How’s the First Windows 11 Feature Update Shaping Up?

Posted on February 26, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 11 with 41 Comments

Microsoft has finally opened the spigot on new Windows 11 features. How is this platform shaping up several months after a lackluster launch?

I’ve been testing Dev channel builds of Windows 11 sporadically since last year, but Microsoft has delivered so many new features—many via its dreaded A/B testing silliness—that I figured it was time to start experiencing them on the PCs I use the most every day. This will also help with the Windows 11 Field Guide as I’d like the coming book to be up to date on new features when Microsoft finally ships a reasonable version of this system later this year. And so here we are.

If you’ve ignored Windows 11 so far because of all the regressions, I get it. But I still prefer this system over Windows 10 for a few reasons. It has a prettier and simpler UI, originally planned for Windows 10X and heavily influenced by Chrome OS. And there are some nice usability improvements, most notably Snap Layouts, Snap Groups, and then new docking/undocking experience. But there are irritants too, like the ridiculous Widgets interface. And those missing features.

Oh, those missing features.

Here, we have a three-pronged attack on over one billion Windows users. Windows 11 is full of regressions, meaning that features we had in Windows 10—mostly notable related to the taskbar—are no longer available, blocking our muscle memories. We have broken promises in the form of several features Microsoft promised when it announced Windows 11 but never delivered. And we have the bundled apps, none of which received major updates in Windows 11, making it seem like less of an upgrade and more of a minor Windows 10 update.

Good news: Microsoft is addressing each of these problems. It is finally responding to feedback and adding back Windows 10 features that we all miss. It is adding those features it promised but never delivered, most notably Amazon’s Appstore and Android app compatibility. And it is updating more in-box apps to take on the Windows 11 look and feel and, more notably, add functional improvements that differentiate them from their predecessors.

It’s not all peaches and cream, of course. Microsoft is also, less nobly, adding features no one wanted, like blocking attempts to circumvent Windows 11’s customer-unfriendly Default apps interface and forcing users to sign in the Windows 11 with a Microsoft account.

But no matter how you view these things, it’s clear that the Windows 11 of late 2022 will differ in important ways from the first version we received in October 2021. And so it’s time to dive in. Again.

Here is a list of the more notable changes I’ve noticed so far. It’s not a complete list, as there are many other small changes that I’ve not run across yet. But it still represents a nice step up from what we got last October.

Taskbar

At first glance, not much has changed here: the taskbar still only has one right-click option, “Taskbar settings,” and taskbar-based items like the Search, Task view, and Chat icons, and system tray icons like Touch keyboard, still can’t be interacted with directly. But there is one obvious change to the taskbar: the icon for Widgets is now found at the far left of the taskbar (assuming you keep the default centered view for taskbar icons) and it has a weather preview like its predecessor in Windows 10.

Overall, I’m mixed on the changes to Widgets. I hate Widgets, overall. But I like the weather forecast and think that it visually balances the taskbar. Previously, the right-mounted system tray area gave the taskbar a weird visually tilt.

There is another, more important change: Microsoft has (re)added drag and drop support to the taskbar. This means, among other things, that I can once again drag an image file to the Affinity Photo icon in the taskbar an app window will open so I can drop it there and edit it. Halleluiah. It’s been a tough several months. (I’ve been using Windows 11 full-time since last June.)

In the most recent Dev build, Microsoft also added a new tablet-optimized taskbar option, but I’m not seeing that on this PC for whatever reason. It won’t impact me personally since I don’t use PCs as tablets all that much. But I’ll see if it appears over time.

File Explorer

Explorer has a few minor changes mostly related to Quick access, but I won’t see those normally because I configure this UI to display This PC by default, not Quick access. But if you do use Quick access, you’ll now see files from Office.com there by default, which is nice, and you can pin files (instead of just folders).

You will also get a handy OneDrive status icon in File Explorer, but only when viewing OneDrive. I feel like this should be visible everywhere, but whatever: it displays your OneDrive sync status, storage usage, and other related info.

Focus assist becomes Do not disturb

I’ve always thought it was weird that Windows 11 starts with Focus assist enabled, which you can see by the obtuse crescent moon icon in the system tray. But I’ve also found it even weirder that you can’t easily toggle this mode from that icon.

