Today, almost exactly a year after Windows 11 was first released, the first update came out right on time. After a long period of public testing in the Windows Insider Program, during which Release Preview candidates were available for more than three months, there are no surprises in the 2022 Update. And since it will be rolled out slowly over the next few months, users and enterprise administrators shouldn’t have much trouble with it.
This update isn’t likely to make people who don’t like Windows 11 like it. It doesn’t make any big changes to the architecture, and it keeps the same system requirements and user experience design as the first release. This update is mostly a “fit and finish,” with a few new features that are helpful but not necessary.
The good news is that the update should be small and easy to do. That’s what I found with pre-release builds, and Insiders testing Release Preview builds haven’t said anything different. (I’ll add more information to this post once I’ve had a chance to test updates with the final public release.)
There are more ways to customize the Start menu.
This one makes you wonder, “Why wasn’t this in the original?” On the Windows 11 Start menu, you can finally group program icons into folders. Drag one icon on top of another to put them in the same folder. Then, give the folder a name that you choose to make things less confusing.
The other change lets you change the size of the two sections of the Start menu, one for pinned program icons and the other for “recommended” content like links to files you’ve recently opened and apps you use often. When Windows 11 was first released, these areas were all the same size, and there was no way to change their sizes in relation to each other.
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That made a big, ugly block of white space if Windows 11 was set up so that all shortcuts in the Recommended section were hidden. You can change the layout of the 2022 Update to make the Pinned section bigger and the Recommended section smaller (or vice versa). You can’t get rid of the Recommended section entirely, but if you choose the More Pins layout, it will be much less obvious.
A major update to File Explorer
File Explorer gets its biggest update in at least 10 years with the 2022 Update.
It might not show up for a few more weeks, though. This feature is said to be turned on in the first monthly update after the 2022 Update comes out.
The most noticeable change is the new interface, which has more than one tab. You can still open multiple File Explorer windows, but keeping folders open in separate tabs makes it easy to cut, copy, and paste between different places without having to juggle multiple windows. The tabbed interface works a lot like a modern browser, so getting used to it should be easy.
The left navigation pane gets a few changes, including a new icon for “Home” and better integration with OneDrive, Microsoft’s default cloud storage service. When you open either OneDrive Personal or OneDrive for Business, you’ll see an icon in the upper right corner that makes it easier to manage storage and sync options.
Some new safety features
The new security feature in this update, Smart App Control, is meant to keep Windows 11 PCs free of malware by stopping users from running unknown or untrusted apps. (ZDNet’s interview with Microsoft’s VP of Enterprise and Operating System Security, David Weston, has more information about how Smart App Control works.)
Though, you won’t find this feature on a PC that has been upgraded. It is only available on new PCs or clean installs, where it protects the computer before any third-party apps are put on it. With this update, some other security settings that came with Windows 11 but were turned off by default are now turned on. Memory Integrity Protection, for example, stops a common type of exploit by using virtualization-based security. Upgraders may find that this feature can’t be turned on because legacy device drivers are still in use.
New features to make access easier
Windows 11 already has a feature called “voice typing” that lets you turn speech into text and paste it into any dialogue box or app window that can take text input. The 2022 Update adds support for a new feature called Voice Access. With Voice Access, you can use voice commands to move around the whole Windows interface.
You can select and change text, use the mouse and keyboard, interact with apps, and switch between command and voice modes. This update also adds systemwide live captions, which have been asked for a lot. It also gives the Narrator feature what Microsoft says are more natural voices.
Changes to how window snapping works
One of my favorite things about Windows 11 is how the tools that let you snap windows into pre-set layouts have been improved. In the first version of Windows 11, you could assign a window to a layout by moving the mouse over the window’s Maximize button and seeing a list of snap layouts.
With the 2022 Update, this feature can now be used with a touchscreen. Grab a window by its title bar, drag it to the top of the screen, and use the touch-enabled snap layouts to put it where you want.
Tools to keep distractions to a minimum
With Windows 11, there are two features that make it easier to ignore notifications and other interruptions. Both now have entry points in the notification centre that are much easier to find and turn on when needed. The Do Not Disturb feature, which temporarily blocks all notifications except for high-priority ones, now has an on/off switch at the top of the notification centre. If you turn on Do Not Disturb on your own, it stays on until you turn it off.
In Windows 10, the “Focus” feature (which used to be called “Focus Assist” and before that “Quiet Hours”) is a productivity-focused tool that makes your computer less distracting while you work for a set amount of time. The idea is that you will be able to work for a short time without being distracted.