How to Get Windows 10's Anniversary Update and What To Do Next

After you've got the Anniversary Update check out these features first

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After months of testing as a public beta, the Anniversary Update for Windows 10 arrives Tuesday, August 2. The second major update for Windows 10 includes a lot of interesting new features including a more pro-active Cortana, smarter inking capabilities for stylus fans, and tons of smaller improvements.

You can read my earlier take on the features coming to the Anniversary Update for more details. For now, let's look at how the latest version of Windows 10 will arrive on your PC and some of the first new features you should take a look at once you've updated.

But First a Warning...

I can't stress this enough. Before you upgrade your PC with the Anniversary Update is highly recommended that you back-up your personal files. That way if something goes wrong with the upgrade process all your precious documents, videos, and images will be saved from potential disaster. Backing up now may delay your upgrade time, but it is worth it to make sure your files are safe. 

A quick and easy way to back-up is to use ​Windows 10's built-in File History utility. You can also look at Tim Fisher's review of free backup software tools and online backup services for other ways to save your files. 

Don't count on an online backup service as your main tool prior to the Anniversary Update, however. Online backups are great for redundancy, but the initial back-up takes days or weeks to complete.

Now that you're backed up let's move on to upgrading to the Anniversary Update.

Upgrading to the Anniversary Update the Easy Way

If you're in no rush to see your computer update then you don't have to do anything. Most people have their PCs configured to download updates automatically by default. Once the update has been downloaded to your PC, Windows will restart when you're not using it, and install the updates.

If you want to try and speed up that process (or you turned off automatic updates) click on Start > Settings > Update & security > Windows Update > Check for updates. If the Anniversary Update is ready for your PC then it will start downloading. Once it's done you can choose when to restart your PC to finish the installation.

The Media Creation Tool: the Intermediate method

If Windows Update isn't ready you can also try upgrading with the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool. This downloadable tool allows you to create a Windows ISO file for later installation or to do an in-place upgrade right away. The Media Creation Tool typically offers the latest version of Windows sooner than Windows Update, which is why power users prefer to use it.

Once you've downloaded the Media Creation Tool just double click it to run and install like you would any other program. Once the MCT is running just follow the easy-to-understand instructions. The key thing to remember during this process is that you want to do an upgrade with all your files and apps intact.

When you get to screen that asks what you want to keep make sure you choose to keep personal files and apps. This option should be the default, but it pays to make sure it's selected before you start your upgrade. Otherwise, you might lose all your files. Though you should have a back-up of your important files, so that shouldn't matter, right?

What Next?

So now we're back and you're rocking the Anniversary Update, now what? Well, I would suggest the first thing you should do is decide whether you want to use Windows 10's snazzy new dark theme.

The dark theme changes supported Windows Store apps from displaying a white background to a black one. This includes most built-in apps from Microsoft such as the Store, the calculator, and Settings. A smattering of third-party apps support the dark theme as well, and more are likely to support it in the coming months now that the dark theme is publicly available.

To turn it on go to Start > Settings > Personalization > Colors. Then look for the setting called "Choose your app mode" and select Dark.

Cortana up front

An interesting new part of the Anniversary Update is the ability to access Cortana from the lock screen. To do this click on the Cortana search box in your taskbar, and then click the settings cog icon in the lower left corner.

In Cortana's settings flip the slider labeled "Use Cortana even when my device is locked" to On. Also, click the check box that's just below it labeled "Let Cortana access my calendar, email, messages, and Power BI data when my device is locked." Finally, make sure the "Hey, Cortana" option is also set to On.

Now that Cortana is available from the lock screen with access to all kinds of information, what can you do with it? Pretty much anything that doesn't require the personal digital assistant to throw you to another app. In other words, you can get answers to quick questions such as calculations, set reminders, and send an SMS message or an email. If your query to Cortana requires a web search or you ask to open an app, you'll have to enter your lock screen PIN or password.

Put Cortana on your phone

If you have an Android or iOS smartphone you should also download the latest version of the Cortana app (Windows 10 Mobile users have Cortana built-in). This will allow you to get app updates sent from your phone to your PC's Action Center. It may sound like a nightmare to some, but if you keep your phone out of reach during the workday it can be very handy to see your updates on one device. 

You can also manage which apps can send you notifications on your PC and which can't. We'll cover the improvements to Cortana in greater depth in the coming weeks.

Download some Edge extensions

You can also install some of the new browser extensions for Microsoft Edge. Open Edge, click on the three horizontal dots in the upper right-hand side and select Extensions from the drop down menu.

On the next screen, click Get extensions from the Store. This will open the Windows Store where you can install any of the available extensions the same way you'd install a Windows Store app.

The Anniversary Update is expected to start rolling out beginning at 10 AM Pacific on Tuesday, August 2, 2016.