Now, with the Dev channel builds, however, this is getting better … and even weirder. When you click the time/date display in the system tray, the calendar and notifications panes come up as before, but there is a new “Focus” icon at the bottom of the calendar. This must be to toggle Focus assist, right? Nope. It launches the Clock app and starts a focus session instead.

But there’s also a new and unlabeled icon at the top of the notification pane. And that icon will disable Focus assist without forcing you to open the Settings app. That’s just bad UI.

Also, Focus assist is called Do not disturb now. That change, at least, makes sense.

Quick Settings

I really like Windows 11’s Quick Settings pane—makes sense, since it worked great in Chrome OS previously—but Microsoft is making some changes that will make this UI even better.

First, it’s adding a feature I needed desperately, the ability to select the sound output device directly from Quick Settings; today, you have to right-click the Volume icon in the tray, select “Sound settings,” and then choose an output device in the Settings window that appears. Love this.

Second, Microsoft is adding an in-place Bluetooth device management UI to Quick Settings. But I’m not seeing this feature yet, because Microsoft.

Start

I don’t really use the Start menu that much since I pin all the apps I need regularly to the taskbar and only invoke Start to access search. That said, I do like the look of the thing, and my only real complaint is that it’s so unsophisticated: there are two main sections, Pinned and Recommended, and they sit there stupidly taking up 50 percent of the available space each. And if you do something like delete all of the shortcuts in one of those sections, they don’t resize automatically to make better use of the space.

In the Dev channel, Microsoft is offering a very simplistic “fix” for this: you can now choose between three different Start layouts, the normal default version, one with more pins, and one with more recommendations. The latter two just steal a line or two of icons away from the other section, which is OK. But being able to arbitrarily resize the sections, or having the system do this automatically, would be preferable. This is a great example of the modern Microsoft in action: they’re responding to a complaint, which is nice, but their solution is dumbed down.

The new Start menu also supports folders, which I assume was a user request. I can’t understand why they even bothered, to be honest. Everything in Start is already two clicks away, but folders add yet another click. Here again, Microsoft is answering a complaint—some people obviously wanted this feature—but I assume they only did so because it was easy to implement, and it doesn’t harm those that don’t care about it. I guess that constitutes progress.

Snap

Snap has been one of the best features in Windows for about a decade now, but in Windows 11, it was improved with new Snap Groups and Snap Layouts features. In Windows 11 Dev, however, Microsoft is making more improvements.

First and most importantly, Snap Layouts is now more discoverable: when you begin dragging any window around, a panel will appear at the top middle of the display to indicate that there’s something you can do. If you drag the window towards that panel, it will fully display, revealing all of the Snap Layout possibilities. Nice!

And Edge tabs will appear as choices in Snap assist. That’s smart.

Task manager

Task manager is as hard to reach as ever in Windows 11, but Microsoft has significantly updated the app, similar to the modernization work we’ve seen with other apps like Notepad. So it’s now a “modern” app, with a Dark mode-aware theme and a UWP-style sidebar, and it even has some new features. The last major Task manager update I can recall was when Microsoft added the default simple display mode, so it’s been a while.

Final thoughts

I’m sure I’ll notice more in the days ahead, but the question for now is whether this collectively constitutes a major update over the original release of Windows 11. I think it does, but I also (cynically) will argue that this is what Microsoft should have shipped as the original release of Windows 11. And I’d like to see more.

Who knows? Maybe we will.

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Comments (41)

41 responses to “How’s the First Windows 11 Feature Update Shaping Up?”

  1. jdawgnoonan

    I like the taskbar, love Snap, wish the widgets could be removed altogether, and wish that the Recommended area in Start could be removed. The system looks better than Windows 10, but I am truly surprised by how much effort it takes for Windows to truly be made modern. Evidently there is not much inheritance in the code for Windows. Otherwise it is Windows and works like one expects while looking better than windows ever has before. This is the first version of Windows that I personally thought looked good since Windows 2000 (I know that most won't agree with that, but I thought XP, VIsta, 7, 8, and 10 were all pretty visually unappealing).

