It's been about a year since Windows 11 was first introduced to the public, with a full release happening on October 5th, 2021. One year later, while Windows 11 has already evolved in many ways for general users, it's about to change a whole lot more. Microsoft is preparing to release Windows 11 version 22H2, the first major update - feature update, as Microsoft sometimes calls them - to the operating system.
This is part of Microsoft's annual update strategy, and it's a change of pace from what we had seen during the Windows 10 era. Before, there were two big updates per year, but the annual cadence is more in line with what Google and Apple do with their platforms. And it also means more time for features to be implemented in each update, making it much more exciting.
That means there are a lot of changes in Windows 11 version 22H2, and in this article, we'll break them all down so you know what to expect. Between visual updates that help realize the Windows 11 design language and all-new capabilities that make the OS more useful, we're going to take a look at everything that makes this new update worthwhile.
Navigate this article:
- Desktop environment
- Touch gestures
- Input and emoji
- Changes to inbox apps
- Setup and OOBE
- Miscellaneous updates
We'll start this roundup of features with the desktop environment, which is kind of a broad term, but it generally refers to the collective of Windows UI elements like the Start menu, taskbar, File Explorer, as well as some tools like the Task Manager. Let's take a look at everything new on this front.
Start menu improvements
The original release of Windows 11 brought along a completely new Start menu, and for version 22H2, it's getting some very welcome improvements that also bring back features that were in previous versions of Windows.
Most notably, Microsoft has added the ability to create folders in the Pinned area of the Start menu, so you can now have a lot more apps visible on the Start menu by grouping them into folders. Folders can be renamed to whatever you want, and you can move them as you would any other pinned item, so it's much easier to create the setup you want.
And if you want to see more pinned items - or fewer of them - you can also now slightly customize the size of the Pinned and Recommended areas of the Start menu. You can add one row of pinned items (which removes two rows of recommended items), or add a row of recommended items (which removes one row of pinned items).
A couple of minor improvements here include the ability to manually refresh the Recommended section by right-clicking the header, then Refresh. Additionally, the power menu now has a Sign-in options button to configure various settings such as Windows Hello, dynamic lock, and so on.
Taskbar: Drag and drop is back
The taskbar is something else that was heavily revamped with Windows 11, but it lost some functionality along the way. The original release of Windows 11 made it impossible to drag and drop items between apps on the taskbar, but now, this feature is back. You can once again drag files from one app and hover over an app on the taskbar to drop the file there.
While it's not exactly on the taskbar, Microsoft has also updated the pen menu - which is shown when an active pen is connected - to include a link to Microsoft Journal. This is a new app that provides a new way to write down notes.
A couple of minor updates also include a new icon in the notification area when you're casting your screen. Microsoft has also updated some icons, such as the battery icon and the Do not disturb indicator. Also, in addition to the microphone mute button for Microsoft Teams - which is actually available for the original release of Windows 11 as a cumulative update - Microsoft has added a flyout indicator when you disable the microphone using the keyboard shortcut.
Task switcher, Snap layouts, and Snap groups
Snap layouts and Snap groups were some of the biggest headlining features of the original Windows 11 release, and with version 22H2, Microsoft is doubling down on them. For starters, there's a new way to access Snap layouts now, and that's by dragging a window to the top of the screen. When you do this, a series of available Snap layouts shows up, and you can drag the window into your preferred layout, as well as choose the position for it all in one go. Then, Snap assist helps you fill the rest of the layout with your open apps.
Snap assist has also been improved with the ability to suggest individual tabs in the Edge browser to fill out your Snap layout. This is based on the same feature that enables Edge tabs to appear in the Alt + Tab task switcher, so you can control it in the same way.
And once you've snapped all the apps you want and created a Snap group, you can also access it more easily now. Snap groups now show up in the Alt + Tab task switcher so you can quickly get back to your workflow.
On that note, the task switcher has received some visual updates, too. It's now a flyout in the center of the screen, akin to how it was in Windows 7, and the full-screen Task View is now only accessed by pressing Windows + Tab.
