By Joshua Dowding
2020 will be a hectic year for some of the world’s largest software companies. Each of the three top operating systems, including Windows, macOS, and Ubuntu Linux, will see significant new releases either within the next few weeks, or within the next five months in Apple’s case. In this article, I’d like to go over some of the more impactful features and changes for each release and discuss when to expect these new versions to land.
Windows 10 20H1 ‘2004’
Microsoft’s first significant update to their Windows operating system will see the version bump to 20H1 or 2004 – both denoting the same release. It’s expected to land sometime in April as a free update for existing Windows 10 users, and come with a bevvy of changes and improvements across the board.
Preview releases have been made available through the Windows Insider Program, though for those less inclined to experiment with something as fundamental as their operating system, here’s a round-up of some of the changes you can expect to see from the 20H1 update.
Microsoft has improved the Cortana experience on Windows 10 by refactoring it into its own application instead of being tied into the operating system. This means that future improvements to Cortana won’t have to wait for significant releases. Cortana will be updated through the Microsoft Store instead, so updates will come more frequently than before.
What’s more: Microsoft claims to have improved Cortana’s performance “significantly”, they’ve refreshed it’s user interface, it’ll respect the user’s current theme setting now – light or dark, and users can interact with Cortana by typing into a “chat box” instead of just talking to it.
20H1 will tout a variety of smaller improvements and changes. Some of the more noteworthy among these will include: the File Explorer’s new search interface powered by the new “Windows Search” system, improvements to the Windows Ink experience including direct access to the Microsoft Whiteboard and Snip & Sketch applications from the taskbar, the ability to make a device “passwordless” which removes the traditional password prompt from the lockscreen, the second release for the Windows Subsystem for Linux with improvements to I/O performance, and the ability to rename Virtual Desktops after they’ve been created and save them between reboots.
There are many other changes coming to the 20H1 release. Windows Central have an up-to-date list of them on their website which I’d encourage you to checkout if you’re interested.
Ubuntu 20.04 LTS ‘Focal Fossa’
For those after my own heart, you may have heard about, or used, Canonical’s popular Ubuntu operating system. For those who don’t know, Ubuntu is a free and open-source operating system developed by Canonical, a London-based company, for desktops, laptops, servers, and IoT devices. 20.04 has been slated for release on the 23rd of April and will be an important update for Ubuntu ecosystem since it’ll be supported for at least five years after launch. These ‘long-term support releases’ tend to form the basis of third-party platforms, so here’s a round-up of the features coming in its upcoming release.
Default Theme Improvements & Dark Theme
One of the more striking improvements to make it’s way to Ubuntu 20.04 LTS will be it’s improved default theme. This time, it comes in light, mixed (“standard”), and dark variants, with a handy toggle setting to choose between them from the Settings application.
This brings 20.04 on-par with other operating systems that include a darker theme variant. Ubuntu already has a ‘night light’ feature to help ease the levels of blue light emanating from the screen, but a dark theme variant would go some way further to help those who still experience eye strain.
Moreover, 20.04 ships with a new set of icons and a visual refresh to the ascent colours used throughout the operating system. These include a mixture of subtle, but uniform orange and purple highlights, replacing the cacophony of greens, blues, and oranges seen in previous releases.
Canonical contributes to an upstream project called GNOME which has been serving as Ubuntu’s default desktop environment since it abandoned Unity back in 2017. 20.04 ships with the recently released GNOME 3.36 which, in-tern, comes with a number of improvements that 20.04 will inherit. These include: an improved lock screen that displays a blurred variant of the user’s desktop wallpaper in the background, a ‘do not disturb’ toggle that’ll prevent notifications from being displayed, improvements to ‘app folders’ including the ability to rename them while they’re open, a new ‘Extensions’ application for handling desktop extensions, ‘password peeking’ in password fields, and a mixture of other system-wide changes to help improve its performance and fluidity.
For those of a more technical disposition, Ubuntu 20.04 will ship with support for displaying an OEM, or vendor logo on boot. 20.04 will also feature improvements to multi-monitor support in GDM (which provides both the lock and the login screens amongst other things), as well as improved support for ZFS (though this is labelled as ‘experimental’ in the installer), and Linux Kernel 5.4 to boot. In addition, 20.04 will also feature the usual smorgasbord of package updates available from the distro archive.
macOS 10.16 (‘Catalina + 1’) et al.
Apple is expected to hold their virtual developers conference – WWDC – later in June, and while we never know in advance what Apple might announce at its events, we can still look at the trends from previous years, and the rumours that have been reported on across the web.
Traditionally, Apple unveils it’s latest software releases at WWDC; from macOS to iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and even tvOS. These releases tend to drop in the autumn of the same year – either in September or October. With that said, let’s take a look at what we believe will be included with the upcoming macOS 10.16 release.
macOS & iOS – Destinies Entwined?
While Apple has stated that they will not merge macOS and iOS, for fear of diluting the two operating systems, Apple has continued to make strides in recent years with integrating the two systems into one seamless ecosystem. In macOS 10.15, Apple depreciated iTunes in favour of its new TV, Podcasts, Music applications which had been carried over from iOS thanks to another feature of 10.15 – it’s new cross-platform development tools. Likewise, Project Catalyst allows developers to port their iPadOS applications to the Mac with relative ease.
What’s more; Apple has recently built-in support for Universal Purchasing into iOS 13, allowing developers to provide a single licence that grants access to one application on a variety of different Apple platforms, including the Mac.
Additionally, macOS 10.15 introduced the Screen Time feature from iOS 12, as well as a new shared feature for both macOS and iPadOS called Sidecar, which allows users to use their iPad as a second display for their Mac.
And let’s not forget the rumours of an ARM-based Mac making an appearance in the not-too-distant future. Meaning that the Mac could share the same fundamental hardware platform as iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS. After all, Apple has been developing their own proprietary processors since the introduction of the first iPad which debuted the Apple A4 system-on-a-chip. Apple continues to develop their own silicon to this day. Could a future Apple processor debut for the Mac?
While AppleInsider reports that both iOS 14 and macOS 10.16 could feature improvements to their respective Messages applications, beyond that the rumour mill isn’t betting high on anything else that’s leaked so far.
2020 is already shaping up to be an important year for the software industry. I look forward to taking each of these new releases for a test-drive closer to their respective release dates, and I’d encourage the adventurous to do the same. Fire-up a virtual machine, or load-up a release candidate on an old compute; it’ll be something mildly interesting to do during the lockdown!