The first major Windows 11 update makes the renovations feel more complete
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When Microsoft launched Windows 11 last year, it was clear the PC was back. PC usage had skyrocketed during the pandemic, and hybrid work had become the new normal for many around the world. But the new OS wasn’t completely ready to capitalize on those changes — Windows 11 felt like a work in progress, a familiar home in the middle of a big renovation. Now, with the Windows 11 2022 Update, Microsoft is back to make those renovations feel more complete.
Microsoft has greatly improved Windows 11 over the past year to the point where updates feel like they’re arriving monthly now. The Windows 11 2022 Update addresses a lot of the early complaints I had about Microsoft’s initial OS release, and it has improved enough parts that I’ve gone ahead and upgraded my main machine to Windows 11 after initially holding off. If you were also wary of upgrading, the Windows 11 2022 Update might just be the time to hit the big install button — that’s if your PC even supports it in the first place.
The Windows 11 2022 Update is available today and includes features like Start menu folders, improvements to Snap Layouts, Live Captions across the entire OS, better touch gestures, and even a new Xbox controller bar. It also includes a number of meaningful accessibility improvements and marks a shift in the way Microsoft is thinking about new features. There’s something new here for almost every Windows user.
Start menu folders are the first obvious improvement once you upgrade to the Windows 11 2022 Update. You can drag apps on top of each other on the Start menu to create folders and pin them freely. Microsoft has also added the ability to resize the pinned area so you can see less of the recommended feed of files that appears below apps on the Start menu.
I’m sure there will be many Windows users who wish they had more customization and control over the Start menu, but I like the changes Microsoft has made in general to Windows 11 here. The addition of folders now makes the Start menu feel more complete.
One of my favorite features in Windows 11, Snap Layouts, is getting even better in this Windows 11 2022 Update. As soon as you start moving an app or folder around, a new snap bar appears at the top that lets you quickly organize apps into Snap Layouts, with plenty of grids and layout options on larger monitors.
It’s a small and subtle change, but it’s one that means I’m now using Snap Layouts daily across my laptop and PC running Windows 11. I’ve switched back to Windows 10 on certain devices I own, and I miss not having Snap Layouts and these quick ways to manage apps and windows.
If, like me, you weren’t a fan of the taskbar in Windows 11, it has greatly improved over the past year. The taskbar time and date returned to multiple monitors earlier this year, and the Windows 11 2022 Update brings back drag and drop. Just these simple additions make Windows 11 a lot more usable for me personally, and I’m glad Microsoft hasn’t waited too long to bring them back.
The taskbar still isn’t perfect, though. I can live without being able to set the taskbar size or position, ungroup icons, or even not be able to set small taskbar icons, but there are some Windows users that really miss this customization. Microsoft is still working on this rebuilt taskbar, so it’s not finished just yet.
“We did completely overhaul the taskbar for Windows 11 and there were a lot of reasons for doing that,” Christina Koehn, principal creative director for Windows 11, says in an interview with The Verge. “We know people want to be able to dock it to the left, or the right, or move it around, and it really comes down to prioritizing features based on the needs of our customers.”
Windows 11 is also starting to look more consistent now. Microsoft has made some subtle design changes in the Windows 11 2022 Update, improving animations, icons, and more. Even dark mode has improved, with the Task Manager now sporting a new interface and a dark theme. There are still many parts of Windows 11 that aren’t fully dark, and it’s clear Microsoft is taking its time to get these right and not just slapping a general black theme everywhere.
“In the past we’ve looked at dark themes or dark mode as being solid back, and what we’ve learned through following our principles is that a dark gray or a softer gray works as it has got to be really tuned in so it’s not just black,” explains Koehn. You can see this in the Task Manager, where it’s still easy to read the white text on a black background, and many parts are dark or softer grays. There is still a lot of work to do here, and Microsoft still hasn’t shipped the dark mode for Microsoft Paint that it announced more than a year ago.
If you’re a tablet or 2-in-1 owner, the Windows 11 2022 Update is a must-install. Microsoft has greatly improved the gestures in this update, allowing you to swipe up to access the Start menu or easily switch between apps with gestures. Likewise, if you play games on Windows, there are some solid improvements with this update. A new Xbox controller bar allows you to easily navigate PC launchers and games with just your controller, and if you play games in windowed mode, then there are latency and performance improvements now.
Windows 11 shipped with the Auto HDR feature from the Xbox Series X / S consoles, and Microsoft now allows windowed games to support Auto HDR and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR). The optimizations also significantly improve latency for older DirectX 10 and DirectX 11 games running in windowed mode. That’s great news for PC gamers who have typically had to run games in full screen in the past to get all the latency and performance benefits.