There are also some visual updates to snapping windows and managing Snap groups. When setting up a Snap group with Snap assist, new animations play when you choose the app for a specific slot to create a smoother experience. Additionally, when you resize snapped apps, the inactive apps will be displayed as their app icon on an acrylic background, which makes things look a little cleaner. Finally, there are also new animations when you snap apps using keyboard shortcuts, so you can see the app move smoothly from one position to another.
File explorer: A new Home page and tabs (coming soon)
The biggest news in File Explorer is easily the long-awaited addition of tabs, making it easier to have multiple folders open in the same window and move files between them. This is a feature that Microsoft has been building up to for years, but it's finally happening, and it's certainly welcome. However, it won't be available with Windows 11 version 22H2 when it launches initially. This feature will become a little later, in October. In fact, a few more changes are coming with this update in October.
That's far from the only update for File Explorer, though. Next up, the Quick Access page, which opens by default when you launch File Explorer, is now called Home, and it has a few changes inside, too. The list of recent items at the bottom can now include recent files from OneDrive and SharePoint, and you can pin files from this list to the new Favorites section, making important files easier to find. In the October update, there will also be a design change in the side menu that makes things a bit more organized.
Another update is found in the OneDrive folder, which will now display a OneDrive icon in the toolbar. From here, you can see how much storage you have left on OneDrive, as well as the sync status of your files.
Microsoft has also made some changes to the new modern context menu, so you don't have to use the Show more options feature as often. Fonts, certificates, and .inf files now show an Install option in the modern context menu, for starters. In the This PC section, the context menu when you click an empty area now includes the option to map a network drive, and right-clicking a network drive also makes it easier to disconnect it. Microsoft has also enabled the modern context menu when you right-click the Recycle Bin on the desktop. If you do want to open the classic context menu, you can now hold Shift while right-clicking to open it directly.
If you use the Outlook desktop app, there's also an update to the way you can share files to Outlook. If you have the Outlook Desktop Integration app installed from the Microsoft Store, you can now share files via email directly from the Share menu, without opening the full Outlook app.
One big change, although it's mostly visual, is that folder icons can now show a preview of the contents of the folder. This is another feature that was present in previous versions of Windows, but absent in the original Windows 11 release.
The new Task Manager
This gets its own category, seeing as the Task Manager is such an important tool for many Windows users. Task Manager is getting its biggest visual refresh in well over a decade, and it now aligns perfectly with the Windows 11 design language. The tabs at the top are now in a menu on the left side of the window, and most of the app now uses Windows 11 design elements, plus it comes with dark mode support for the first time, and you'll also notice parts of the UI that use color will now respect your system theme.
Other changes include some buttons being moved around, with the ability to run a new task now prominently visible throughout the app, instead of being hidden in a menu.
There's also one new feature for the Task Manager, and that's efficiency mode. Microsoft has previously tested this during a Windows 10 development cycle, but now it's actually available. You can enable efficiency mode for a specific app if you notice that it's using a lot of system resources when you don't want or need it to. This can improve the performance of other apps that may be more important to you, as well as save power.
New features in Quick Settings
The Quick Settings panel was another one of the notable additions in Windows 11, and it's getting more useful with this update. The most important change here has to do with Bluetooth devices. Now, you can manage your Bluetooth devices directly from the Quick Settings panel, without opening the Settings app. You can connect new devices, disconnect from paired devices, and check things like battery levels all from the small flyout menu.
Another new option in Quick Settings is the ability to switch between color profiles for computers that support more than one. Some devices geared towards creative professionals have this option, and it's good to have it easier to reach so you can switch between different projects more quickly.
Focus and Do not disturb (Focus assist)
Focus assist has been a part of Windows since Windows 10, but with Windows 11 version 22H2, Microsoft is changing its name to Do not disturb, which is a bit more standard on other platforms. Do not disturb can now be enabled from the Notification Center, and just like before, it hides incoming notifications so you aren't interrupted while working. Do not disturb is identified by the new bell icon, and when you enable it, that's what you'll see on the taskbar, instead of the old moon icon.
