Windows 10 21H1 will be eleventh major refresh expected to rollout sometime in spring of 2021, but if the rumors are true, the feature update won’t release until the fall of 2021.
The update is currently in the early stages of development in the Dev Channel of the Windows Insider Program. Windows 10 previews in the Dev Channel include features and changes that are not tied to any specific release of the operating system, but most of them are likely to arrive with version 21H1.
The Dev Channel is one of the three channels available in the Windows Insider Program that Microsoft makes available for developers and enthusiasts to get early access to new enhancements. As part of the Insider program, there’s also the Beta Channel, which includes improvements tied to the next release of Windows 10, and the Release Preview Channel offers the final build of the next version, before it’s available to everyone else, with advanced quality updates and certain key features.
In this guide, we’ll highlight everything that’s new so far in the Dev Channel as the appear in each test preview. It’s worth noting that some of these features are already expected to arrive with Windows 10 version 20H2 before the end of 2020. However, the company can change the schedule of these features at any time, since they’re not actually tied to any release, as such it’s not guaranteed that all the changes will ship in 2021.
What’s new with Windows 10 21H1
All the new features and changes expected to arrive in 2021 with Windows 10:
Windows 10 Start menu new visual design
A new Start menu design with visual changes, which no longer focus on Live Tiles, arrives on Windows 10 21H1.
The new menu follows the same design as previous versions, but now, it incorporates a more streamlined design that shifts from a chaotic color to something more uniform. You are still getting tiles, but the Start menu now reduces the color of blocks using transparency to match the menu color scheme and uses traditional icons designs that should help to make easier to scan and find an app quickly.
The new design works with the light and dark modes, as well as when using a custom color from the Colors settings page.
The Start menu now includes updated alphabet for the Vietnamese “All Apps” menu, which doesn’t include letters F, J, W and Z. The new folder icon in the “All apps” list from the Start menu is now smaller to align with the design of the other icons. And the search box in the “Default Apps” settings pages has been improved for performance.
Also, on Windows 10 build 20185, the “3D Viewer” app now appears inside the Windows Accessories folder in the Start menu.
When using the Start menu in full screen mode, the background is now slightly less transparent to prevent readability issues.
In addition, the People no longer appears as a standalone app in Start since Windows 10 build 20221. Microsoft says that it’ll remain as an inbox app, which you can use via the Mail and Calendars apps.
Also, when the starting an app, the splash is aware of the system theme color mode, instead of the system accent color. This means that when launching a modern app (such as Settings, Windows Security, or Calculator) will now show a light or dark splash screen, instead of the color scheme you may choose from the Colors settings page.
As part of the notification improvements, you can now click the app logo in the toast to confirm where the notification is coming from and then clicking the “X” will dismiss it. Also, Focus Assist will no longer let users know that the feature has been enabled using an automatic rule through a notification. If you prefer the previous behavior, you can change it in the Settings app.
Also, since build 20221, you’ll now receive a notification when an app requires to start at startup.
Windows 10 21H1 includes a new taskbar experience that offers a cleaner, less clutter, and more personalized content tailor on your behavior and based on device signal. For example, if you link your Android phone, you’ll see the Your Phone app will be pinned in the taskbar, and if you have an Xbox Live account, then you’ll see the Xbox app.
The new experience will only be available when creating a new account or first login, and existing taskbar layouts won’t change.
The location icon (when in use) has been modified from a solid dot in a circle to a compass arrow. Also, as part of the continue effort to update the iconography, Windows 10 now includes a new icon for the Settings app.
In addition, build 20175 introduces new modern icons for both Sticky Notes and the Snip & Sketch app in the effort to continue updating the iconography of Windows 10.
If you use the Chromium version of Microsoft Edge, starting with build 20175, clicking a pinned site in the taskbar will now show all the open tabs for that particular website across any of your browser windows.
Meet Now from Skype
Starting with build 20221, Windows 10 is introducing a feature known as “Meet Now,” which is part of Skype, and it allows you to quickly connect with other people using video chat, and the call can last up to 24 hours. The feature is available through the taskbar notification area, and it doesn’t require sign ups or downloads, since it’s built into Windows 10 and you can join the conversation using a custom link that’s created when the caller sets up the call.
Emoji Picker with clipboard history and GIFs integration
Windows 10 build 20206 introduces a new version of its Emoji Picker that integrates the clipboard history and adds support for animated GIFs, in addition to support for more languages, kaomojis, and symbols.
