Everything You Need to Know About Windows – December 2019

This month sees Microsoft preparing for the general availability of its new Chromium-based Edge browser in January, Windows Server Core container images get 40% smaller, and Windows Insiders get new builds in the Fast Ring that are not tied to a specific feature update.

Microsoft to investigate issues with File Explorer in Windows 10 1909

As I reported in November’s Everything About Windows column, the Windows 10 November 2019 Update (version 1909) hasn’t been without its issues. Users have been complaining that the search bar in File Explorer freezes and that there are problems with right-clicking in the search bar.

A fix has been created for users on Insider build 19536 and Microsoft is working on porting the update to Windows 10 version 1909. Brandon LeBlanc, Senior Program Manager on the Windows Insider engineering team, tweeted:

“Some of us are taking a holiday break which means tweeting about things that aren’t work related etc. We will look into this but since it’s not a pressing issue, we may not get traction until after the holidays. Thanks.”

Windows Server Core 20H1 container images will be 40% smaller

Microsoft announced this month changes to Windows Server Core container images that will make them 40% smaller. In a post on the .NET Blog, .NET Team Program Manager Richard Lander says that Insider images are 40% smaller than the latest (patched) 1903 images. Additionally, startup times to Windows PowerShell are 30-45% faster.

Lander says that the improvements should apply in any scenario where Windows Server Core container images are used and will be most beneficial for scaling apps, continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD), and other situations where images are pulled without using a Docker image cache or where faster startup times are required.

Check out Windows Server Core Container Images Now 40 Percent Smaller on Petri for further information.

Edge browser to start rolling out to Windows 10 users mid-January

Microsoft has given more details this month about changes it has been quietly making to Windows 10 to prepare it for the stable version of its new Edge browser, which will start rolling out to users automatically via Windows Update in January.

Three sets of changes were delivered with cumulative updates for Windows 10 between July and November 2019. While it was originally assumed by many that the new version of Edge would only be integrated in a future Windows 10 feature release, we now know that Windows 10 versions 1709 through 1909 are prepared to receive the new browser automatically via Windows Update.

For more information on how Edge will be delivered to Windows 10, see Microsoft Edge Integration with Windows 10 and How to Run Legacy Microsoft Edge and New Edge Stable Channel Side-By-Side on Petri.

Microsoft releases Chromium-based Edge Blocker Toolkit

While organizations using Windows Server Update Server (WSUS) and/or Microsoft Endpoint Manager will be able to block the new Edge browser, those relying on Windows Update or Windows Update for Business will need to take some manual steps. In December, Microsoft made available a Blocker Toolkit for disabling automatic delivery of Edge and it is available to download here.

The Blocker Toolkit consists of two components: a script that configures a registry key to block the update and a Group Policy Administrative Template. For more information on how to use the Blocker Toolkit, keep an eye out for more information on Petri in January.

Draft security baseline for stable version of new Edge now available

And the last piece of news about Edge. Microsoft has released a draft security baseline for the stable version of its new browser. There are more than 200 Group Policy settings available for configuring and securing Edge. The baseline allows organizations to configure and secure Edge according to Microsoft’s best practice recommendations without needing to investigate each individual setting.

The security baseline settings are available to import in Group Policy, as a script to apply the settings to local policy, and the settings are listed in a spreadsheet. You can download the security template for Edge version 79 from Microsoft’s website here.

Windows Insider previews

It’s been a relatively quiet month for Windows Insiders as Microsoft winds up development of 20H1, which is due to be made generally available in spring 2020. Microsoft moved 20H1 to the Slow Ring last month to clear the way for testing the next version of Windows in the Fast Ring. But there’s a twist.

The Fast Ring will now get the latest releases from the active development branch (RS_PRERELEASE). But features in these builds won’t be matched to a specific version of Windows. Microsoft says that new features tested in the Fast Ring may be delivered as full OS build updates or servicing releases.

Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 19035 (20H1) was released to both the Fast and Slow Rings. It contains some general fixes and improvements. Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 19037 was also released to both Slow and Fast Rings. It also contained just a couple of general fixes.

Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 19536

This is the first build not to be designated for any particular version of Windows 10 and it was made available in the Fast Ring. In this build, Microsoft is improving the driver update experience and says that you no longer need to open Device Manager to update device drivers. Windows Update will take care of device driver updates. Additionally, you can now see all optional updates, including drivers and monthly non-security updates, in one place under Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > View optional updates.

Along with this build, Microsoft announced some improvements to Your Phone that are rolling to Insiders and production. You can now see the most recent 2000 photos on your phone instead of only 25. That’s a big change.

Your Phone’s screen feature now includes pen support, in addition to the already present keyboard, mouse, and touch screen support. And Calls is now also rolling out gradually to all users, adding call support to the Your Phone app in addition to SMS messages. To support Calls, your devices need to meet the following requirements:

  • Any Android phones running version 7.0 or higher
  • Windows 10 PC with a Bluetooth radio
  • Windows 10 May 2019 Update or higher

Windows Server vNext Insider Preview Build 19035

December saw another build of Windows Server vNext released. And as usual, there were no specific details about changes.

Windows Feature Experience Pack appears in the Microsoft Store

Finally in Insider news this month, a titbit of information that may or may not amount to anything. WalkingCat, the well-known Microsoft tipster on Twitter, recently noticed an app in the Microsoft Store called the Windows Feature Experience Pack. It’s just a placeholder app now but some are surmising that Microsoft might be preparing to make new features available separately from Windows OS updates. Time will tell.

Support for Microsoft Security Essentials to continue past Windows 7 SP1 end-of-life

During a recent AMA on the Microsoft Community Forums, Mike Cure, an engineer at Microsoft, revealed that Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) will continue to receive signature updates after Windows 7 SP1 end-of-life.

“Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) will continue to receive signature updates after January 14, 2020. However, the MSE platform will no longer be updated.”

Previously, Microsoft had said that PCs would no longer be protected by MSA after Windows 7 SP1 end-of-life. Don’t forget that in January, Windows 7 SP1 will receive its last security updates. Going forwards, organizations will need to either pay for Extended Security Updates or upgrade devices to Windows 10.

Windows 10 users get Autopilot update by accident

Finally, Microsoft accidently released a cumulative update (CU) (KB4532441) for Windows 10 Autopilot on Windows Update in December. The CU was only intended for Windows 10 devices managed by Autopilot, but the update was accidently pushed to everyone.

If your devices accidently received the update, you can leave it in place or uninstall it from the Settings app.

That’s it for this month and 2019!