  2. shark47

    Problems notwithstanding, I prefer Windows 11 to Windows 10. Glad they're continuing to make improvements. Hopefully they're not all just cosmetic in nature.

  3. hrlngrv

    FWIW, I don't pin any program icons to the taskbar. For the 2 dozen-odd programs I use most I've assigned their Start menu .LNK shortcuts keyboard combinations, e.g., [Ctrl]+[Alt]+F launches Firefox, [Ctrl]+[Alt]+X launches Excel. For everything else I have Search or the Run dialog (I'm, er, fastidious in developing and using a script which ensures that ALL programs in my Start menu have registry App Path entries so the Run dialog can find 'em).


    OTOH, I WANT TASKBAR TOOLBARS BACK. I do use them for quick access to documentation files.

  4. LT1 Z51

    The dropping on icons to move things is going to be great. That is one of the features of the Windows 11 taskbar that has been slowing me down. The rest are minor annoyances.

  5. matapillar

    Task manager isn't hard to reach. For all of the right click die-hards, myself included, just RIGHT CLICK ON THE WINDOWS BUTTON. All of your beloved options are there, including task manager.


    • c.hucklebridge

      The problem isn't that we can't find it. The problem is the muscle memory that instinctively says "Right click on the taskbar". It's after we have done that that we remember that we need to right click on the Start icon to find it.


      I use Windows 10 on the work laptop, and after using that all day, I end up having to pull a Homer ("Doh!") and right click on the Start icon to get Task Manager open. I know I could use Ctrl-Alt-Del to get to it that way, but right clicking is quicker.

  6. scovious

    I wonder if Windows 11 would be described as "lackluster" if the update remained as a Windows 10 update. Expectations are one hell of a thing. The new Task Manager alone shows that progress is being made in the OS as a service. Maybe the methods that other companies operate has left Microsoft feeling like they half ass things rather than slowly iterate them. Or maybe the fact Microsoft had finally deprecated features for the first time in their history. Either way, it looks like they listen to feedback. Try saying that about Apple.

  7. DXtremeBob

    Just my humble opinion, but I like the Widgets panel.


    I get weather information instantly and when I want to take a quick look at the headlines, I hover over and consume as much content as I want. It seems to me that the more I look at hard news, the more hard news stories appear (but I can't offer any proof of that; it just seems that way).


    The name, Widgets, is problematic ... at least until useful 3rd-party Widgets appear. I'm not holding my breath on that one. The panel should simply be called "News" (weather and sports are also news).

  8. mattbg

    I guess it doesn't matter these days, but... 40MB of RAM to run Notepad?

  9. red.radar

    Seriously what is the benefit of running a computer with a MSA? They hold your bitlocker keys, So it’s less likely you forget them? Just convenience of having the services “OneDrive, Office, the store, Xbox “ signed in and ready to go right at the OOBE?


    Are consumers getting unnecessarily upsold pro licenses and then loosing there bitlocker keys ?

  10. justme

    Widgets and the Start menu conflicting? Who would have thought it possible?


    Windows 11 Start menu is disappearing for some people in new update | TechRadar

  11. JacobTheDev

    Love seeing Affinity Photo, I've been advocating for it for years! Adobe's gotten too greedy, I'm not paying $50 a month indefinitely for access to a handful of apps when there are such great alternatives available.


    Also, you say "Task manager is as hard to reach as ever in Windows 11," but is it really so hard to hit ctrl+shift+esc or to search "Task Manager?" Honestly not sure what you mean by "hard to reach" lol, it seems readily accessible to me.

  12. Sleepman

    I personally think not having the ability to put the address bar on the task bar slows the ability to get to another site. I am unaware of any way to just type in the site name and then control+enter to go to the siteas quickly as you could with the address bar. Also missed is being able to have a links bar on the task bar to go to sites you could save to it without having to bring up your browser and clicking on favorites.

  13. robincapper

    Have to admire Microsoft finally getting to Apple like 'omitting or removing features then giving them back as an upgrade' status :)

  14. rboxman

    Nope. This is still embarrassing garbage.


