What to Expect From Next Month’s Windows 10 Update from Microsoft

Windows continues to be the most popular and ubiquitous of operating systems for desktops and notebooks around the world, and while there are those who will have nothing to do with it (see Mac devotees) that fact is a testament to the enduring popularity of what is ‘old faithful’ for the most part when it comes to computer operating systems.

Here at 4GoodHosting, we’re a Canadian web hosting provider that’s in the position to see the value of both Mac and PC operating systems, and it’s true that both have their strengths and weaknesses – which is of course true of pretty much everything. One thing that Microsoft has benefited from for decades now is that it was first to the party, and that’s meant that many people will always choose a Windows OS device because it’s especially familiar for them.

And so it is that the next version of Windows 10 — scheduled for a May 2019 update release— is now just around the corner. This is not going to be a massive overhaul of the OS by any means, but there are as it approaches its 4-year anniversary there are some nice tweaks to make it fresher and more well-suited to determined user preferences. Foremost among these are a new light theme and changes to the search experience, Cortana, and more.

Let’s have a look at the most recent update to Windows 10 here today.

On the House

We’ll start by stating for anyone who might be unaware that Windows 10 updates are always free. The May 2019 Update via Windows Update will be provided at no charge for existing Windows 10 users on any device deemed compatible with the update. The noteworthy difference here, however, is with the rollout method – it is no longer automatically downloaded to your PC.

What you’ll get instead is a notification in Windows Update that the May 2019 update is available. From there you’ll have the option of downloading or installing it. However, only those running a version of Windows 10 that is close to end of support will receive the update automatically. Just as with prior releases, rollouts of major Windows 10 updates are gradual to ensure the best quality experience. For this reason you might not see the May 2019 update right away.

Further as regards the timing of this, let’s not forget Microsoft’s troubles with releasing previous Windows 10 versions. Don’t count on this update arriving exactly when it’s expected.

Improvements

Let’s shift to the meat of all of this, and detail all of the improvements to be seen in the new Windows 10.

  • Light Theme & Improved Start Menu

Microsoft debuted a dark mode for Windows 10 in 2018, and a new light theme is being introduced with this update to augment overall contrast with the operating system. Users will see that both the taskbar, start menu and Action Center are a brighter and lighter white color. Some icons in the system tray and taskbar are now also tailored to match the new theme — including both OneDrive and File Explorer.

A new and improved start menu is part of this too. Installing the May 2019 update will give users a single column, and fewer preinstalled apps and live tiles. Plus, they can also now remove more of the stock Windows 10 apps that aren’t used much, including 3D Viewer, Calculator, Calendar, Mail, and Movies & TV, Paint 3D, Snip & Sketch, Sticky Notes, and Voice Recorder.

  • Cortana & Search

The separation of Cortana and Search in the Windows 10 taskbar is one of the most notable changes coming with next month’s update. With previous releases they were integrated with each other, but now the search box in the taskbar will only launch searches for files and documents, and the circular Cortana icon will summon the digital assistant when clicked. Some people have already surmised that this may mean the end of Cortana before long, but it’s likely that a bit presumptive at this point.

Search experience will also be changing, and now Windows will index and search all folders and drives, rather than just limiting it to the default documents, pictures, and videos folders. Along with a new search interface featuring landing pages for Apps, Documents, Email, Web, users can now expect accurate and faster searches when aiming to dig up important files.

  • Reserved Space for Windows Update

It’s true that Windows Updates can cause bugs, data loss, and failures, and there’s been no shortage of people eager to point that out every chance they get. This May 2019 update, however, is going to enable all Windows 10 users to pause updates for up 35 days – something that was for Windows 10 Enterprise and Professional users only up until now.

Having more time to read up and decide on when to install Microsoft’s monthly updates is going to be a nice freedom for many users

The fact that the May 2019 update will also reserve 7GB of disk space for installing general updates promises to be a more contentious point. The move has been made to keep your PC secure, and there reasons this new space cannot be removed from Windows 10 is so that it makes future OS updates more efficient.

The space is also intended for apps, temporary files, and system caches undertaken as your PC sees fit. The size of the reserve will depend on your system, so removing unnecessary files on your hard drive in advance of the update might be a good idea.

  • Sandbox Integrated Feature

Last but not least regarding the Windows update for 2019, we have Windows Sandbox. This integrated feature for Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise lets users create a secure desktop environment that is able to isolate and run untrusted and sketchy apps while keeping them separate from the rest of your system. Thus the term ‘sandbox’ – when a Windows Sandbox is closed, all the software with all its files and state are permanently deleted along with that move.

