Windows 11 is in a constant state of flux, getting new updates on a regular basis to improve the experience. The first big Windows 11 update was version 22H2, which came around last year, and since then, we've been getting smaller Moment updates that add new features and capabilities. The latest of those is the Moment 3 update, which was released in June 2023. But we're already looking at what the future holds, because the next big update, Windows 11 version 23H2, isn't too far off.
While Microsoft has yet to announce Windows 11 version 23H2, it's fair to expect the next big annual update in the next few months, aligning with the anniversary of the original Windows 11 release. And thanks to the Windows Insider program — where we get to see a lot of Windows 11 features in preview — and recent announcements from Build 2023, we also have an idea of what to expect when the update arrives. If you're wondering what to expect from Windows 11 version 23H2, you've come to the right place.
Windows 11 version 23H2 release date
Microsoft has yet to announce a specific release date for Windows 11 version 23H2, but it's safe to assume it'll happen in fall 2023. This will most likely be in September or October, near the launch of new Surface devices.
Since its debut in 2021, Windows 11 has been promised to get major updates once a year, so it should always follow the same timeframe. Version 22H2 started rolling out on Sept. 20, just a few days ahead of the one-year anniversary of Windows 11 itself. We can expect something similar with this update.
How long will it take to upgrade to Windows 11 version 23H2?
One big question you may have about Windows 11 version 23H2 is how big the update actually is, considering it has a handful of new features. Thankfully, Microsoft has revealed it will be a pretty small update in terms of how long it will take to install. That's because Windows 11 version 23H2 will be delivered via an enablement package.
Basically, all the new features in Windows 11 version 23H2 are already lying dormant in version 22H2, being delivered via cumulative updates that roll out every month. When the time comes, Microsoft will simply deliver a configuration update that enables all the features in Windows 11, so installing version 23H2 will be a very quick and easy process, and it won't have any impact on compatibility with your apps and devices.
What's new in Windows 11 version 23H2?
Microsoft has been going all in on AI for the past few months, and Windows is next in line to get a taste. During Build 2023, Microsoft announced Windows Copilot, an AI assistant that leverages large language models like GPT-4 to help you do almost anything on your computer.
Windows Copilot can do a lot of the same things Bing Chat can. You can ask it complex questions and get detailed answers based on information from the web. For example, you can ask it to help you plan a trip or something as simple as the time difference between two countries. You can also ask it to summarize or rewrite texts and documents. Because it's integrated directly into Windows, you can send a document to Copilot and have it rewritten or summarized in a flash.
Windows integration is a big deal here. Copilot can do things like share an image or file with your contacts, becoming a centralized way to do all kinds of things. You can even use Copilot to change Windows settings, like enabling dark mode, starting a focus session, and so on. Copilot isn't available in preview yet, so we don't know firsthand everything it will be able to do, but based on Microsoft's announcement, the potential is immense.
Modernized File Explorer
Another big change coming with the next Windows 11 update is a refresh of the File Explorer based on WinUI 3. Yes, Microsoft had already redesigned it with the original Windows 11 release, but this new version has a few more changes. Microsoft is streamlining the look of the address bar and bringing it up closer to the tab bar, as you'd see in a browser. The file and folder commands are moved down closer to the file pane so they're more quickly accessible. The refreshed address bar also has more seamless OneDrive integration. When browsing your OneDrive files, you can click the icon in the address bar to see your storage quota.
There's also a new Gallery view that lets you browse your photos, so you can see all the photos on your device in one place and have them organized chronologically. This view also optimized the way photos are shown, so you can focus on images rather than the UI elements.
The new File Explorer also has a redesigned Home page with recommended files for users with Azure Active Directory accounts. These files support thumbnails, too, so you get a clearer idea of what the file is before reopening. Finally, there's also a new Details pane that looks more modern and shows things like activity history for shared files.
Taskbar ungrouping returns
One of the big complaints users had with Windows 11 when it was originally released was that many customization options were removed, including taskbar ungrouping. This allows users to display each app instance as an individual icon on the Taskbar and have each instance labeled with text. Thankfully, this capability is returning with Windows 11 version 23H2.
