modernization of the Windows experience. Let us know what you think in the comments below! pic.twitter.com/s4SVXncLEo
— Microsoft Design (@MicrosoftDesign)
April 6, 2020
As you can see from the clip above, this includes a move to more icon-based navigation (as opposed to text) and the so-called ‘Theme-aware Start tiles’, which adjust depending on whether you have a light or dark theme set.
Microsoft revealed more about the redesign in a blog post in July 2020, which included some official screenshots and the below GIF illustrating the transition.
Here’s a summary of some other key changes:
Edge tabs now include in Alt + Tab switching, in addition to windows and programs
Ability to rename virtual desktops
More personalised taskbar – linked to Microsoft account as opposed to the same default layout for every user
Ability to dismiss notifications as they are received
See more information in the official Microsoft blog post.
Early testers of the new software also noticed a subtle change to Control Panel. As Windows Latest reported, the popular ‘System’ area has been removed and replaced with a similar overview from within the Settings app. It’s the latest in Microsoft’s slow phasing out of the Control Panel, which began with the release of the separate Settings app alongside Windows 8 in 2012.
With under the hood improvements prioritised, one such area that looks to be getting some attention is storage settings. Again according to Windows Latest, the next update will add user cleanup recommendations, to help you easily clear unused files.
Image: Windows Latest
This is expected to work in a similar way to what we’ve seen on smartphones, recommending large, rarely used or backed up files to be deleted from your hard drive.
In an official blog post, Microsoft also said it would prevent the deletion of items in the downloads folder if it’s already saved to a cloud storage provider. Windows 10’s File Explorer can sync directly to the likes of OneDrive and Google Drive, but it means accidental deletions usually apply across all your devices.
There’s also now the option to specify the device’s refresh rate, as was first unearthed in a Reddit post.
With many PCs and laptops supporting displays up to 240Hz, the ability to modify this according to what you’re doing could be an effective way to balance performance and battery life.
Of course, the priority for Microsoft is to ensure the October 2020 update is as stable as it possibly can be. The May update was plagued with issues following launch, leading the likes of Tom’s Guide to label it ‘a disaster’.
It’s been a promising start, with just two known issues being investigated at the time of writing.
Changes coming in future updates
While the October update is relatively modest by way of new features, extra functionality is set to be added in 2021.
As Windows Latest reports, two new features are set to become available to members of the Windows Insider Program soon. ‘Desktop Spotlight’ will allow you to set the daily image from the Bing homepage as your desktop background, changing every day in accordance with the website. This will be easily accessible from the Settings menu.
If you haven’t been on Bing recently, these are the sorts of stunning images you can expect:
The other new feature is a theme-aware splash screen. This will mean a selection of popular apps will open with a theme that matches the system theme you’ve chosen (light or dark).
Previously, Windows Latest reported on a number of smaller features that we’re expecting to see come to Windows 10 in 2021. These include modernised volume controls, a smaller search bar and redesigned action centre. The latter looks set to offer significant improvements to users’ ability to manage notifications and access quick settings.
We’ll update this article as and when more is known about the next major Windows 10 update. For a bitesize version, check out Five big changes coming in Windows 10’s October 2020 update.