The new picker has a modern design using Fluent Design visual elements, such as blur and transparency. Also, it now includes an inline search box to make it easier to discover emojis and animated GIFs.
Since the Emoji Picker is integrating the clipboard history, you can now insert emojis and copies from a single experience using the “Windows key + .” or “Windows key + ;” or “Windows key + V” keyboard shortcuts.
New Voice Typing optimized for touch keyboards
Starting with build 20206, Windows 10 is introducing Windows Voice Typing, which is a new version of the Windows Dictation feature that allows you to type using your voice.
The new version has a modern design that has been optimized for touch keyboards. Auto-punctuation to help you focus on writing rather than thinking about question marks and periods. Also, the experience has been updated to offer a more reliable experience. (You can try it using the Windows key + H keyboard shortcut.)
The Voice Typing feature is available on English (US), English (Australia), English (India), English (Canada), English (United Kingdom), French (France), French (Canada), Portuguese (Brazilian), Simplified Chinese, Spanish (Mexico), Spanish (Spanish), German, Italian, and Japanese.
Touch keyboard new design and improvements
In addition, since build 20206, Windows 10 ships a new touch keyboard design that includes a new fresh aesthetic and several tweaks, including updated key sizes with rounded corners and layouts to optimize for typing comfort and accuracy. Also, there are some design improvements to help users discover and use the features.
Some of these improvements include new annotations and sounds when pressing a key. Child keys have been optimized for quicker entry. You’ll now find the button to undock the keyboard in the top right corner (in the candidate bar), and you can easily move the keyboard around using the gripper region at the top of the keyboard.
All entries in the settings menu now have labels for improved clarity of available options. The touch keyboard also includes emoji and GIFs search, and there is a new option to use voice typing to the left of the space bar in supported languages.
Also, you can now change the cursor position with the touch keyboard in any text field using gestures on the space bar. Place a finger on the space bar and slide your finger left, right, up, or down. As the finger moves, so will the cursor (one character or line at a time).
First run experience
Starting with build 20190, Windows 10 introduces a new first run experience using the Tips app to highlight the most significant changes after a major feature update installs on your device. (This feature replaces the Microsoft Edge welcome page after installing a new feature update to help users better understand the features and changes and how to use them.)
You can enable or disable this feature on Settings > System > Notifications & actions and checking the Show me the Windows welcome experience.
File Explorer changes for Windows 10 21H1
In addition to including a real Linux kernel on Windows 10, the software giant is now planning to fully integrate the Windows Subsystem for Linux into File Explorer by adding the ability to access Linux files with a new option in the left navigation pane.
When selecting the Linux icon, you’ll see a view of all your distros, and selecting those will place you in the root file system for that distro.
In the search experience, you can now remove previous searches via an option, if you right click the entry in the dropdown.
Users who had previously used HomeGroup will no longer see a notification on upgrade about its deprecation.
Also, since build 20226, when you right-click a zipped file in OneDrive that was previously configured as online-only, you’ll now have the “Extract All” option like if the file was available locally.
Starting with build 19592, Windows 10 is updating the Windows Search Platform (Indexer) with a new logic to help find better times to perform indexing of your files and avoiding heavily indexing while you’re actively using the device.
Also, the operating system will now limit the amount of times the service indexes your files for content that doesn’t have an impact on search experiences.
Task Manager tweaks
When setting focus to Windows Explorer in the Processes tab of Task Manager, Windows 10 is updating the keyboard shortcut for the Restart option to Alt + R. (This tweak was introduced with build 20206.)
Optimize Drives improvements
Microsoft is also refreshing the “Optimize Drives” page (also known as the defrag tool). In this update, you’ll see more details under the “Current status” column when it’s not possible to defrag the partition, including “Partition type not supported” and “File system type not supported.” You can use the “F5” key to refresh the screen. Also, the page integrates a new Advanced View option to list all partitions, including hidden partitions. (This change was introduced with build 20241.)
Microsoft Edge and Alt + Tab
On Microsoft Edge, all your open tabs will now appear in the app switcher feature when using the Alt + Tab keyboard shortcut.
If you don’t want to see all the open tabs, or prefer the classic experience, you can change the feature behaviour on Settings > System > Multitasking. In the Settings, you can configure the Alt + Tab feature to show all the tabs, only your last three or five tabs, or turn the feature off completely.
In Task Manager, the Details tab now has a new “Architecture” column, which can be used to determine if the app is 32-bit or 64-bit.
In addition, the “Processes” tab now correctly shows a Progressive Web App (PWA) installed using Microsoft Edge under “Applications” instead of in “Background Processes.” Also, the tab will now even display the icon of the app.
