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Windows 10 May 2020 Update review: Welcome improvements to everyday essentials

A new Cortana, updated settings, streamlined features, and more make up Microsoft's latest version of Windows 10

Windows 10 Start logo
(Image: © Windows Central)

Microsoft's next Windows 10 feature update is here! Known as the May 2020 Update (and version 2004), this new version of Windows 10 is all about fit and finish. There's not a whole lot new here in regards to features, but there are plenty of changes and enhancements to features that have already been part of the OS for some time. In this review, we'll be taking a look at all the notable new changes and improvements, good and bad.

This release will be delivered as a full OS update, and not as a cumulative update like Windows 10 version 1909. This is because the changes at release are a little more substantial, even if that may not seem like the case on the surface. So without further ado, let's dive into the Windows 10 May 2020 Update.

Video walkthrough

Prefer your content in video form? Check out our 15-minute video guide showcasing all the notable new changes in this release of Windows 10!

Windows 10's new Cortana

Windows 10 2004 Cortana

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Cortana, believe it or not, is the one area that has seen the most significant changes in the Windows 10 May 2020 Update. It's now a system app that can be updated independently from the operating system via the Microsoft Store, just like other in-box apps like Mail and Calculator. This means Microsoft can keep Cortana updated with new features and changes without having to wait for a new version of Windows 10 to roll around first.

The new Cortana has a new UI that puts typing at the forefront of its experience. Since Windows 10 is used mostly on devices with a keyboard attached, the move makes sense. Not everyone is comfortable with talking to their PCs, especially at school or work, where one might be working in close proximity with other people. So being able to type out your queries is a much appreciated new addition to Cortana. You can still use your voice if you'd prefer, too.

As typing is the focus of the new Cortana, the UI emphasizes threaded conversation. Just like a text chat between you and a friend, the conversation you have with Cortana will be displayed via text bubbles in a scrolling list that you can refer back to later if needed. The UI is clean and straightforward, offering text suggestions along the bottom for getting tasks started with Cortana. It also supports both light and dark modes, which is always a welcome sight.

Windows 10 2004 Cortana

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Because Cortana is now an app, it can be manipulated as one by the user. When you first open Cortana, you'll be asked to sign-in and agree to the usual terms and conditions, and it'll popup where the old Cortana used to be. But from there, you can resize it, move it around, and even full-screen it if you'd like. This is mostly an improvement, but I'd also prefer the option to have it docked to the Taskbar like the old Cortana was.

The only noticeable problem I've seen comes when you close Cortana, where it doesn't actually kill the app, as it needs to be listening for the "Hey Cortana" command. Windows minimizes it, but it's still visible in Task View. Clicking the close button inside Task View doesn't do anything either. It's a small issue, but an annoying user experience problem that I feel Microsoft needs to address.

And that's just the start of the dark side of the new Cortana experience. The new UI is excellent, and the ability to move it around like an app is also a nice touch, but this new Cortana doesn't come without compromise. If you're a heavy Cortana user, you're going to notice a regression in feature-set with this new version. The ability to use skills and connected home commands are gone, as is the Cortana Notebook.

Windows 10 May 2020 Update Cortana

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft has been working to reposition Cortana as a digital assistant that enhances your work life. Inexplicably, Microsoft has therefore removed most functionality that could be of assistance at home, such as turning on and off your lights or appliances and playing music. It's now solely about schedules, calendar events, reminders, emailing, and other work-related stuff. All the connected home and skill-based commands are no longer supported.

It's almost like Microsoft forgot that people aren't always about work. People have personal lives, with homes and families, and things they want to do outside of Microsoft 365 using their computer. The app even recommends the user sign-in with their work or school account if they are using Cortana with a personal Microsoft account.

Being able to control your smart home appliances or music on your computer using Cortana would be very handy, but Microsoft has deemed this unnecessary for Cortana on Windows 10. Going forward, it'll be great at handling meetings and opening recent Office documents, and you can still ask it about the weather or how tall Mount Everest is, but you won't be able to control your lights or other skill-based commands. Perhaps we'll see those consumer-facing features make a return in the future. But for now, it's a productivity-exclusive assistant, and to be honest, it does that pretty well.