In our opinion, this is the best and most well-thought out feature added to this Windows 10 2019 update. Especially considering all the different well-disguised threats out there these days. It might not be the most exciting feature for your average, but you can be sure developers are going to be plenty impressed with it.

Will be interesting to see how well received this update is, and it appears we won’t have to wait long to find out.

Distractions Begone: Introducing Google Chrome’s Focus Mode

It’s been said that here and now in the 21st century we’ve never had more distractions pulling at our attention day in and out like we do now. This is especially true when we’re in front a screen, and we imagine not many of you need any convincing of that. Distractions aren’t particularly problematic when you’re only web surfing or the like, and more often than not they’re what you might call an irresistible nuisance in those situations.

When you’re on your computer for productive purposes, however, all those distractions can add up to a considerable amount of lost time. That’s where people might wish there was something to be done about them… and it appears as if now there is.

Here at 4GoodHosting, we’re like any industrious Canadian web hosting provider in the way we have our eyes and ears peeled for developments in the computing world. Most of them aren’t worthy of discussing at large here, but considering that nearly everyone has had difficulty staying on task when making use of the Internet then this one definitely is.

Google Introduces Focus Mode for Chrome Browser

As if the Chrome browser needed any more assistance in being the nearly ubiquitous web-browser of choice these days. Google is set to announce focus mode, and while they haven’t actually announced this new feature as of yet, tech insiders have found there’s a new flag to be seen that indicates whether or not ‘focus mode’ is on.

It should be mentioned that they’re not broaching uncharted territory here. Different applications have attempted to take on the problem of getting people to focus while working on a computer, and there have been software solutions available for both Mac and PC that have arrived with little or no fanfare. It goes without saying, however, that no power players commands the attention that Google does these days.

At this time little is known about the Focus Mode feature, asides fro the fact it will soon be implemented with the world’s most popular web browser. The seen flag is reportedly indicating that if ‘#focus-mode’ is enabled, it allows a user to switch to Focus Mode.

What, and How?

We bet nearly all of you will be saying right, right – but how exactly is Focus Mode going to work? At the moment, we can only speculate on the features the new option might offer to users. We think it’s safe to assume that Focus Mode will restrict specific websites or applications from being accessed. For example, Focus Mode may stop a user from browsing sites such as YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook (likely the most necessary for most people!). Other industry insiders have suggested that the mode may integrate with Windows 10‘s Focus Assist when working in conjunction with a PC’s operating system.

That last part there is important, as it appears that – at least initially – Focus Mode will be available on PCs running Windows 10, and it’s believed that it will allow users to silence notifications and other distracting pop-ups. We’re prone to wonder if Focus Mode will also work with Windows 10 to stop websites from screaming out for your attention, or restricting those pop-up announcements that are way too common and explicitly designed to take your attention elsewhere.

Patience, Grasshopper

As mentioned, Focus Mode isn’t quite here yet, but for those who are distracted way too easily (and you can certainly count us among them) when time is a valuable commodity to get needed tasks done then this really has a lot of potential.

We can most likely expect to see Focus Mode in a test build such as Chrome Canary before it becomes a mainstream feature available to one and all with Google Chrome. We’ll be following these developments keenly, and we imagine that now a good many of you will be too.

 

Getting Ready for Wi-Fi 6: What to Expect

Most people aren’t any more familiar with Wi-Fi beyond understanding that it means a wireless internet connection. Those same people won’t be aware that in the last near decade the digital world has moved from Wi-Fi 4 to to Wi-Fi 5, and now Wi-Fi 5 is set to be replaced by Wi-Fi 6. What’s to be made of all of this for the average person who only knows that the wi-fi networks in their home and office are essential parts of their connected day-to-day, and that the wi-fi in Starbucks is pretty darn convenient as well.

The numeric chain that identifies a Wi-Fi standard is something they may well recognize though. 802.11 is the standard, but the Wi-Fi 4 you had from 2009 to 2014 is different from the same 802.11 standard you’ve had with Wi-Fi 5 since then till now. What’s to come later this year with Wi-Fi 6 will be a different 802.11. Right, we get you – what’s the difference exactly.

Here at 4GoodHosting, we’re like any quality Canadian web hosting provider in that the nature of our work and interests makes it so that we pick up on these things, if for no other reason than we’re exposed to and working with them on a regular basis. Much of the time these little particulars related to computing, web hosting, and digital connectivity aren’t worth discussing in great detail.

However, because Wi-Fi is such an essential and much-appreciated resource for all of us we thought we’d look at the ‘new’ Wi-Fi set to arrive later this year here today.

Wi-Fi 6: Problem Solver

When we look at ‘802.11ac’, the average person won’t get the significance of that. The fact is, however, they should and what Wi-Fi 6 is being designed to be is a solution to that problem.