Settings app on Windows 10 21H1
Beginning with build 20197, Microsoft is testing a “Web browsing” view in the Settings app header to highlight if you’re using the recommended browsing settings.
Using this new approach, if you don’t have Microsoft Edge as your default browser, you’ll see a “Restore recommended browser settings” message in the header, which you’ll have to dismiss clicking the Skip for now option.
On Windows 10 build 20190, the “Graphics settings” page has been updated to allow you to select default high performance graphics processor. If you have multiple graphics cards, you can specify which of those GPUs should be the one used for high performance uses cases on Settings > System > Display > Graphics settings or Settings > Gaming > Graphics settings.
Once configuring the settings, when an app requests for a high-performance GPU, by default, it’ll use the GPU you specified on the page. Also, the page has changed to allow you to pick a specific GPU on a per application basis using the new “Specific GPU” option.
In addition, the Graphics settings page, available in the “Display” section, now will pre-populate the apps that you may want to change to run on a specific GPU. This is in addition to clicking the Browse button to locate the app.
Using the Settings app, you can now manage more sound options previously available in Control Panel. For instance, it’s now possible to see which sound device is set as default, and you can select the device you want to be the new default from Settings > System > Sound > Manage sound devices.
Also, the volume mixer now includes a link to the per app audio settings, which you can use to redirect audio endpoints per app.
Storage cleanup assistant on Window 10 21H1
In the Storage page, there’s a new User cleanup recommendations option that will display the amount of data that Windows 10 may be able to reclaim by deleting certain large or unused files, uninstalling apps that you not use, and clearing copies of files already uploaded to OneDrive.
If you want to see and delete some or all of the files, you can click the See cleanup recommendation option. In the page, you’ll see a list of the items recommended for deletion.
Windows 10 can’t make the decision to delete files and apps, but if you’re running out of space, the settings page allows you to select and delete unused files and remove apps to make more room for other files.
Disk Management in Settings for Windows 10 21H1
Windows 10 build 20197 introduces a new Disk Management tool inside the Storage settings page. The operating system already has a tool to manage disks and volumes, but it’s an old experience part of Control Panel. The new experience was built from the ground up with modern improvements and accessibility in mind. It also features better integration with features, such as Storage Spaces and the Storage breakdown page.
Similar to the legacy tool (which it is still available), the new tool allows you to view all the drives connected to the device, and you can create, resize, format, and change letters for partitions.
The new feature appears under Settings > System > Storage and clicking the Manage Disks and Volumes option.
In the page, the disk tool shows all the drives connected to the device with basic information, such as the disk number, media (SSD or HDD), and whether if the drive is online or offline.
You can select the drive and clicking the Properties button will give you additional information like name, identification, model, media, capacity, and type. In addition, you’ll see the current status and the partition style (for example, GUID Partition Table “GPT”).
The Advanced Disk Properties option that opens the properties of the drive with Control Panel.
While in the main page, if you expand the drive, you’ll see the list of partitions with rich details, including file system, partition type, status, and more.
You can select each drive and clicking the Properties button will access another page where you can change the label or drive letter. You can resize the partition with the Change size button. You can add a path to the volume, and you can even enable BitLocker on the drive.
If you’re dealing with an external drive, the properties page will also include options to delete and format the partition, and you can bring the drive online or offline.
Storage health monitor
Also, starting with build 20226, the disk manager introduces a new storage health monitor feature designed to detect and alert you of any possible problems with the drive to give you enough time to backup the data.
The feature is only available for Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) Solid-State Drives (SSDs). If an anomaly is detected in the drive, you’ll get a desktop notification, which you can click to see more details and access an option to backup the files.
However, you can always see the storage health information, such as estimated remaining life, space available, and current temperature from Settings > System > Storage > Manage Disks and Volumes, and in the drive properties page.
On Windows 10, the system is changing the notification behavior when detaching the keyboard, so that a notification will no longer show and instead will switch directly into the tablet experience, with some tweaks for touch. You can also adjust the feature on Settings > System > Tablet. (Previously, the page was called “Tablet mode.”)
To avoid confusion, Microsoft is removing the tablet mode quick action button from non-touch devices, and there’s a new logic to allow users boot into the appropriate mode according to the mode they were using and whether the keyboard is attached.
Also, since build 20180, Windows 10 is changing the tablet posture logic for convertible devices to now only apply when using a single screen.