    There's been complete radio silence on getting the "small icons" + "only combine when full / never combine" taskbar option back.


    Then you have the extremely dark pattern of mixing their news feeds in with the already awful widgets.


    Coupled with the fact that most normal users won't even get things like drag n'drop until May... why are people celebrating any part of this display of incompetence and failure?

  15. sadsteve

    More negatives than positives for me.


    1) Taskbar: Can't move it, doesn't have Quick Launch (I always enable Quick Launch), doesn't have right click menu option to start task manager

    2) Another crappy start menu so I'll be installing Open Shell again.

    3) Widgets are a waste since they'll not be used by me.

    4) I don't use snap features


    I'm sticking with Win 10 till end of support.

  16. theotherguy

    "today, you have to right-click the Volume icon in the tray, select “Sound settings,” and then choose an output device in the Settings window that appears. Love this."


    I don't think this is right. The option to change sound device has always been there; the right facing arrow next to the volume bar. Only difference in the preview release is that they've added a speaker icon, possibly to make it more evident what it does. Also the tooltip has changed from "manage audio devices" to "select a sound output".

    • Daniel Blois

      I was thinking the same thing.

    • rogeranderson

      Agree, there is a slightly easier option than Paul makes out currently to do it but it is still 2 clicks to get the options menu though. On Windows 10 it was single click on sound icon in taskbar and then choose output device.


      Also easy to see why its not well known now. I only know as it came up in a video i was watching. That little arrow isn't very obvious.

  17. SvenJ

    You don’t see the tablet-optimized taskbar option, because you aren’t on a tablet, in tablet mode, such as a Surface with no keyboard or one that is folded back. Only way it shows up apparently.

  18. ronh

    Thanks, nice summary article.

  19. Craig Hinners

    Well, I can’t report how this update is working for me because it is sitting in my Windows Update as a manual install, and I’m doing a little experiment to see when it installs automatically. Nothing in it is particularly “need it now” for me, and I’m curious when it will decide to install on its own as would be the experience for any “normie” who doesn’t obsessively check WU every day.


    I really wish they would have adopted a more common and straightforward versioning scheme like calling this 11.1 instead of this build/year/half of year/KB/service pack nonsense. I miss the ability from Win 10 to blanket show all the Notification Area icons. (With 3K+ horizontal pixels, there is zero reason to hide any of them anymore, MS.) And I want the system to switch in and out of light and dark mode at sunrise/sunset like my iPad and iPhone do.


    Other than that, I’ve been using Win 11 since Oct and like it, as much as I didn’t want to. I never had a problem with the new position of the Start Menu, as much as the doomsayers implied I would. It feels more modern and clean without feeling like a toy, it’s been stable, and I’m glad to see it’s being iterated.

  20. djross95

    This is a great update, Paul, and most of this is good news from my perspective. Questions that still linger in my mind are 1.) will anything useful be done with the productivity in-box apps (Mail, Calendar, photos, OneNote, OneDrive, etc.)? They haven't changed all that much, even in this build, and could really use an update, and 2.) I want MS to continue to further refine the tablet mode/touch interface. They have done some good work on that recently and need to do more. Touch is one of the largest differentiators from macOS, and they should exploit that. This would make Surface Pro 8 and Surface Go that much more compelling for people who don't want a computer AND a tablet!

  21. fishnet37222

    Task Manager is very easy to reach. Just hit <CTRL>+<SHIFT>+<ESC>.

  22. christophercollins

    I like Win11. I'm an early adopter, though.


    Seems like they'll have it in good shape by the time all the people that seem to dislike it so much finish the next few years on Win10.

    • navarac

      I don't think being an "early adopter" helps, and as for being in good shape by 2025, I don't hold out hope. The whole exercise is arbitrary - PC requirements to up sales, GUI changes just for the sake of aligning to the chrome/mac interfaces. I'll wait for Windows 12 when MSFT hopefully comes back to its senses (or maybe not).

  23. randallcorn

    I actually like the Windows 10 Start Menu. I add my apps to the start menu and then organize them in the area. I have development app, network apps, design apps, Office related apps, all organized in sections. Nice and neat

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