What is the Windows 10 Windows Feature Experience Pack?

Once you get the May 2020 Windows 10 update, you also get this new pack, which Microsoft officials oddly won't discuss.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

As Microsoft continues to expand the pool of people who are getting the Windows 10 May 2020/2004 update automatically, it's also expanding the group that will have something called the "Windows Feature Experience Pack" installed on their machines. Given this feature pack, which has been known about since at least December 2019, is coming to users' machines en masse, you'd think Microsoft would be sharing more about what it is and why it's there. But nope.

I asked again this week about the Feature Experience Pack. A spokesperson provided the official response: "Microsoft has nothing to share."

So, what about an unofficial response? I've been asking around and got some information about the Windows Feature Experience Pack.

You can see the Windows Feature Experience Pack listed as one of the Features on Demand for Windows 10 and Windows Server. This list also includes Internet Explorer, Notepad, the DirectX Configuration Database, Paint, PowerShell ISe, Quick Assist, the Print Management Console, and more. The Windows Feature Experience Pack, listed as available on Windows 10 version 2004 and later, "includes features critical to Windows functionality." Microsoft advises users not to remove this collection of Windows client shell components, which is 44.15MB in size.

This Feature Experience Pack -- not to be confused with the Windows Experience Pack for Windows XP, Vista and 7 (which was an entirely different thing) -- looks to be a way for Microsoft to bundle together features that will be updated faster than the Windows 10 OS itself. It will enable a set of Windows features (and not just UI/UX changes) to be updated through the Microsoft Store. I'm assuming this means this collection of apps will be able to be tested together as a bundle, rather than individually.

Right now, there are a few things in the Windows Experience Feature Pack: The updated Snipping tool; an updated text input panel; and an updated shell-suggestion user interface. I'd expect, over time, that there will be more and more Windows 10 shell components added to the Experience Pack.

Microsoft has had dummy Windows Experience Feature Packs for both Windows 10 and Windows 10X in its Store for a while now. The Windows 10 version says it works for all variants of Windows 10 as of the original release, as well as for Xbox One. Windows 10X is on hold right now and is being "reimagined" for single-screen devices.

There's been speculation that the Windows 10 Feature Experience Pack fits in with Microsoft's long-term goal of separating the Windows 10 UI/UX from the underlying Windows Core OS. The grand plan was going to be for Microsoft to be able to switch out different shells on top of Core OS, depending on the type of Windows 10 device on which they were running. Is that still the plan? Possibly, since the Feature Experience Pack also seems to be connected to the Composable Shell.

Why Microsoft officials won't say what this pack is and why it's being installed on Windows 10 users' machines is beyond me. But you'll see it listed on your machine once you have Windows 10 2004.

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