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Microsoft takes tweaking tongs to Windows 10's Start Menu once again

Icon backgrounds banished, but some Insiders may have to wait for new toys

Microsoft has unveiled a long-teased update to the Windows 10 Start Menu for its loyal fans... or at least some of them.

Marking yet another step away from the vision of Windows 8, Dev Channel Windows Insiders were treated to a "more streamlined design", which Microsoft described as "refined", free of the Windows 8-style solid backgrounds for icons, which are replaced with a partially transparent and uniform backdrop.

The updated Start Menu is also a little more aware of themes, and works with both light and dark mode. The icons, alas, are still as inconsistent as ever, with the usual mish-mash of Fluent Design and iconography from the past.

That said, it is certainly a little more pleasing to the eye than the currently shipping version, although we fear that those hoping for a return to the Windows 7 style after the disastrous (for desktop users) Windows 8 adventure might have a while yet to wait.

Other notable improvements in this version included browser tabs (for users of Edge 83.0.475.0 or higher) appearing during Alt+Tab navigation (which can be turned off or turned down to just a few recent tabs) and a default taskbar tailored to what Microsoft thinks a customer wants.

The "Programmable Taskbar" will only apply to new accounts or first logins, and Microsoft plans to tailor the layouts "based on user and device signal" to cut down on "perceptions of bloatware".

Other alterations in the build include app icons in notifications and more bits from the legacy Control Panel creeping into the Settings area of Windows 10. Links that would normally dump a user into the decidedly old-school world of the Control Panel System page now fall into the About page of Settings.

A bunch of issues have also been bashed in this release, including a crash when connecting an Xbox controller, an occasional falling-over when adding a printer, and a graphics-related issue that was causing some users to experience bug checks.

It's all very exciting, but Microsoft being Microsoft, there is a catch. Not all Insiders on the Dev Channel will be getting all the nifty new stuff.

There's disappointment in store for those who had hoped Jon Cable's (Director of Program Management, Windows Servicing and Delivery) recent statement that "new features will be offered in future Windows Insider Preview builds as they are ready" meant an end to the hated A/B testing that saw some Insiders get access to shiny playthings while others were left twiddling their thumbs.

"Many of these features are rolling out to a subset of Insiders in the Dev Channel at first," said Window Insider senior program manager Brandon LeBlanc. This means that just signing up for the Dev Channel roller coaster doesn't guarantee access to the toys, er, "as soon as they are ready".

LeBlanc went on the assure Insiders that the new features would be "gradually rolled out" to all users.

Being a Dev Channel build, there is no guarantee that the features shown off in Build 20161 will ever see the light of day as a public release. The next major Windows 10 update, 21H1, is due in the first half of next year and a jumped-up cumulative update (20H2) should hit in the latter part of 2020. ®

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