Windows 11 Feature Focus: Widgets

Posted on August 31, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 11 with 19 Comments

The new Widgets interface in Windows 11 is an evolution of the News and interests flyout that Microsoft debuted in Windows 10 in early 2021. As with many features in Windows 11, Widgets is simpler and, in some ways, less sophisticated than its predecessor. But it also has roots in some features from Windows past, like the Longhorn Sidebar.

Microsoft announced it was testing News and interests in January 2021, and it was described as a way to get “quick access to an integrated feed of dynamic content such as news and weather that updates throughout the day.” The News and interests feed can be personalized, as can its taskbar button, which can be an icon only or an icon with text that briefly describes the weather. It was expected to debut in Windows 10 version 21H2—this was months before we even knew about Windows 11—but Microsoft shipped it earlier, adding it to all supported Windows 10 versions in April 2021.

Widgets plays the same role in Windows 11, and it provides a similar user interface and similar top-level interests, or, as they’re called now in Windows 11, widgets. You will see weather, stocks, sports, photos, and news widgets by default, as in Windows 10. And they look almost identical to their Windows 10 counterparts, with each widget appearing in a color-coded, rounded rectangle.

There are some differences, of course.

First and most obviously, Widgets doesn’t offer an “icon with text” option, so there’s no way to see the weather forecast at a glance. Instead, like other Windows 11 taskbar items, Widgets appears only as an icon. This was done in the name of simplicity, as News and interests requires a configurable option that determined whether the feed pane appeared if you just mouse over the News and interests icon.

Second, Widgets features a prominent web search field at the top of its pane. Windows 11 seems to overemphasize search for some reason—Start search can now be triggered several different ways, for example—so this is perhaps not surprising. (And as noted below, Widgets is really just a front-end to backend Microsoft services like Bing and MSN, so you won’t be surprised to discover that this search field uses a search engine, Bing, that most Windows users otherwise ignore.)

Search results appear in a Microsoft Edge window, regardless of which browser you’ve configured to be your default. (A task that, alas, has gotten much more complicated in Windows 11.)

And Widgets can be toggled with the WINKEY + W keyboard shortcut, so there’s no need to even display its taskbar icon. (News and interests doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut, and in Windows 10 the WINKEY + W shortcut toggles the Windows Ink Workspace.)

Under the covers, Widgets uses Microsoft services like MSN to supply its news and information, and many users will find MSN’s celebrity- and non-news-centric approach to news to be confusing if not outright annoying. As I write this, for example, the top stories called out their own boxes include something about a celebrity in a bathing suit and the new team over at CBS Mornings, for example. Even those that wish to use this feature will likely want to spend a lot of time customizing it. Granted, that’s an issue with lots of news feeds.

For those in the Microsoft ecosystem, this might be worth the effort. These aren’t enabled by default, but you can turn on widgets for Outlook Calendar, Microsoft To Do, and (Xbox) Family Safety today, and a Microsoft 365 widget is on the way.

Microsoft also offers a web interface for customizing your interests—it’s common to the News and interests feed in Windows 10, of course—but it opens in Microsoft Edge, regardless of which browser you’ve configured as your default.

It will be interesting to see whether Microsoft can make Widgets truly useful for most users, or whether its real aim—to drive traffic to MSN and Bing, and to increase Microsoft Edge usage—simply gets in the way. But the good news is that Widgets is easy enough to disable: just right-click its taskbar icon and choose “Hide from taskbar.” I suspect that is exactly what most users will eventually do.

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Comments (19)

19 responses to “Windows 11 Feature Focus: Widgets”

  1. remc86007

    I vastly prefer Widgets to livetiles on the PC. I hope they flesh them out a bit more. For instance, having my work calendar there would be very useful, but right now, the Outlook widget only allows it to display my default calendar which is my personal one.

  2. Daekar

    If they had integrated something like Feedly into Windows, where you could customize it with practically any source or community on the internet, that would be something. This is just something to boost engagement with their properties.

  3. gadgetenvy

    Will the Widgets be updating in the background if I choose to hide them?

  4. rm

    I'm waiting for the Thurott.com widget!

  5. mmurfin87

    Can you pin widgets to the desktop? Widgets could be awesome but not if they're relegated to some dusty menu I'll never get in the habit of clicking on.

  6. mryves707

    you should be allowed to place widgets on the desktop. this would have been also super useful for live tiles

  7. javial

    There is an option to change the default browser in News and Interests and Widgets with Deflector.

  8. javial

    News and interest don't requiere to login with an account to run, Widgets don't run without login with an account.

  9. blue77star

    This would be cool if you could drag them on desktop otherwise completely useless, at the end I just hide the widget button. My concern is crippled performance of Zen 2 and Zen 3 CPUs in Windows 11 especially problems with L3 cache.

  10. Travis

    I am really enjoying the widgets in Windows 11. I think the approach they are taking is much nicer than a live tile. I just hope there are enough useful widgets developed to make it useful for everyone.

  11. hrlngrv

    MSN News with a new slathering of lip stick. Same old USA Today/People Magazine/worst of local news content.

    • bettyblue

      This all basically hot garbage no one needs. Microsoft never learns.

    • wolters

      MSN/USA Today/People "news" headlines are completely awful. If I wanted to see what Susan Dey looked like now, I'd go look her up rather than click on "clickbait" that Microsoft puts out. This is the only thing that makes me hesitant.

  12. cnc123

    The weather taskbar icon in Windows 10 is actually useful, and when air quality is over 50, that shows up in the taskbar as well, which is important information for people living in smoke country.

  13. PhilipVasta

    I wouldn't mind MSN news being an option in Widgets, and I feel like I'm more forgiving of that kind of advertisement in the OS than most... but cramming MSN News into Widgets, with no option to turn it off, is inexcusable. Funny how that's the only Widgets you can't disable. It wouldn't be so bad if the news were from quality sources, but it's the scummiest of clickbait.

  14. TallITGuy

    Hopefully they're secure enough that they don't kill them off the way they did with the Vista/Win7 widgets (Optimism, yay!). It would be nice if I could have ie a twitter desktop widget again, or RSS headlines from a trusted news source.

  15. darkgrayknight

    If more widgets can be built by developers, then this will be significantly more useful and will pretty much replace the live tiles.

  16. fuller1754

    Hopefully you can disable the "news and interests" junk and stick with widgets. Calendar and to-do widgets could actually be useful. A media playback widget and a calculator widget would too. I can think of others. I've mentioned this before, but if Windows 11 can run Android apps, how about Android widgets? Imaging being able to pin and resize Android widgets in the Windows widgets panel. That would be cool.

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