Windows 10's updated Virtual Desktops

Windows 10 2004 Virtual Desktops

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Virtual Desktops are one of those features that you either use, or don't. I often forget the feature exists, if only because it's not something I've been able to fit into my workflow successfully. That doesn't mean the feature isn't useful however, as being able to create multiple desktops for different work environments is a massive deal for many power users. And with this update, the Virtual Desktops have gotten a little bit of love.

These aren't huge changes, mind you, but the changes that are here I think will be appreciated by those who do use them. You can now rename them, and have them save state across reboots. You surprisingly couldn't do this before, so if you needed to restart for an update to complete, you'd lose all workspaces.

Windows 10's improved Settings

Windows 10 2004 Settings

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft is continuing its crusade to port old Control Panel settings over to the modern Settings app, and this release welcomes new additions such as cursor speed control as well as updates to existing settings already under the modern Settings app. We won't go through everything added or updated here, but there are a few highlights to mention.

To begin, there's a new option in the Accounts area that disables your Microsoft account password as a login method on the lock screen if you have Windows Hello set up. Microsoft says doing this is more secure, as your Microsoft account password is universal across all of your Windows PCs and is, therefore, a weak point if your password is compromised. Windows Hello is specific to each device you set it up on, and isn't something that can be "learned" by an attacker. On previous versions of Windows 10, if someone did get access to your Microsoft account password and PC, they could log in and get access to your data.

Windows 10 2004 Hello Signin

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Also new with this release is the ability to download Windows 10 from the cloud if you need to factory reset your PC. This is handy if your install becomes corrupt for whatever reason, and the reset system can't use the preinstalled image to factory reset your device. Now, you can just download a new image via the recovery environment.

Other areas that have been updated include the Network & Internet status area, which has an updated design with at-a-glance data usage and quick access to network properties. There's also an improved Optional Features area that is now searchable and easier to use, and the Languages & Region area has been improved with a cleaner UI for adding and configuring languages on your PC.

Windows 10's streamlined Swift Pair

Windows 10 2004 Swiftpair

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft has made some nice streamlining changes to the Swift Pair feature that was first introduced with Windows 10 version 1903 last year. Swift Pair lets you easily pair a supported Bluetooth peripheral with a single click, but the process itself was a little more involved than it needed to be. The user would hit connect on the popup, then the Settings app would open, and then the user would have to hit OK on another popup to confirm that pairing was successful.

With Windows 10 version 2004, this process has been streamlined to just the initial popup asking the user to connect to the device. Once the user hits that, the notification will remain until pairing is complete, and that's it. The user won't be forced into the Settings app or asked to confirm once pairing is successful. This is a much better experience, but the problem with Swift Pair now is that it only supported a minimal set of Bluetooth devices.

If you're using a Microsoft-made Bluetooth device, chances are it'll work with Swift Pair. You'll know because the system will automatically ask you to connect to it via a notification when you begin the pairing process on your Bluetooth peripheral. If that notification doesn't pop, then it doesn't support Swift Pair, and you'll have to jump into Settings and manually pair it through the old method. Not a big deal, but I'd like to see more devices support Swift Pair in the future.

Windows 10's Task Manager

Windows 10 May 2020 Update Taskmanager

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Task Manager is another area in the Windows 10 May 2020 Update that has seen a couple of notable new additions, one of which power users will find very useful. You can now see your GPU temperature in the performance tab when clicking on your GPU. This only works with dedicated GPUs that support WWDM 2.4 or higher, so if you don't see your temperature inside Task Manager, that's why.

The other notable change inside Task Manager is the ability to see what disk types you are using inside your PC. Underneath each listed disk will now be an "SSD" or "HDD" indicator telling you whether the drive you're using is mechanical, solid-state, or removable storage. This is handy for those who might not know what's inside their PC, and for whatever reason, needs to find that information out without looking up model numbers or opening the PC itself.

Windows 10's new Search

Windows 10 2004 Imagesearch

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

These changes aren't technically exclusive to the Windows 10 May 2020 Update. As far as I know, Microsoft has since backported these changes to older versions of Windows 10 as well. But they were introduced first during the development of version 2004, so I'll highlight them here just in case you missed it. Microsoft has added a few quick searches along the bottom of the Windows Search interface for instant access to frequent web-based searches such as the weather and latest news.

There's also a new Bing image search button that lets you quickly take a screenshot and search Bing for more information. This is good if you've seen an image that you'd like to know more about, but don't know what exactly to search for. Just take a screenshot and have Bing analyze it and provide more information.