Meanwhile, the Focus name is now used to refer to focus sessions, which you may remember as part of the new Clock app that was launched with Windows 11. Now, focus sessions are more integrated with Windows 11, and you can start a Focus period from the Notification Center, too. When you start a focus period, Do not disturb is enabled, but it also goes further, disabling flashing animations on the taskbar, so even your open apps can't distract you with notifications while you work. Focus sessions also let you play music that helps you stay in your flow.
Windows 11 version 22H2 also comes with a bunch of visual updates throughout the entire OS, helping to create a more consistent design. First off, potentially one of the biggest updates here is the new flyouts that appear when you change the volume or brightness using hardware keys. These infamously used the same design ever since Windows 8, but they've finally been updated, and you can see them above the center of the taskbar.
The Print Queue showing your print jobs has been redesigned, including support for dark mode and a more modern look. Additionally, some Windows features have new icons, including Quick Assist and Windows Sandbox (the latter is a feature exclusive to Windows 11 Pro).
Over on the lock screen, Microsoft has updated the media controls to match what you see in the Quick Settings panel on the desktop. Similarly, the Accessibility flyout on the lock screen has also been updated to match what you see on the desktop.
Finally, while it's not a design update per se, Microsoft has changed how dynamic refresh rate works on PCs that support it. Now, your refresh rate will be boosted to 120Hz when you move the mouse cursor or scroll through pages in the Edge browser or in Windows UI elements like the Settings app. Microsoft has also updated the animation for rotating the display so it's faster and more natural than with the original release.
One of the big highlights of Windows 11 version 22H2 is optimization for touch-enabled devices, which is something that has been sorely lacking. With this update, Microsoft has implemented a few new touch gestures that make using Windows with just a touchscreen a more fun experience.
The new gestures include the ability to open the Start menu by swiping up from the center of the taskbar, as well as dismiss it by swiping down. In the Start menu itself, you can also swipe right over the Pinned area to go to the All apps list, or over the Recommended area to see all your recommended files and apps. In both cases, you can also swipe left to go back to the main menu.
You can also swipe up from the notification area of the taskbar (the right corner) to open Quick Settings and dismiss it the same way. The animation when you swipe in from the right side of the screen has also been updated so the Notification Center and calendar follow your finger as you move it. For full-screen apps, Microsoft has also added a "gripper", so when you perform a swipe gesture to show your notifications, you'll have to swipe a second time to confirm you actually wanted to open the Notification Center. This is similar to how it works on smartphones.
One last gesture Microsoft added is swiping left or right with three fingers, which allows you to switch to your most recently used app.
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Another improvement that's worth highlighting for touch users is the new way to access Snap layouts we mentioned above. You can drag apps to the top of the screen to see the available snap layouts, which you had no way of using before since the layouts were shown when hovering the mouse over the Restore button.
One other area that's received some updates is the Settings app, with Microsoft continuing its work to bring over features from the classic Control Panel, in addition to brand-new features. There are updates to various different sections, so we'll split them up to make them easier to find.
In the System section in the Settings app, there are a few changes. For starters, in the Display page, you can now access the display calibration settings directly in the HDR settings page, instead of having to navigate to a dedicated page just for it.
You'll also notice that the Focus assist page has been removed and replaced with the new Focus page. This page basically only includes settings related to focus sessions, as well the the ability to start a focus session right there. It also includes a link to the Notifications page, which is where you'll now manage your settings related to Do not disturb and notifications in general.
Finally, the Power & battery page also has some changes to the default timers for screen off and sleep, but that's only for new installs. Microsoft will also show you recommendations to help you save power, which is part of a broader effort to be more energy-efficient.
Network & internet
In this section, Microsoft has brought over more options from the classic Control panel. In the Advanced network sharing page, there's a new Advanced sharing settings option, where you can now turn printer and file sharing on or off for both private and public networks. Enabling or disabling network discovery is also possible from here.