In fact, Microsoft is going a step further this time and actually giving you a new option. Not only are running apps labeled, but you can also choose to show labels for pinned apps on the taskbar, even if they aren't running. If you find icons to be too hard to tell apart, this can make it easier to launch the app you want.
New volume mixer
Another big new addition in this update is a new volume mixer, which fans have been requesting for years. Windows 10 still used an old volume mixer that still looked like Windows XP, and Windows 11 removed it in favor of a volume mixer in the Settings app, but it wasn't as convenient.
With this update, the volume mixer returns to the Taskbar in the Quick Settings panel, allowing you to change the volume for different apps and playback devices more easily. There's also a new keyboard shortcut to access it directly: Windows + Ctrl + V.
Built-in RGB lighting controls
Windows 11 version 23H2 will try to make it easier to manage RGB lighting effects for your connected peripherals with a new Dynamic Lighting page in the Settings app. Typically, peripherals that have RGB lighting require a third-party app to customize the lighting effects, and these apps can be very large for no real reason. Plus, if you have multiple devices from different companies, you'll need multiple apps, and you might not even be able to sync different devices properly.
With the Dynamic Lighting page, you can change these lighting settings from a centralized location without needing bloated apps taking up space and resources. Currently, there are some limitations — it's mostly only Razer devices that are supported — but if there's adoption from other companies, this could be a big deal for users with a lot of gaming peripherals.
Improved backup and restore experience
Microsoft is also improving the backup and restore experience with Windows 11 version 23H2, along with a new Windows Backup app to help manage it all. Windows 11 could always back up some settings, but this new experience gives you the option to do that manually at any time and also select what to back up.
In addition to restoring your apps, the new backup and restore experience can now even remember where your apps were pinned on the taskbar and Start menu, so they show up in the right place when you restore your settings on a new computer. This even works with desktop apps, allowing you to quickly download and install them from the Microsoft Store or the developer's website.
New Windows Spotlight experience
Windows Insiders in the Dev channel can currently test a new version of Windows Spotlight desktop backgrounds. Microsoft is testing a new experience that lets you easily see related images to the current background and switch to them, or see more information, such as finding the location of the picture on the map.
Additionally, Windows Spotlight now supports 4K wallpapers, making the feature more useful for users with high-resolution displays.
As per usual, the annual release of Windows 11 should also include some new emoji to align with this year's update to the Unicode Emoji standard, which is now up to version 15. This adds new emoji like a pink or black heart, a new face, and some new animals.
Microsoft has also redesigned some existing emoji, so they're more easily recognizable.
Native 7z and RAR support
A pretty big announcement that may have flown under the radar for some is that Microsoft is adding support for many popular file archives directly in Windows 11. That includes 7Z, a popular format used by 7-Zip, and RAR, which is used by WinRAR. It even supports TAR.GZ files, too. Previously, all of these required third-party apps since Windows 11 only supported ZIP files.
Dev Drive (and Dev Home)
Developers needing faster access to their project files can also benefit from a new feature called a Dev Drive, which can be created on unallocated space on a physical drive. It can also be a virtual drive, but the functionality is the same. It's a drive based on the ReFS file system, which has better performance than a regular drive. By being added to a trusted list in Microsoft Defender, a Dev Drive can offer noticeably faster file I/O performance and cut down on build times for app developers.
Microsoft also has a new Dev Home app for developers, which is currently available in preview and comes preinstalled with the latest builds of Windows. The Dev Home app integrates with GitHub to make it easier to manage your development projects and stay on top of your tasks. It also helps you set up your PC for development.
Microsoft is changing the way inking works in Windows 11 with this update, particularly when it comes to typing. Rather than having a dedicated handwriting panel where text then gets transferred to a text field, it will now be possible to write directly over the text field where you want to add text. This makes it more akin to the writing experience on an iPad, and it should feel more natural.
This is a recent addition to Insider builds, so it's possible it won't make the cut for the final release.
A new Settings Home page
With this update, Microsoft is adding a new Home page to the Settings app, which will make your most relevant settings quickly available. The Settings page learns from your usage habits, and it presents cards with quick access to the settings you're likely to need the most. There's also a card dedicated to recommended settings, which is also focused on your particular use case.