Along the top of the search UI is quick access to your Microsoft Rewards points. You can see at a glance how many points you currently have, and clicking it will take you to the Rewards website to redeem any points you may have. This is super cool if you're an avid user of Microsoft Rewards like I am, as it's an easy avenue for free Xbox Live Gold or Microsoft Store credit.

Conclusion

Windows 10 Version 2004

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

That's all of the most significant and noteworthy changes inside the Windows 10 May 2020 Update. Overall, it's a nice update for the most part, but there's not a lot to it outside of improvements and polish, which is something that Windows 10 definitely needs these days. The new Cortana feels like it's taken one step forward and one step back. It has a great new UI, but a regression in consumer features renders it unhelpful for a lot of people.

I do like a lot of the fit and finish improvements Microsoft is making with this release. For example, the Action Center's blur effects no longer pop in and out when you open and close it. It's a small improvement, but it's the small UI improvements which I appreciate above all else.

For developers, there's plenty of improvements here for you too, including the new Windows Subsystem for Linux 2. We didn't dive into that here because that's a little out of range for this consumer-focused review, but you can read more about it here (opens in new tab) if you're interested.

The Windows 10 May 2020 Update is rolling out starting today, and users can manually install it in waves via Windows Update. It'll be automatically installed on Windows 10 PCs that are running an out-of-support version of Windows 10 in the next few weeks.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