In the Personalization section, there are a couple of new things. First off, the new customization options for Start, which we mentioned above. This is where you can choose whether you want to see more items in the Pinned section or the Recommended section, or keep the original layout.
Another change is that the Touch keyboard page has been renamed to Text input and when you change the theme here, it now applies to the voice typing panel, as well as the emoji panel and clipboard, in addition to the touch keyboard itself. These themes are also now visible when using the touch keyboard on the lock screen.
Here, Microsoft has split the old Apps & features page into Installed apps and Advanced app settings. The former is where you can see and manage the apps you have installed, and it's actually been revamped with some new viewing options, so instead of a list, you can choose a grid view with large icons or a tile view, which is the densest so you can see more apps at once.
The Advanced app settings page is where you can change settings such as whether you want to be able to install apps outside the Microsoft Store or use app execution aliases for specific apps.
This section has a relatively small change, which brings the Your Microsoft account page directly to the top of the Accounts section page. You can see information about your Microsoft 365 subscription (or a Microsoft 365 ad if you don't have it). That's about it.
Bringing over even more features from the classic Control Panel, Windows 11 version 22H2 now shows an option to uninstall updates in the Windows Update section, specifically in the Update history page.
Additionally, this is another area where Microsoft wants to be more environmentally friendly. Windows Update will now try to automatically install updates during times when more clean energy is available in your region in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions.
Changes to inbox apps
Microsoft is bundling a couple of new apps with Windows 11 version 22H2, which means they're now installed by default. These apps include the new Family app, which lets you manage your Microsoft family, such as seeing screen times, location, and more. This comes alongside an updated Family widget that also lets you see more information at a glance.
The other app included out of the box is Clipchamp, the video editor Microsoft acquired last year. While you would already see the app on your Start menu before, it was only a link to install it from the Microsoft Store. Now it's installed by default.
On the flip side, it's now possible to uninstall the pre-installed Clock app, in case you don't need it.
Input and emoji
Microsoft has also made some updates to the input methods in this update, starting with the update to Emoji 14.0. This update to the latest Unicode standard brings 37 new emoji, including a melting face, saluting face, handshakes, and more. Emoji with people, including the new handshake emoji, also include new customizations for skin tone. For emoji that feature more than one person, you can create any combination of skin tones you want. For example, you can have an interracial couple with a baby that's a different race from both parents.
There have also been improvements to voice typing, including the ability to choose what microphone you want to use for voice pickup if you have more than one microphone plugged in.
Setup and OOBE
If you're setting up a PC for the first time, or you choose to reset your PC, you can also expect some differences with this update. Most notably, Microsoft has made it a requirement to use a Microsoft account for setup, even if you're using Windows 11 Pro. This used to only apply to Windows 11 Home, but now, if you have a Pro license but you're using the PC for personal use, you'll need a Microsoft account. However, if you configure it for work or school use, this requirement doesn't exist.
Microsoft has also added the ability to link your Android phone during the setup process, if you want to sync your notifications, pictures, calls, and so on.
Windows 11 version 22H2 also includes some new security features, starting with Smart App Control. This is a feature that checks software against known databases of trusted software and potential security breaches, and prevents you from opening potentially dangerous apps. This feature can only be enabled after a clean install of Windows 11. When it's first enabled, it spends some time checking your usage patterns to determine if it can be helpful in keeping your device safe without being annoying, so it will turn on or off depending on your usage.
Another new feature is memory integrity, which is designed to prevent malicious code from being injected into high-security processes. This option isn't enabled by default, but Windows Security will notify you to enable the feature, as choosing not to do it can be a major security risk.
For users with special accessbility needs, there are some big features in this release, too. These include the brand-new Voice Access, Live captions, and some improvements to Narrator.
