The first Windows Feature Experience Pack appeared in mid-2020 in beta form to Windows Insiders and contained two simple features:
- a built-in screenshot tool, for sniping and pasting selections into a folder.
- a split keyboard interface for 2-in-1 touch devices that stretches the keyboard across the two screens when a device is in portrait mode. By device we mean the Microsoft Duo, the folding screen phablet-thing that nobody asked for and nobody seems to want.
Experience packs represent Microsoft’s plan for improved upgrades. They’re starting to appear in the regular monthly updates to Windows 10. As best as anyone can define them:
- they are not related to the core Windows operating system updates and
- do not include updates to normal Windows apps that are bundled or available in the Microsoft Store.
They are now available to Windows 10 version 20H2, 19042.662 and later.
They are also classed as ‘Features on Demand’ for Windows 10 and Windows Server, which indicates that they’re an essential part of the operating system. This becomes clearer in the light of Windows 10X. This is a repackaging of the basic operating system as a foundation layer, with all applications as separate containers.
Windows Paint, for example, is now a feature on demand outside of the ‘core’ Windows OS updates.
‘Foundation-layer-plus-containers’ is the route for developers to update apps without making the rest of the Windows OS unstable. Much stricter use of containers and foundation services could make the ambition of cheap, fast and stable development a reality. But that’s been the case over several development roadmaps for decades, so don’t hang out the flags just yet.
But it does move toward the stable, containerised Windows 10X which looks like becoming the standard operating system build. It’s difficult to know how this aligns with Windows Core OS.
Microsoft has been less than clear about what this new structure and terminology means (surely not?) and have ignored the consumer level. Windows Feature Experience Packs are now appearing in Windows Update without explanation and the average Joe won’t have a clue what they are, whether they need them, why they have them on one device and not on others or what happens if you don’t take them. It’s Windows Update, so ultimately, you don’t get a choice. AJS