The Windows 11 2022 Update also has some impressive improvements to accessibly features. One of the best new features is Live Captions. I find myself using Live Captions almost daily to automatically generate captions on any content that has audio. Live Captions is accessible using the Winkey + CTRL + L shortcut, and it will greatly benefit people who are deaf or hard of hearing. All captions are automatically generated on-device from any content that includes audio, and captions can float in a window or be displayed at the top or bottom of a screen.
The Windows 11 2022 Update also includes Voice Access to let anyone control a PC with just their voice and new voices for Microsoft’s Narrator feature. If you’ve ever heard the Microsoft Sam voice of the past, you know how robotic and unnatural it sounds. Microsoft’s new voices are amazing in comparison.
“We are bringing state of the art text-to-speech into Windows,” Carolina Hernandez, a principal PM manager at Microsoft, says in an interview with The Verge. “These voices more closely mirror natural speech, so it makes it more delightful to hear these voices.”
Hernandez, who leads a team making Windows more inclusively designed, says Microsoft hired people with disabilities to help drive these types of investments. It’s clearly paying off with multiple accessibility-focused features this year.
Voice Access is another new feature in this update that’s focused on accessibility. Voice Access places a narration bar at the top of your screen where you can use your voice to navigate Windows. You can move the cursor, copy and paste, interact with apps, and basically do anything that you’d be able to normally do with a keyboard and mouse. This will be beneficial for people with limited mobility or anyone who wants or needs to control their PC with just a microphone.
“One of the things that we’ve adopted is this inclusive design philosophy for our products,” Hernandez says. We’ve seen this for years outside of technology with curb cuts that were originally designed for wheelchairs but that also help people on bikes or parents with babies in strollers. Microsoft is taking a similar approach to accessibility improvements here.
Beyond the impressive accessibility improvements, Windows 11 2022 Update also includes some improvements to the focus and “do not disturb” modes. There’s a new do not disturb button in the notification panel that can silence notifications if you want to focus on work, and you can even go one step further by creating a 30-minute focus session here that will remove the badge icons you see on the taskbar. It’s supposed to be distraction-free, and I found it super useful for writing all about this update.
The Windows 11 2022 Update wouldn’t be a true Windows update if there weren’t some security improvements. Microsoft is introducing Smart App Control in this latest update, which is a new feature that’s designed to block scripting attacks or untrusted apps from launching. You will need to clean install Windows 11 to get this particular feature, though, as Microsoft wants to ensure there aren’t already untrusted apps running on the device before the feature is enabled.
Microsoft is also improving Windows Update to be more environmentally friendly. “We’re able to schedule your Windows Update for a time when more green energy is available, which helps you potentially reduce your carbon impact,” Nicci Trovinger, senior director of Windows product marketing, says in an interview with The Verge.
The Windows 11 2022 Update naming implies it’s the definitive one for 2022, but more features are also on the way before the end of the year. File Explorer will get tabs in October, a highly requested feature that will include a new homepage in File Explorer with quick access to favorite and recent files.
An update to the Photos app is also coming next month, with a new photo management UI that includes a gallery, better browsing, and the ability to easily back up photos to OneDrive cloud storage. The taskbar is also getting an overflow menu in October, alongside a new suggested actions feature that provides suggested actions when you go to copy phone numbers, dates, and more.
Not all of the Windows 11 2022 Update changes are welcome, though. Microsoft now requires internet connectivity during the initial device setup for the Pro edition, and if you’re using a device for personal use, a Microsoft account will also be required for setup. We saw this with Windows 11 Home editions initially, and it’s disappointing to see Microsoft now require this for Pro versions.
As for the future, Microsoft is now committing to delivering new Windows 11 features when they’re ready. That could mean we see new features monthly, but it doesn’t mean the big annual release is going away. Rumors had suggested Microsoft wouldn’t release a big 2023 update for Windows 11, but Microsoft says otherwise. “We will still have an annual release that will be available one time per year, and it will be available in the second half of the year,” Trovinger says.
Microsoft is now testing and experimenting with more Windows 11 features through its Windows Insider program as the company works to incubate new concepts and ideas. “We’ve started thinking about how we can lean in and trust the Windows Insider program a lot more,” says Windows Insider chief Amanda Langowski. That means sharing early code or ideas before they’re fully developed. “Before people might have been a little more nervous about that and want it to be perfect and polished before we put it out there, but we’re becoming a lot more comfortable sharing some of these ideas, listening to customer feedback, and just how people are actually interacting with it.”
These experiments will now shape the future of Windows 11 and the updates we all get to experience in the year ahead and beyond. Until then, the Windows 11 2022 Update arrives to really make the OS worth the upgrade. I couldn’t point to a single Windows 11 feature that was worth the instant upgrade last year, but now, I can point to Live Captions, Snap Layouts, and some of the gaming improvements that I rely on every single day.
Windows 11 still feels like the familiar Windows we’ve had for decades, but the 2022 Update gives it even more modern features that I think most Windows users are going to really enjoy.