Microsoft has released its first test build of Windows 10 built from a new branch of Windows known by its codename Iron (Fe). Microsoft officials said they're doing this to practice their ability to change from which branch its test flights are built. Does this mean Microsoft is shedding light on if/when it will have a Windows 10 21H1 release? Sadly, no.
Windows 10 test build 20246 removes some of the features that Microsoft had been testing in the Dev Channel already, including an updated emoji picker, redesigned touch keyboard, voice typing, theme-aware splash screens and more. Why? The official explanation is: "As our engineers work in development cycles internally, we may prioritize work being done in a specific branch and may need to move Insiders between branches." Officials said they are planning to bring these features back to Insiders "in the future."
This language makes even muddier an already murky situation regarding future Windows 10 feature releases. As I reported back in July, there were some indications from my sources that Microsoft might forego a 21H1 feature update and just do a single 21H2 feature update next year -- along with a first release of Windows 10X for single-screen devices. Windows Central's Zac Bowden tweeted last night that there could be a 21H1 feature update after all, but it will be a very minor one. This might be related to why Microsoft is removing a bunch of features, but it also might not.
As I mentioned again yesterday, Windows 10 feature updates bear the codenames of the "semesters" in which some of their features are developed. Microsoft officials have said that these codenames aren't matched to a specific release, but many of us use them anyway, since they are part of the branch names. If there is a 21H1 feature update, it unofficially will be known as "Iron." The 21H2 feature update will unofficially be called "Cobalt." Microsoft's Iron development period runs from June to December 2020; Cobalt runs from January 2021 to June 2021.
So what's still in -- and not removed -- from today's test build? Microsoft added automatic Linux distro installation to the wsl.exe -- install command making it easier to install the Windows Subsystem for Linux. There are also a bunch of fixes and known issues listed in the blog post about the new build.
Microsoft also said that "starting soon," the preview of the new Calendar App which some Insiders were using will be removed and it will return to its classic look and feel. There's no word on when or how Microsoft will revise the Calendar app after this preview period ends.
Microsoft officials declined again this week to say if there will be a Windows 10 21H1 feature update in the spring of next year. I *guess* one could interpret the silence as an indication there's been no change in plans in the twice-yearly Windows 10 feature update pace. But if the second feature update is going to be a major one and the first a minor one -- the reverse of the way Microsoft has rolled out feature updates for the past two years -- it seems like it might be a good idea to tell IT pros sooner rather than later.