Currently in testing in the Dev channel, this new page only has a total of seven cards available right now, but more should show up before the feature makes its official debut.
Support for HDR backgrounds
If you have a monitor with HDR support, Windows 11 version 23H2 will add the ability to set an HDR image as your desktop background so you can make full use of its capabilities. Images in the .JXR format are supported, and you should be able to see a much higher dynamic range when setting these images as your background, meaning details will be better preserved in both dark and bright areas of the image.
Narrator, the built-in screen reader in Windows 11 is also getting some improvements with this update. For one thind, it's getting new natrural-sounding voices in multiple languages. These new voices will sound much more human than previous ones, and while they were already available in U.S. English, you'll now be able to use them in langages like Spanish, German, Japanese, French, and more English dialects, like U.K. and India variants.
Narrator has also been improved on a technical level, so it works better with Microsoft Excel.
Windows 365 Switch
Microsoft is adding the ability to easily switch between your local desktops and a cloud PC using the Task View button on the taskbar. Your Windows 365 cloud PC's desktops will show up next to your virtual desktops, so you can easily move between your local and cloud machines as needed with a more seamless interface.
New sharing experience
Windows 11 version 23H2 comes with a redesigned share window that includes a search bar to make it easier to find people in your contacts to share files with. It also makes it easier to see nearby PCs so you can more easily share files with devices on the same network as you.
In addition to all these bigger additions, there are a few smaller changes we're expecting to see in Windows 11 version 23H2 based on the features that are currently in preview. Some of these may or may not end up in the final release, but they include:
- Important notifications that show up when Do not disturb is enabled because of a full-screen app will have their content hidden to protect your privacy.
- If you ignore notifications from a given app for a month, Windows will prompt you to disable notifications for that app to minimize intrusions.
- The Wi-Fi network flyout in the lock screen has been redesigned to match the look of Windows 11.
- You can now view the password for your current Wi-Fi network in the Settings app.
- The Settings app is now the default for uninstalling desktop apps when you try to uninstall them from the Start menu.
- Apps can now use deep linking to take you directly to the Settings page, where you can set them as the default for handling specific file types and protocols.
- Voice access now features improved authoring and typing, with the ability to correct or spell out words that may not have been properly recognized at first. This means you can spell out names and usernames, or correct words that sound similar. Voice access is also now available in more places, such as the sign-in screen, so you can use voice typing even before unlocking your PC.
- The Chat feature based on Microsoft Teams is being replaced with the regular Microsoft Teams app, removing the special Chat panel available in previous releases. Microsoft Teams can now be easily removed from the taskbar or uninstalled.
- Microsoft is making it possible to use Windows Hello to sign into any website that allows you to use a passkey, such as Best Buy's website. You'll first need to create a passkey for that website before you and sign in using Windows Hello. Windows Hello can also now be used for a passwordless experience for Azure Active Directory users.
- It's now easier to set up your PC as a wireless display thanks to a new option in the Cast flyout (accessed via Windows + K).
- This update will include a new presence sensing feature, allowing the computer to dim the display when it senses the user is looking away from the screen, helping to save power when it's not necessary.
- The notification icon in the taskbar will no longer show a notification counter witht his update.
- Task Manager has a redesigned settings page.
- The Recommended section of the Start menu will now show more detailed previews of files when hovering over them. These previous can include a thumbnail image for supported files, but only for AAD users.
- Microsoft is making changes to the experience when moving between different time zones to ensure that the time zone is set more accurately based on your location.
Since Windows 11 version 23H2 is still a few months out, there's a good chance that more features will be added to this list, and some features that we're expecting may end up not making the final release. We'll be sure to keep things up to date as more information comes.
Either way, you can already tell this is a significant update that brings a good few changes. It's not as significant as version 22H2 was, but that's in large part because Microsoft has released a lot of smaller features and improvements throughout the year with the Moment updates, which makes version 23H2 less impactful. Still, it's an exciting update with some changes that were arguably long overdue. You can expect it to become generally available sometime in the fall.