About settings page
The About settings page no longer shows the current Windows Security status. Also, Microsoft continues to transfer information from the Control Panel to the Settings app. For example, links that would open the System page in Control Panel will now direct you to Settings > About.
The About settings page now includes an option to make it easier to copy the device information, and it streamlines the security information shown in the page.
Also, since build 20231, the “Device specifications” shows the graphics cards (dedicated and integrated) installed on the device for a more complete list of specifications.
Network & Internet DNS settings
Starting with build 20185, Windows 10 is making it a little easier to change the network settings using the Settings app. For instance, editing the DNS server address is now a top-level option in the network’s properties page. Also, you can now configure the DNS traffic to be encrypted over HTTPS (DoH) in the network’s properties page to increase privacy and security of your browsing activities.
If you have an Ethernet connection, the option will be available on Settings > Network & Internet > Status. Click the Properties button, then click the Edit button for IP assignment or DNS server assignment and it will be available in the popup.
Otherwise, if you use a wireless connection, the option will be available on Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi. Click the adapter properties option, then click the Edit button for IP assignment or DNS server assignment and it will be available in the popup. Options available, include “Unencrypted only,” “Encrypted only (DNS over HTTPS),” “Encrypted prefered, unencrypted allowed.”
If you’re setting up DNS over HTTPS, you can add any of these IP addresses to unlock the option and choose the encryption.
After you enable the encryption, you can confirm it is working by looking at the applied DNS servers in the network properties and see them labeled as “(Encrypted)” servers.
It’s also possible to use any custom DoH address that Windows 10 doesn’t recognize, but you’ll need to use the netsh command tool to set it up.
In addition, when setting an static IP address configuration, the DNS settings now make entering a static DNS a requirement and entering gateway address not a requirement. (This change was announced with build 20226.)
If you use your computer with a wireless connection, Microsoft is removing the separate Hotspot 2.0 setting from the Wi-Fi setting page. According to the company, this setting was provided during the experimental phase, and having it enabled is now part of having Wi-Fi enabled.
Archive apps storage saving feature
Windows 10 21H1 introduces a new storage saving feature known as “Archive apps.” The feature (available since build 20201) is meant to archive apps you don’t use often to save space and internet data. The next time you try to open the app, it’ll connect to the internet and download the full version again. Of course, this is if the app is still available in the Microsoft Store.
Basically, when the feature is enabled, then Windows 10 will remove those apps you don’t use frequently automatically to free up space. Using this process, files and other data will be saved locally or in the cloud, depending how the app works. Then the next time you use an archived app, the app will download and install again on-demand restoring the full version.
You can enable or disable the feature on Settings > Apps > Apps & features, and turning on or off the Archive apps toggle switch.
In the Default apps page, since Windows 10 build 19608, you can now search the lists of file types, protocols, and apps when setting a new default app.
Also, starting with Windows 10 build 20231, network administrators can configure which apps will automatically open various file types or links with the new option to modify file associations on a per-user or per-device basis. For example, this new improvement makes it easy to configure Microsoft Edge as the default browser, or always open PDFs with the preferred app.
Windows 10 account settings changes
Starting with Windows 10 build 20197, the Your Info settings page has been updated to only show the active profile picture.
In the “Accounts” section, the Family & other users page is splitting the settings into two pages, including Your family group and People on this device.
Inside the Your family group page includes the option to create new accounts linked to your Microsoft account family group. Usually, you would use these settings to create a child account on Windows 10, which you can then control using the parental settings to restrict device, apps, and games screen time, configure web filtering, and much more.
The settings page also has a new Give all family members access to sign-in to the device option, and the option to add a new account has been renamed from “Add a family member” to “Add someone.”
In addition, in the Sync your settings page, Windows 10 is removing the theme synchronization option, which means that themes and backgrounds will no longer sync across devices. (The change was announced with build 20226.)
People on this device new settings
People on this device is new to Windows 10, and it’s the page that you’ll use to add or remove new accounts, such as local accounts and accounts for anyone else that’s not part of the family group. This page replaces the “Other users” section inside the “Family & other users” page.
Also, since build 20197, it’s possible to select the new Microsoft Edge as your desired app in Assigned access.
Time & Language tweaks
In the Date & time page, the “Set time zone automatically” toggle will be grayed out (disabled) when location is disabled.
Microsoft is adding Downloads Folder to the Privacy settings page as part of the Windows 10 21H1 previews.
Diagnostics & feedback changes
In the Diagnostics & feedback settings page, the “Basic diagnostic data” is now known as “Required diagnostic data” and “Full diagnostic data” has changed to “Optional diagnostic data.”
