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New Windows 10 features aim to prevent productivity delays

In an update to the OS next year, Microsoft looks to stop Windows 10 from crashing, prevent restarts from automatic updates and provide more details in Task Manager.

IT pros dealing with interruptions from Windows 10 crashes look forward to updates coming this spring.

If a PC restarts automatically after an update or crashes suddenly, that can be a big detriment to user productivity. Employees who are on a deadline or giving a presentation lose valuable time, for instance, and some workers could even lose information they didn't save. Some IT departments have update and patch management software to prevent this problem, but a few new Windows 10 features could help companies that don't have those tools.

One new feature aimed at minimizing interruptions to productivity is the ungrouping of service processes in the OS, which means if one system process fails, the entire OS won't crash.

"The unclustering of processes is a great idea," said Jeff Janovich, a software analyst at Carlisle Construction Materials in Carlisle, Pa. "I really hope it does what [Microsoft] claims. It will need to if they want Windows 10 to be somewhat successful in the enterprise."

I really hope it does what [Microsoft] claims. It will need to if they want Windows 10 to be somewhat successful in the enterprise.
Jeff Janovichsoftware analyst at Carlisle Construction Materials

The number of services built into Windows grew over the years. And starting with Windows 2000, Microsoft grouped multiple services into one process in Task Manager and ran them together to save memory. If one process failed, they all failed, causing the computer to crash and users to restart -- often presenting them with the blue screen of death. There has been a dramatic increase in built-in PC memory, however, so Microsoft now plans to separate service processes from each other to minimize those unwanted reboots.

This update shows Windows' uptime is improving, said Robby Hill, founder and CEO of HillSouth, an IT consultancy in Florence, S.C.

"It sounds incredibly beneficial to business," Hill said. "In general, Windows 10 has fewer total system failures than Windows 8 did. And, clearly, it's an improvement in reliability. I'm confident that Microsoft will continue down the path of chasing reliability."

This feature will be available to all Windows 10 PCs that have at least 3.5 GB of total RAM, Microsoft said.

What's new in the Active Hours feature?

Active Hours, a feature in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, will also add new capabilities to help prevent unwanted automatic restarts.

Typically, when Windows 10 installs an update, the user receives a warning it's coming, but can't prevent it, said Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, a Microsoft partner in Westborough, Mass. For example, Falcon recently received a pop-up 15 minutes before an update, letting him know his PC would reboot several times.

"There was no way to opt out of it," he said. "At 8:40 in the morning, it did that, and it took three hours. If the user can't override, especially in small and midsize businesses, then work hours should be off-limits."

The Active Hours feature allows users to enter what hours of the day they are typically on their PCs, so the OS does not perform automatic updates that would restart the computer during that time. Currently, users can only set a 12-hour range, but in the spring update, Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education users will be able to set an 18-hour range. Additionally, IT admins will be able to set the Active Hours range themselves through mobile device management policies.

Task Manager changes afoot

As part of the ungrouping of services, the Task Manager utility that provides information about services and applications running on a user's system will look a little different. The new Task Manager will present more details about how much memory, bandwidth, CPU and disk each process uses. This addition will help IT better troubleshoot issues with users, Falcon said.

"We see Windows 10 not running properly because you are pegged at 100% disk utilization, and some of the issues are from services," he said. "Is something turned on that I don't need? That additional detail is better."

Members of Microsoft's Insider Program can get their hands on these new Windows 10 features already through the Build 14942 release.

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