68 Comments
  • Cortana as driver system.
    Good evolution of settings page.
    For virtual desktop, maybe it's function not again used with availability (seems historical, can be good also), needs to display several desktops and share (Office, Teams)
    Windows 10 search is Bing.
  • Virtual desktop will desapear when people know how to save their works when the screen goes off.
  • There are the start menu (system, pre-install) and continue ?
  • "You surprisingly couldn't do this before, so if you needed to restart for an update to complete, you'd lose all workspaces."
    Actually, virtual desktops have always been preserved across restarts. What isn't being preserved is what window is inside which virtual desktop, but this still hasn't changed. As far as I can see, unfortunately the only change is that you can rename virtual desktops, and that their names persist.
  • Yeah, sadly this Virtual Desktop is underappreciated. Also Virtual Desktop in Windows 10 version 2004 is still too basic compared on macOS and some Linux distros. Windows 10 Virtual Desktop still can rearrange desktops, no file drag-and-drop support (including within the desktop in Task View), and no application assignments per Virtual Desktop. Virtual Desktop can't bee too basic since this is more of a power user feature. Of course most people don't use this or can't find a way to fit in their workflow and that's okay, doesn't mean it's useless to anybody, considering that other OS still heavy support this with far more features. After several years since the introduction of Windows 10, all we got is the ability to just rename virtual desktop? Yes it's one of the most requested feature, but there are more suggestions was sent but ignored. Even animations is still broken when you switch desktop while Task View/Windows Timeline is open. Try it and you see the animations is funny.
  • I agree, virtual desktops could use some love. I'd also love to see drag-and-drop between screens via Task View. Unfortunately, I suppose very little people use virtual desktops, so maybe we have to be glad they are there at all.
  • Yeah sadly it seems that way, not sure how many people at Microsoft especially developers even use this the fact that it is so basic for several years already. I admit I can't even use Virtual Desktop heavily since it lacks features that I need from it like what I mentioned above. So for me they have to really improve it further, add features and polish UI and animations. Until that then it may become more useful to more users, at least within power users. What I'm afraid that this will get scrapped in future Windows updates. Not sure about Windows 10 X if Virtual Desktop will be included in the future. As for now that is missing, well generally Windows 10 X task switching is pretty basic at the moment. I hate to install 3rd-party Virtual Desktop again like on old days, which is additional thing to run the background and feels less integrated to the OS. Some apps may not even work well with 3rd-party solutions. Also UI are not as feels cohesive as it can like a baked-in feature.
  • I wouldn't be surprised if many people didn't use them even at Microsoft. Actually, my personal experience is that I use them on my private device with one screen but never at work, where I have two screens. I could imagine that being similar for many developers at Microsoft, but perhaps that's just me.
    I wouldn't expect them to ever arrive on Windows 10X. On Windows 10, virtual desktops are explicitly disabled when enabling tablet mode so it doesn't seem like Microsoft really sees them as useful for the kind of scenario you'd use Windows 10X for.
    However, I don't really worry about them going away. I wouldn't count on Microsoft improving them anymore, sadly, but the work that's there is already done and it seems unlikely to me they'd ever do such a big refactoring of code on Windows 10 that it would make sense to remove virtual desktops, rather than leaving them there as they are. Not to mention that they did add a new feature, as small as it may be, in this release after what I think have been almost three years without any new features (since 1607, I think).
  • Well looking at the lack of improvements and fixes to Virtual Desktop, this was certainly not heavily used even in Microsoft, at least not popular enough for whatever reason. I do use virtual desktop to allow me organized windows/apps on separate desktop to avoid too much windows in a single desktop, making window management hard and slows down my workflow. Though I do use it more at home than at work apparently since I tend to focus more on fewer but bigger tasks. At home, I have far more variations of activities and organizing them into separate desktop makes it easier. Even in gaming, I can have set of apps remain open on another desktop and I can switch back and forth between full-screen game and other desktop. Use case of virtual desktop varies per user and really no hard rule how to use it. I would be sad if Windows 10 X at least on desktop not to have virtual desktop, which I find that a feature regression, giving less option and flexibility on workflow. Which will force me to basically have all windows opened in a single desktop. Virtual Desktop explicitly disabled in Tablet Mode seems it is by design, since virtual desktop seems to make more sense on Desktop Mode than on Tablet Mode. Though they can make it on tablet mode as well for added ways on multitasking. But considering Tablet Mode in Windows 10 were also largely untouched since introduction of Windows 10, except for Start Screen improvements in Creators Update and changes when they introduced Windows Timeline which it even removes snapping feature while in Task View. Maybe Sets can at least help me with the window management, but it is still not exactly comparable to virtual desktop to really declutter desktop from open windows, especially with an example use case I mentioned. Well see but I can already see that this might get even axed in the future. :(
  • I very much doubt very few people use virtual desktops. They're way too useful. I used them in GNU/Linux all the time too.
  • I don't consider myself a power user, but I couldn't live without virtual desktops. I consider having ten desktops open with word, excel, a trading app, several browsers (chrome and brave) and various other apps necessary to properly get my work done. As well I have two screens. I must be in the minority I guess. My questions is: do you users of virtual desktops notice significant lag when you use the hotkey to switch? I have this issue on two high powered Alienware computers, and am continually frustrated by it.
  • You mean animation lag? I get that when certain UWP apps are running, e.g. Edge Legacy. I haven't seen it in ages with the applications I'm currently using, though.
  • Virtual desktops and Timeline stutter and lag on every system I own: from Ultrabook to Surface Pro to gaming rig.
  • I don't experience lag
  • I refuse to have so many things running at one time that I ever need virtual desktops.
  • I see plenty of lag on my 7th Gen i5 ultrabook when switching desktops. Same with Timeline. There's far less (almost none) on my wife's 10th Gen i5 ultrabook.
  • Well people do sit at a desk with lights and music. So having the "hey Cortana" removed for office productivity is a stupid excuse. Hopefully since it's now an app they can return this feature. I'm sure it's not that huge of a code since it's been there for years. From my phone to laptop to being in a car before I get home. Turning on my hue lights was awesome. Turning on my Xbox. Using my Invoke.
  • Well, it's pretty obvious that Microsoft doesn't really care about us in the minority that actually USE Cortana, etc., that way. We're niche.
  • I noticed you were using the new Edge in the video. Does this mean that 2004 will be the one that will replace legacy Edge?
  • No, 2004 still bundles Legacy Edge. New Edge can be installed manually and will be distributed through Windows Update soon - this will apply to previous versions of Windows 10 as well, not just 2004.
  • Awesome, thank you for the information. Yeah, i knew about the manual download. been using it since it went public.
  • I like virtual desktops, it is nice when you work on different projects and its easy to move opened windows between them, and win+left/right arrows for moving between virtual desktops. It would be nice though if it would be smarter to restore apps & browser tabs after a restart. I noticed by the way that Edge does not work well in tablet mode (on my Pro 1); edge sometimes becomes windowed to the top left (without maximize buttons etc of course). The only solution here seems to snap Edge to right and than maximize it again with a swipe to the left.
  • I'd love to finally see an update that would stop decoupling all my linked contacts and removing the photos assigned to them in the same step.
  • I know, right?
  • Microsoft doesn't have to give this one a name. People will always refer it as the Corona update.
  • no, no they won't