Screen Capture border option
The Screen Capture border page is new on Windows 10, and it’s available to control which apps can disable the screen capture border.
Programmatic screen capture option
The Programmatic screen capture page is new on Windows 10, and it’s available to control which apps can capture arbitrary windows or displays on the computer.
Windows Update changes
The Windows Update settings page includes a new “View optional updates” link that opens a new page that allows you to view and decide which optional updates to install on your device manually.
Optional updates are those updates that are not essential to the operation of Windows 10, which can include drivers (such as for printers, cameras, network adapters, etc.), feature updates, and monthly non-security quality updates.
Also, for drivers, you no longer need to browse “Device Manager” for a specific device to update. Windows Update will automatically keep your drivers up-to-date, same as before, but if you’re having a problem one of those optional drivers might help.
The Scottish Gaelic keyboard now uses AltGr + 7 to input ⁊ (U+204A TIRONIAN SIGN ET), pressing ´ will now insert the characters, and Alt Gr + ´ now acts as a dead key to add the acute accent with a subsequent letter.
Also, since build 20226, when pressing Shift + 6 will now insert ߾ (U+07FE ) and pressing Shift + 7 will now insert ߿ (U+07FF) for the N’Ko keyboard layout.
Korean IME improvements
If you type in Korean, you’ll also find a new version of the Korean IME with improvements in the typing experience.
Japanese IME improvements
On build 20190, Windows 10 updates the new Japanese IME to support switching between Hiragana and Katakana by using CTRL + CAPSLOCK and ALT + CAPSLOCK (respectively), as it was supported with the previous version.
The Eye Control settings interface has been updated to span multiple pages, so that options are easier to find and understand.
As part of the Narrator changes, in the new Microsoft Edge, Narrator now automatically enables scan mode and starts reading webpages.
Since build 20197, the Narrator can now distinguish candidate characters or words by providing detailed reading information when using the Microsoft Pinyin IME.
Starting with build 20206, when annotated content and linked control Narrator commands are invoked in context which doesn’t have any linked controls available, the Narrator will now say “No linked item.”
Also, Narrator can now read aloud high priority notifications when they appear in the Lock screen and when you sign back into your account. (This change was introduced with build 20241.)
Windows Subsystem for Linux 2
As part of the 21H1 development, the Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 is getting three new features, including GPU compute,
wsl –install command, and
wsl –update command.
The GPU compute is a feature that allows the Linux binaries to leverage graphics card, which makes it possible to perform more machine learning development and data science workflows directly in WSL.
wsl –install command lets you install WSL a lot faster, and the
wsl –update gives you the ability to manage the Linux kernel version used by WSL 2 distros.
The custom Linux kernel from the Windows 10 system image has been removed, and it’s now available through the Microsoft Store.
Also, starting with build 20211, you can now attach and mount physical drives inside the Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 distros. The feature enables you to access file systems that are not natively supported (for example, ext4). This means that if you have a dual-boot system with Windows 10 and Linux, and are using different drives, you can now access your Linux files from Windows 10.
Reset apps with PowerShell
Since build 20175, Windows 10 includes the ability to reset Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps using a PowerShell command. This is an addition to the option to reset apps from the Settings app. For instance, this command resets the Calculator app:
Get-AppxPackage *calculator* | Reset-AppxPackage.
The benefit of this new option is to reset certain system components that are not available in Settings, for example the Start menu.
Windows 10 is also enabling by default an experimental implementation of Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.3.
As part of the 21H1 development, Windows 10 build 20231 introduces a new “Customize your device” page in the out-of-box experience (OOBE) to better customize Windows 10 for the things you’re planning to do with the device.
For instance, the new page, includes six ways (gaming, family, creativity, schoolwork, entertainment, and business) to customize the device. You can choose one or multiple ways, and depending on your selection, the setup experience will suggest different tools and services to customize the device.
Also, Windows 10 now has a new “Family group setup” experience, which allows you to configure multiple accounts when you’re already managing family members from your Microsoft account.
The Windows RE (Recovery Environment) no longer requires an administrator password to access recovery tools.
Editor’s note: This guide includes features and improvements that appeared until Windows 10 build 20241. It should be noted that this guide focuses on features for consumers, as Microsoft is also adding other features aimed for enterprises, which aren’t included here. Microsoft no longer ties changes available in the Dev Channel to any specific version of Windows 10, which means that not all of these changes may appear in the next feature update. (Last updated on October, 2020.)