What we’re going to see is the beginning of generational Wi-Fi labels.

Let’s make you aware that there is a collective body known as the Wi-Fi Alliance. They are in charge of deciding, developing, and designating Wi-Fi standards. We are all aware of how devices are becoming more complex and internet connections evolve, and when they do the process of delivering wireless connections also changes.

As a results, Wi-Fi standards — the technical specifications that manufacturers establish to create Wi-Fi — need to be updated from time to time so that new technology can flourish and compatibility extends to the near entirety of devices out there.

As mentioned though, the naming of Wi-Fi standards is totally foreign to the average person if they ever try to figure what that numeric 802-something chain stands for. The Wi-Fi Alliance’s response to this is now to simply refer to the number of the generation. Not only will this apply to the upcoming Wi-Fi 6, but will also be retroactive and thus apply to older standards. For example:

802.11n (2009) – Wi-Fi 4

802.11ac (2014) – Wi-Fi 5

802.11ax (expected late 2019) – Wi-Fi 6

It’s easier to see how this is a better classification approach, but there’s likely going to be a a period of confusion where some products are labeled with the old code and some are just called Wi-Fi 4 or Wi-Fi 5 when they’re functionally interchangeable in as far as ‘type’ is concerned. Eventually, however, this should be resolved as older product labeling is phased out and everyone – or most people at least – become familiar with the new Wi-Fi classifications. In all honesty, for most people if you just pay even the slightest amount of attention you’ll begin to notice the difference without having to put much thought into it.

How Wi-Fi 6 Will Be Different – And Better

The biggest impetus to create Wi-Fi 6 was to better accommodate all the many new Wi-Fi technologies that have been emerging. Wi-Fi 6 helps standardize them. Here’s the most relevant developments, and exactly what they should mean for your wireless network.

Lower Latency

Lower latency is a BIG plus that’s going to come with Wi-Fi 6, and you’ll probably notice it right quick. Reduced latency means shorter or no delay times as data is sent – which is very similar to ping rate and other such measurements. Low latency connections improve load times and prevents disconnects and other issues more effectively. Wi-Fi 6 lowers latency compared to older Wi-Fi standards, and it does so using more advanced technology like OFDMA (orthogonal frequency division multiple access). Long story short, it’s going to pack data into a signal much more completely and reliably.

Speed

Wi-Fi 6 will also be faster, and considerably faster compared to Wi-Fi 5. By offering full support for technologies like MU-MIMO, connection quality will improve for compatible mobile devices in a big way, and content delivery should be sped up accordingly. These improvements won’t be as relative to Internet speed as you might think too. They can and likely will improve the speed of your Wi-Fi data and let your receive more information, more quickly.

Now a question we imagine will come up for most of you – will all routers be able to work with the new 802.11ax standard? No, they won’t. If your router is especially dated, you should happily accept the fact it’s time to get a newer model. It will be 100% worth it, don’t have any doubts about that.

Wi-Fi 6 is also going to mean fewer dead zones, as a result of expanded beamforming capabilities being built into it. ‘Beamforming’, you say? That’s the name for the trick your router uses to focus signals on a particular device, and that’s quite important if the device is having difficulty working with a connection. The new WiFi 6 802.11ax standard expands the range of beamforming and improves its capabilities. Long story short again, ‘dead zones’ in your home are going to be MUCH less likely.

Improved Battery Life

Wi-Fi 6 is going to mean better battery life, and we’ll go right ahead and assume that’s going to be most appealing for a lot of you who are away from home for long periods of the day and taking advantage of Wi-Fi connectivity fairly often throughout.

One of the new technologies that Wi-Fi 6 is set up to work with is called ‘TWT’, or target wake time. It assists connected device with customizing when and how they ‘wake up’ for the purpose of receiving data signals from Wi-Fi. Devices are able to ‘sleep’ while waiting for the next necessary Wi-Fi transmission and battery drain is reduced as a result. Your phone does not sleep at all itself, only the parts of it that are operating with Wi-Fi.

Everybody will like the idea of more battery life and less time spent plugging in to recharge.

Keep an Eye Out for the Wi-Fi 6 Label

How will you know if a router, phone or other device works with the new 802.11ax standard? Simply look for the phrase ‘Wi-Fi 6’ on packaging, advertisements, labels or elsewhere. Look up the brand and model # online if for some reason you don’t see it on the packaging. The Wi-Fi Alliance has also suggested using icons to show the Wi-Fi generation. These icons appear as Wi-Fi signals with a circled number within the signal.

