Despite calls for Microsoft to significantly delay its spring Windows release due to the pandemic, the Windows 10 May 2020 Update, version 2004, is expected to begin rolling out to users in the next few weeks. Industry watchers initially expected it on May 12, Patch Tuesday, but it now appears to be slated for the last week in May. Nevertheless, the software is feature complete; what is thought to be the final preview build shipped to Microsoft’s Release Preview ring of Windows Insiders on April 30.

It’s been a year since the last major update to Windows 10, the first time in Windows 10 history that Microsoft has gone that long between significant updates. (The last so-called feature update for Windows 10, released six months ago and known as the November 2019 Update or version 1909, was little more than a service pack.)

So what’s the news in Windows 10 version 2004 — has Microsoft gone big and introduced a host of new features, or has it stayed the course with a loose collection of minor tweaks? I’ve been putting the upgrade through its paces for quite some time as it made its way through development, and here’s what I’ve found.

Hey, Cortana… Where’d you go?

A year ago, in the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, Cortana was separated from Windows Search. No longer could you type in a question for Cortana in the search box on the taskbar. Instead, you had to say “Hey, Cortana” and speak your search, click the Cortana icon to the right of the search box and speak, or press the Windows key + C and speak. All other searches were done by Windows Search.

That trial separation between Cortana and Windows Search has turned into a full-blown divorce. Now Cortana is an entirely separate app that runs in its own resizable window like any other app. Previously, it displayed results as a pane just above the search box, in the same way that Windows Search did. Now you do the search in the app, and the results show up in the app.

win10 v2004 cortana IDG

Cortana is now a standalone, resizable app, with fewer features than previously. (Click image to enlarge it.)

There’s another, even more consequential change to Cortana: It’s become less useful and less powerful. Some of what Microsoft calls its “consumer” skills have been taken away, including playing music and controlling home devices. That’s part of Microsoft’s long-term strategy for the digital assistant: rather than being front and center in Windows, it does much of its work behind the scenes, particularly in Office 365 and Microsoft 365, which is the new branding for consumer and SMB Office 365 subscriptions.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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