Yesterday, Microsoft’s hybrid working event spent a lot of time talking about Windows 11 features we already know from the Windows Insider program, but that doesn’t mean the event was devoid of new feature announcements. If you’ve been paying close attention, there were a handful of new features unveiled that we haven’t seen before, and some features that we’ve seen but haven’t been officially tested yet.
Either way, we thought it would be a good idea to round up all the new features we noticed and talked about during the event and its three breakout sessions. Microsoft isn’t saying if these features will be ready in time for the next major feature update, known as version 22H2, or if they’ll arrive sooner or later than that. It’s also unclear when these features will appear for Insiders to begin testing.
Tabs in File Explorer
This is undoubtedly the biggest novelty announced by Microsoft yesterday. It finally brings a tabbed interface to the File Explorer app, allowing users to have multiple folders and directories open under a single app window, just like a web browser. It was also about time, being one of the most requested features by Windows Insiders since the Windows Insider Program began in 2014.
Other platforms have had tabs in their respective file explorers for many years, so Microsoft is definitely catching up in this area. That said, better late than never. Tabs in File Explorer have already appeared in a few Windows Insider builds (albeit unofficially) in a rather unfinished state. Hopefully over the next few months we’ll see this feature grow into a full-fledged tabbed experience.
Microsoft also showed off an updated “in-house” experience with a slightly tweaked user interface. We already have the updated home layout in the Insider program, but the modified UI design is not yet in public builds. It’s subtle, but the version of File Explorer shown at the event seems to be more consistent with the rest of Windows 11’s design language, so hopefully we’ll hear more about this update soon. UI update for File Explorer.
Context IQ features
Microsoft also revealed that it plans to introduce more intelligent, context-sensitive features and behaviors to Windows 11 over the next few months. The example he used at the event is with the share dialog in File Explorer, which will attempt to list contacts he thinks you want to share specific files with in an effort to reduce clicks and time spent trying to share said file.
The company said it intends to bring these contextual improvements to other areas of the operating system as well, and we already know that a feature called “Suggested actions” is in development. It will provide quick actions for common tasks such as creating an event in the Calendar app or adding a contact to your contact list when highlighting specific types of text and data.
Improved widget panel
It was super brief, but Microsoft once again showed off a full-screen version of the Widgets panel, a feature that was announced in June 2021 but still hasn’t shipped, even in preview. Additionally, Microsoft has also demonstrated the ability to be logged into the Widgets panel with a personal account and a work account, which is currently not possible on Windows 11.
We know that Microsoft plans to open the Widget Panel to developers at some point, although it wasn’t announced at yesterday’s event. Perhaps we’ll see Microsoft talk more about Widgets Panel extensibility during Build 2022, which was just announced May 24-26. For now, we are still waiting for the arrival of a full-screen widget panel.
Video call improvements
Microsoft has spent a lot of time talking about hybrid working and how it’s building Windows 11 to help improve hybrid working meetings through improvements to voice call scenarios through new powered enhanced camera and mic effects by dedicated neural processing units found in compatible Windows PCs.
Advertised camera and mic effects include background blur, auto-framing, noise cancellation, voice clarity, and eye contact. Some of these features are already available in your favorite video calling apps, but Microsoft is bringing these effects to Windows 11 natively, which means they’ll work on any app that uses your camera, as long as you have it. neural processing unit in your PC.
So far, Microsoft is touting the Lenovo ThinkPad X13 as one of the first devices with a built-in neural processing unit, which means it supports all these new upcoming camera effects. These should work in Teams, Slack, or any other app that uses your camera.
An important new feature announced for companies deploying Windows PCs to their employees comes in the form of “organizational messages” which will allow IT administrators to deploy alerts directly to employees through Windows. These alerts can appear as pop-ups above the taskbar, via a notification in the action center, or directly on the lock screen. IT administrators will be able to send these alerts to employees through Endpoint Manager, assuming your organization uses an Azure Active Directory configuration.
Cloud PC integration
Finally, Microsoft talked about a handful of new features for commercial customers that it plans to provide “in the future.” All of these features are designed to better integrate the local Windows 11 desktop experience with the Cloud PC experience offered by Windows 365. Currently, Windows 365 is a service that you can only really access through a web browser, but Microsoft wants to turn Windows 365 into a feature of Windows 11.
Here are the announced cloud integration features:
- Starting Windows 365: Allows you to connect directly to your Cloud PC and designate it as the primary Windows experience on the device.
- windows 365 offline: Allows you to work in Windows 365 even when disconnected, and when the Internet is restored, your Cloud PC will automatically resynchronize with the service without data loss, so the user experience and workflow are persistent.
- Windows 365 switch: Gives you the ability to move between your Cloud PC and your local desktop as you would between task switcher windows, using the same familiar keyboard, mouse, or swipe gesture controls.
- Windows 365 app: Provides another way to directly access My Cloud PC from the taskbar or Start menu. All with a desktop path to my Cloud PC, providing a personal and personalized onboarding experience to fit my settings, profile, and work style.
Microsoft has pointed to these experiences as the “future” of the Windows desktop experience for commercial customers, implying that these features are not at our fingertips. Microsoft is committed to providing these, but it may take some time before they start appearing in the product.
Application folders on the desktop?
Finally, I wanted to point out something that Microsoft hasn’t More precisely announced, but was spotted in the background of another demo. In one of the breakout sessions, a brief demonstration of the taskbar appears to reveal what looks like an application folder on the desktop. In the upper left corner, you can see a square thumbnail containing four social media icons, labeled “social media”.
To me, it looks like an application folder, which Windows 11 does not currently support on the desktop. You can create application folders in the start menu, but not on the desktop. Hopefully, this wasn’t just a conceptual error and we’ll soon see this appearance as an official feature.