Identifying these icons should help you pick out the right device. If not, you can of course always ask the person behind the till and they should be knowledgable regarding this (if they work there you’d have to assume they would be).

Keep in mind that most of the devices around 2020 and later are expected to be Wi-Fi 6, and so we’ll have to wait a year or so before they start to populate the market.

 

Project Pathfinder for an ‘Even Smarter’ SIRI

AI continues to be one of the most game-changing developments in computing technology these days, and it’s hard to argue that there’s no more commonplace example of AI than in the digital assistants that have nearly become household names – Apple’s SIRI and Google’s Alexa. Even a decade ago many people would have stated their disbelief at the notion that it might be possible to make spoken queries to a digital device, and then have them provide a to-the-minute accurate reply.

The convenience and practicality of AI has been a hit, and what’s noteworthy about it is the way that folks of all ages have taken to it. After all, it doesn’t even require the slightest bit of digital know-how to address Siri or Alexa and rattle of a question. Indeed, both tech giants have done a great job building the technology for their digital assistants. With regards to Siri in particular, however, it appears that Apple is teaming up with a company that’s made a name for themselves developing chatbots for enterprise clients.

Why? – to make Siri an even better digital assistant and even more the so the beacon of AI made possible for everyday people.

Here at 4GoodHosting, like most Canadian web hosting providers we have the same level of profound interest in major developments in the computing, web hosting, and digital worlds that many of our customers do. This zeal for ‘what’s next’ is very much a part of what makes us tick, and this coming-soon improvement to Siri makes the cut as something worth discussing in our blog here today.

Proven Partnership

The aim is to make it so that Siri gets much better at analyzing and understanding real-world conversations and developing AI models capable of handling their context and complexity. In order to do that, they’ve chosen to work with a developer who they have a track record of success with. That’s Nuance, who is an established major player in conversation-based user interfaces. They collaborated with Apple to begin with Siri, and so this is round 2.

As mentioned, Nuance’s present business is focused on developing chatbots for enterprise clients, and so they’re ideally set up to hit the ground running with Project Pathfinder.

Project Pathfinder

The focus of Project Pathfinder came from Apple’s belief that machine learning and AI can automate the creation of dialog models by learning from logs of actual, natural human conversations.

Pathfinder is able to mine huge collections of conversational transcripts between agents and customers before building dialog models from them and using those models to inform two-way conversations between virtual assistants and consumers. Conversation designers are then more able to develop smarter chatbots. Anomalies in the conversation flow are tracked, and problems in the script can then be identified and addressed.

Conversation Building

Voice assistants like Siri and Alexa have inner workings that make it so that your speech is interacting with reference models. The models then try to find a solution to the intent of your question, and accurate replies depend on conversation designers doing two things; 1, having learned from subject matter experts, and 2 – doing the same from a LOT of trial and error process related to query behavior.

As far as Apple’s concerned, giving the nod to Nuance and their conversation designers was the best way to go.

Pathfinder empowers them to build on their existing knowledge base with deep insights gathered from real conversational interactions that have taken place inside call centers. More to the point, however, the software doesn’t only learn what people are discussing, but it also makes determinations on how human agents guide users through the transactions.

Adding more intelligence to voice assistants/chatbots is made possible with this information, and so Siri is primed to build on her IQ in the same way. It certainly sounds promising!

Self-Learning Conversation Analytics

All you need to do is spend a short period of time with Siri or Alexa and you’ll quickly find that they definitely do have limitations. That’s a reflection of the fact that they are built for the mass market, as they must much more diverse requests than chatbots that are primarily built for business. This means that they come with a lack of focus, and it’s more difficult to design AI that can respond to spoken queries on all the thousands of different topics around the globe with sensible responses. Then you have follow-up queries too.

In conclusion, the queries posed to virtual assistants are based in human questions 95+% of the time, and as such they’re less focused and less predictable. So then how do you build AI that’s more capable of handling the kind of complex enquiries that characterize human/machine interactions in the real world?

The answer to that is to start with call center chatbots, and that’s what the Pathfinder Project is doing. It will accelerate development of spoken word interfaces for more narrow vertical intents – like navigation, weather information, or call center conversation – and by doing so it should also speed up the development of more complex conversational models.

It will make these machines capable of handling more complex conversations. It will, however, take some time to come to realization (projected for summer 2019). Assuming it’s successful, it will show how conversational analytics, data analysis and AI have the ability to empower next-generation voice interfaces. And with this we’ll also be able have much more sophisticated human/computer interactions with our virtual assistants.

Seeing the unlocked power of AI with understood context and intent of conversation, rather than primarily asking Siri or Alexa to turn the lights off, etc. etc. promises to be really helpful and a very welcome advance in AI for all of us.