Windows 10 21H1 new features
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Windows 10 21H1 (Dev Channel): new features and changes

UPDATE 7/2: Windows 10 21H1 is expected to rollout during the spring of 2021, and here are all the new features and changes that Microsoft has added to the new version thus far.

Windows 10 version 21H1 will be the eleventh major feature update since the original release, and it’s expected to arrive sometime during the spring of 2021 as the first semi-annual update.

The new version will have new features and enhancements to improve the overall experience, but since we’re many months aways it’s still unclear the changes that will be included in the final release. 

In this guide, we’ll highlight everything that’s new so far in the Dev Channel (Fast ring) as the appear in each test preview. However, features available through the Dev Channel are not attached to any specific release of Windows 10, which means that not all the changes mentioned in this page may not end up being part of the final release of Windows 10 21H1.

Quick note: This guide will get updated and republished with new features and improvements as they become available through the Windows Insider Program. However, depending on when you’re reading this guide, some features and changes may still be missing. If this is the case, you can check this section with the latest updates.

What’s new with Windows 10 21H1

All the new features and changes expected to arrive on Windows 10 21H1:

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. 

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’re 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.

Windows 10 21H1 Start menu (Source: Microsoft)
Windows 10 21H1 Start menu (Source: Microsoft)

The new design works with the light and dark modes as well as when using a custom color from the Colors settings page.

Also, the Start menu now includes updated alphabet for the Vietnamese All Apps menu, which doesn’t include letters F, J, W and Z.

Notifications tweaks with Windows 10 21H1

As part of the notifications improvements, starting with this new version, 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.

Personalized taskbar

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.

Taskbar personalized (source: Microsoft)
Taskbar personalized (source: Microsoft)

The new experience will only be available when creating a new account or first login, and existing taskbar layouts won’t change.

Also, the location icon (when in use) has been modified from a solid dot in a circle to a compass arrow.

File Explorer changes

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.

File Explorer with Linux integration
File Explorer with Linux integration

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.

Also, users who had previously used HomeGroup will no longer see a notification on upgrade about its deprecation.

Microsoft Edge and Alt + Tab

Starting with this flight, all your open tabs from the Chromium version of Microsoft Edge 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 “Alt + Tab” to only show your last three or five tabs or choose to turn this feature off completely.

Task Manager

In the 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.

Task Manager Details tab with Architecture column
Task Manager Details tab with Architecture column

Storage cleanup assistant 

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.

User cleanup recommendations settings
User cleanup recommendations settings

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.

See cleanup recommendations settings page
See cleanup recommendations settings page

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 delete unused files and remove apps to make more room for other files.

Display settings tweaks

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.

Graphics settings on Windows 10 21H1
Graphics settings on Windows 10 21H1

Tablet experience 

Windows 10 is updating the tablet experience for convertible devices. Starting with version 21H1, 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.

In addition to avoid confusion, Microsoft 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.

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.

Additionally, 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.

Wi-Fi changes

If you use your computer with a wireless connection, with this new release, 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.

Windows 10 account settings changes

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.

Your family group settings
Your family group settings

In addition, 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.”

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 family group. This page replaces the “Other users” section inside the “Family & other users” page.

People on this device settings
People on this device settings

Time & Language tweaks

In the Date & time page, the “Set time zone automatically” toggle will be grayed out (disabled) when location is disabled.

Date & time settings on 21H1
Date & time settings on 21H1

Privacy improvements

Microsoft is adding Downloads Folder to the Privacy settings page as part of the Windows 10 21H1 update.

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.”

Diagnostic & feedback settings on Windows 10 21H1
Diagnostic & feedback settings on Windows 10 21H1

Screen Capture border option

The Screen Capture border page is new on Windows 10 21H1, and it available to control which apps can disable the screen capture border.

Screen Capture border settings
Screen Capture border settings

Windows Update changes with 21H1

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.

Windows Update settings with Optional updates link
Windows Update settings with Optional updates link

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.

Windows 10 Optional updates settings
Windows 10 Optional updates settings

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.

Language improvements

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.

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.

Eye Control

The Eye Control settings interface has been updated to span multiple pages, so that options are easier to find and understand.

Narrator

As part of the Narrator changes, in the new Microsoft Edge, Narrator now automatically enables scan mode and starts reading webpages.

Windows Subsystem for Linux 2

As part of the 21H1 update, 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.

The wsl –install command lets you install WSL a lot faster, and the wsl –update which gives you the ability to manage the Linux kernel version used by WSL 2 distros.

Setup changes with 21H1

In the 21H1 update, Windows 10 introduces a new “Family group setup” that allows you to configure multiple accounts when you’re already managing family members from your Microsoft account.

Family group setup on Windows 10 20H2 (sorce: Microsoft)
Family group setup on Windows 10 21H1 (sorce: Microsoft)

Windows Recovery

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 20161. 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 final version of the 21H1 update. (Last updated on July, 2020.)