Windows 10 May 2021 (21H1) update release date and new features

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In the past, Microsoft released a brand new version of Windows every few years. Following that timeline, a successor to Windows 10 would be long overdue – indeed, ‘Windows 11’ continues to be a popular search term.

However, Microsoft has made it clear that Windows 10 will be the last version of the operating system. That’s not to say it won’t be getting new features, though – quite the opposite. In addition to monthly security patches, Windows 10 has received significant updates twice a year since it launched.

The latest of these, known as the May 2021 update, is now available to download on selected Windows 10 devices. Here’s everything you need to know.

Windows 10 21H1 update release date

Microsoft began rolling out the 21H1 update on 18 May 2021, as was revealed in an official blog post. However, that doesn’t mean most Windows 10 devices can download it yet.

As VP of Windows Servicing and Delivery John Cable goes on to explain, Microsoft is throttling up availability over the next few weeks ‘to ensure a reliable download experience for all’. Some devices may also have a compatibility hold put in place, preventing you from downloading it until the update can be installed without issue.

However, that doesn’t put a specific timeframe on when you can expect the 21H1 update to be available. Some people were waiting more than six months for the October 2020 update, but that’s unlikely unless you’re running older hardware.

If you can’t wait, there are two ways you can get the 21H1 update right now. Earlier builds are available by signing up to the Windows Insider Program, or you can download Microsoft’s installation tool to force the update onto your system. However, do be warned, these will be early builds and so likely to come with bugs and other issues. We wouldn’t recommend installing it on your main PC.

Will my device get the Windows 10 21H1 update?

The vast majority of Windows 10 devices that were eligible for the 20H2 (October 2020) update will still be compatible with the next feature update. Support may vary between companies though, so it’s worth checking with the manufacturer of your device if you’re unsure.

Checking if the October 2020 update (20H2) is available for your device (it may have been downloaded automatically) is a good indicator that the 21H1 update will also arrive in due course.

Windows 10 21H1 feature news

Windows is set for a design overhaul with the 21H2 ‘Sun Valley update, so almost all new features have been delayed until then.

In fact, a Windows blog post from February 2021 revealed all three changes you can expect:

  • Multi-camera support for Windows Hello – when both front and rear cameras are present on a Windows 10 device, Windows Hello will now allow you to set the latter as the default.
  • Windows Defender Application Guard improvements – WDAG, as it’s also known, is a feature which lets administrators run apps in an isolated container for improved security. Microsoft says these performance enhancements will include faster opening of documents.
  • Windows Management Instrumentation Group Policy Service – You might not be surprised to learn that Microsoft abbreviates this to WMI GPSVC. It consists of a set of extensions which lets you monitor the performance of particular components. Microsoft says improvements here will help support remote working scenarios more effectively.

Microsoft has also said that the update will install more quickly than usual feature updates, taking a similar amount of time to monthly security patches. There will also be the usual bug fixes, with Windows Latest reporting on a preview build which irons out long-standing issues with the File Explorer and improves its performance.

There is another new feature coming to Windows 10, but it won’t be exclusive to devices with the 21H1 update installed. The ‘news and interests’ tab, first announced by Microsoft in a January 2021 blog post, will arrive on Windows 10 around the same time as the 21H1 update. It represents the most high-profile visual change in the next feature update, although users running versions 2004 and 20H2 will also be able to access the widget at an unspecified later date.

Windows 10 news and interests widget
Image: Microsoft

As the name and official screenshot above suggests, ‘news and interests’ offers a quick overview of key headlines and weather information relevant to you. Housed within a dynamic grid, this can be customised according to your location and favourite publications/stocks/teams. The widget permanently sits on the taskbar, aiming to provide quick access to headline information without interrupting your workflow.

Here’s an official Microsoft video detailing how it works:

Another feature on its way is new File Explorer icons, although they might also not be arriving at the same time as the 21H1 update. The likes of Documents, Photos and Recycle Bin are all getting a refresh to be more in keeping with Microsoft’s ‘Fluent Design’ user experience:

Windows 10 File Explorer new icons
Image: Microsoft

These changes were announced in an official blog post previewing an Insider Preview Build of Windows, building on icon updates already introduced for Notepad app, Windows Security and Narrator. It’s not clear when the new File Explorer icons will be rolled out to everyone.

The Spring update is typically when we see most of the new features, with the Autumn update reserved for bug fixes and performance updates. That schedule looks set to be flipped this year, with a major redesign expected in the 21H2 update, codenamed ‘Sun Valley’. We’ll have more details as we approach its potential October release.


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