This is a brand-new feature in Windows 11, and it essentially lets you control your entire computer using your voice. You can enable Voice access in the Settings app (in Accessibility -> Speech). Once it's enabled, you can use voice commands to open apps, switch between them or minimize them, as well as all kind of basic tasks like clicking or right-clicking items, scrolling, and so on.
One of the more powerful features of Voice access is the ability to assign numbers to screen elements, so you can more easily select the thing you want by saying the number assigned to it. You can also show a grid to split the UI of an app into smaller divisions, making it easier to navigate the specific part of the UI you want. Voice access also lets you type text with your voice.
In order to learn the available commands, you can also ask "what can I say?" when Voice access is active to get a full list of them.
Another major addition with Windows 11 version 22H2 is Live captions, similar to what Android offers. It's only available in English (US) for now, but Live captions allow you to get captions for any audio coming out of your computer in real-time. This is a big accessibility improvement, not just for those with hearing disabilities, but for people who might have a hard time focusing on audio alone, or those still learning English who might not be able to identify every spoken word easily.
You can enable Live captions using the Accessibility button in the Quick Settings panel, or go into the full Settings app to enable it.
Finally, if you use the Narrator, there are improvements on two fronts coming your way. First off, there are new natural voices available for Narrator, meaning that when the software reads text on the screen, it can sound more natural and less robotic. There are three natural voices in total, called Microsoft Aria, Jenny, and Guy.
Microsoft has also improved the way Narrator works with Edge in a number of ways. There are a lot of updates to how Narrator can read webpages in Edge, making it easier to navigate pages and understand the context of elements like radio buttons. For example, if Narrator detects a dialog box on a webpage, it will focus on its content instead of navigating to what's behind it.
Finally, there are a few features that are either too small to get their own category, or focused on very specific use cases. We've rounded these up below.
Optimizations for windowed games
With Windows 11 version 22H2, Microsoft is introducing optimizations for windowed games, specifically those running in DirectX 10 or 11. This allows them to use features that are usually exclusive to full-screen games, such as Auto HDR and variable refresh rate. Plus, it results in lower latency in these games, which can greatly improve the experience, especially for fast-paced titles.
Improved sound quality for AirPods
Windows 11 version 22H2 adds support for wideband speech when using AirPods devices, including the AirPods Pro and Max. This means audio quality during calls should be better now.
Windows Sandbox for Arm64
Windows Sandbox is a Windows 11 Pro exclusive feature that allows you to create a virtualized environment based on your current Windows install. This lets you safely test software without setting up a traditional virtual machine. Now, this feature will also work on Arm64 devices like the Surface Pro X.
Updates for small screen devices
On devices with a screen smaller than 11 inches without a mouse or keyboard attached, apps will now launch in fullscreen by default.
Advanced networking features
This update comes with support for HTTPS boot in Hyper-V Generation 2 virtual machines, and this feature is enabled by default. Microsoft has also added support for Discovery of Designated Resolvers (DDR) in Windows 11, so the PC can discover encrypted DNS templates using only a given IP address. Finally, Microsoft has changed the behavior for SMB compression so it always tries to reduce the size of files as much as possible before sending them over the network.
Finally, for business scenarios related to IT management of corporate computers, there are a few new policies available. A few new modern device management (MDM) policies allow you to turn off certain features in Windows 11, including the Quick Settings panel, Notification Center, Taskbar settings, Search (in the taskbar and Start), Task View button, and more. There's also a new policy for enabling or disabling Windows Update notifications, and one for excluding removable USB drives from BitLocker encryption.
On the provisioning side, there are new PowerShell commands that make it easier to install and manage the installed languages on a computer.
That's a comprehensive roundup of all the major (and not so major) changes brought by Windows 11 version 22H2. This update is currently being tested by those enrolled in the Windows Insider Program, and Microsoft has yet to announce when the general public will start to receive the update. However, seeing as the update is mostly finished, we'd expect it at some point in the next few weeks.
And if you're worried about whether you'll be able to get it, don't fret. Almost all the best laptops you can buy today support Windows 11, and if they support the original release, version 22H2 will be supported too.