Microsoft has yet another feature added to its already much talked about Windows 10 OS. This time, a feature which is more of a mystery than a known feature. A secretive feature if you like, but what does it hold for its users? Let’s try and understand first what it means.
Windows 10 now has a strange specification named “Experience.” Standard desktop versions of Windows 10 say you have the “Windows Feature Experience Pack” installed. What does that mean? Microsoft is being secretive as always, but here’s what we know.
Another Windows 10 Mystery
If you head to Settings > System > About and scroll down to “Windows specifications,” you’ll see a line named “Experience.” It likely says you have the “Windows Feature Experience Pack” installed.
This section also tells you what edition of Windows 10 you have installed, which update version you have installed, when it was installed, and your OS build number.
We know what all those mean—but what is a “Windows Feature Experience Pack?”
Unfortunately, Microsoft won’t explain it! Microsoft watcher asked Microsoft about it and got a “no comment” from Microsoft. We think we can explain a lot of this anyway.
Some Windows 10 Features Are Part of the Pack
As Foley points out, the Windows Feature Experience Pack is listed as one of many “Features On Demand” in Windows 10. For example, Microsoft Paint is now a “feature on demand.”
This particular feature comes preinstalled with Windows. Microsoft says it “Includes features critical to Windows functionality” and says you should “not remove this package.”
The same documentation says the Windows Feature Experience Pack was first introduced in Windows 10 version 2004—that’s the May 2020 Update.
According to Foley, the pack currently includes features like a snipping tool for taking screenshots and a text input panel. Rather than being part of the base version of Windows 10 itself, these features are part of this “pack” that is preinstalled. Microsoft may move more features from Windows 10 itself to this “features on-demand” pack.
Most of these “features on-demand” are listed under Settings > Apps > Apps & features > Optional features, but the installed “Experience Pack” doesn’t appear here.
Tracking Down Clues in the Windows Store
So, why does this Feature Experience Pack even exist? Why not just leave these features in Windows 10 proper?
Well, Microsoft won’t say, but we definitely have some ideas. Take a look at this: The Microsoft Store has a listing for a “Windows Experience Pack” and a separate “Windows 10X Experience Feature Pack.” This suggests two things.
Faster Updates for Windows Components?
As of the October 2020 Update, there’s no indication this feature experience pack is being updated through the Store yet. However, it could be!
If Microsoft were updating the feature experience pack through the Store, the company could update the software inside the pack more often than once every six months.
Anything moved from Windows to the pack—perhaps a built-in application like File Explorer or a component like the Windows taskbar or Start menu—could be updated much more quickly.
A Single OS For All Microsoft’s Devices?
Microsoft is working hard on Windows 10X, which was going to be designed for dual-screen devices, but now looks like it will initially just be a more “modern” version of Windows that confines traditional desktop applications to containers.
These different versions of Windows could have the same underlying operating system and differ only in their “Feature Experience Pack.”
In other words, this could help advance Microsoft Core Windows OS goals: Having a single Windows core operating system that powers all devices, with different experiences installed on top of them. Imagine if a future Xbox could run Windows 10 with the “Xbox Feature Experience Pack,” or a future Windows Phone could run Windows 10 with the “Windows Phone Experience Pack.”
Hints About a Future, But No Use in the Present
As of Windows 10’s October 2020 Update at the end of 2020, you should ignore the “Experience” line in the Settings screen and forget about the “Windows Feature Experience” for now. It doesn’t really mean anything.
Its presence is an artifact of Microsoft’s development process: The company is always experimenting internally, and signs of that experimentation are appearing in the released versions of Windows 10. This information may be important for Microsoft engineers who are experimenting and troubleshooting, but it doesn’t mean anything to Windows users outside Microsoft.
Now wouldn’t it be nice if Microsoft just came out and said that publicly?