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July 11, 2020

Windows Feature Experience Pack Poses an Interesting Mystery


Ahoy there! There’s been a bit of what I can only described as “swirling mystery” around the topic of the Windows Feature Experience Pack lately. The lead-in graphic for this story shows an entry that appeared with the GA release of Windows 10 2004. It shows up in last place, labelled simply as “Experience.” The associated information is “Windows Feature Experience Pack 120.2202.130.0,” where the trailing string of digits is in all likelihood a version number. Things get interesting, and decidedly mysterious, when you read Mary Jo Foley’s reporting on this seemingly innocuous data item from ZDNet in a story entitled “What is the Windows 10 Feature Experience Pack?” She has asked MS what this is (and in general, for more information) only to receive this verbatim response from a Microsoft spokesperson “Microsoft has nothing to share.” Weird, huh?

Windows Feature Experience Pack Poses an Interesting Mystery.store

If you’re so inclined you can download and install the Windows Feature Experience Pack from the Microsoft Store.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

But Wait, There’s More!

You can now download and install the Windows Feature Experience Pack from the Microsoft store, as the preceding graphic nicely illustrates. Note that its Overview and System Requirements tabs are pretty much devoid of information of any kind. Note further that you must use the link I found on the Microsoft website to find this item in the store, though. That’s because a text search on the string “Windows Feature Experience Pack” does not produce this entry, for whatever odd reason may be at work (and thus, the mystery deepens just a little more). And should you choose to launch this application from the store’s Launch button once it’s been installed (or from the Start menu, whence it is also accessible), you will get a window that looks something like this (I resized it to make it smaller than its default dimensions, but it is otherwise unaltered):

Windows Feature Experience Pack Poses an Interesting Mystery

The program’s output raises more questions than it answers. Who or what is “DiCE?” Where are the optional packages? What’s going on here?
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Interestingly, I find a blog post at Microsoft.com about DiCE, dated 8/1/2018, from Amit Sharma, entitled “DiCE: Diverse Counterfactual Explanations for Machine Learning Classifiers.” At first blush, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the Windows 10 operating system. But it might be a way for MS to break out the elements of the OS that are most germane to its everyday and proper use, outside the the code elements necessary for the kernel and key subsystems to work. Mary Jo Foley talks about how it appears in the MS Docs “Available Features on Demand” article that covers Windows 10 and Windows Server. Here’s what that entry says:

Windows Feature Experience Pack Poses an Interesting Mystery.fod-info

Not much to go on here except “features critical to Windows functionalty,” “do not remove,” and “Windows.Client.ShellComponents.”
[Click image for full-sized view.]

The shell components usually comprise key Windows programs and components. TechSpot reports as follows about this:

The feature list includes several well-known Windows programs and components like Notepad, Wordpad, Paint, PowerShell ISE, DirectX Configuration Database, OpenSSH client, and Quick Assistant among others, which Microsoft bundles in the Windows 10 Image file (ISO).

Ms. Foley offers the speculation, in TechSpot’s words, that “this new pack could be a way for Microsoft to bundle together features that will be updated faster than the Windows 10 OS itself.” TechSpot also calls out “updated versions of the Snipping tool, text input panel, and shell-suggestion UI. With this modular approach, Microsoft would now be able to bypass Windows Update and release newer versions of these components, and those added later, through the Microsoft Store.” I guess we’ll have to wait until Microsoft is ready to share something more substantial about the Windows Feature Experience Pack before we can know and understand what’s really going on here. But it is interesting and definitely mysterious. Stay tuned!

Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.

One Response “Windows Feature Experience Pack Poses an Interesting Mystery”

  1. Shaun Brown
    July 9, 2020 at 09:07

    This update also changes the Product ID. Which is fine unless you have software that relies on the product code for authentication.

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